Will they fight again?

Reintegration is key to peace and development

June 14, 2023
Community members pose for the camera

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP provides training to ex-combatants that allows them to return to civilian life, to reconcile with community members and to break the cycle of violence.

Photo:.UNDP/Benoit Almeras

Everyone caught in conflict aches for the violence to end. Former members of armed forces and groups, their families, and communities want nothing more than to put violence behind them. They want to build new lives for themselves, their families and all who are affected.

Successfully re-joining civilian life — in places still suffering from the aftermath of war and conflict —is difficult and complex. Unemployment, poverty, violence, and hardship set the conditions to prolong the cycle of conflict in the years to come.

Reintegration and the return to civilian life is not only about former members of armed forces and groups. From Colombia to Ethiopia to the Philippines, we have seen how the lives of women, men, and girls and boys are irreversibly changed by war and conflict – from family members who may be stigmatized, to those who lived under the thumb of armed groups, and most often entire communities too.

Finding solutions is an investment that will pay major peace dividends. Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) is how we refer to the support given to former members of armed forces and groups, their families, and communities to transition to civilian life. DDR also prepares families and communities to receive ex-combatants back, minimizing stigmatization. 

From guns to green shoots 

Within the United Nations family, UNDP’s role is key to providing a development perspective on reintegration. UNDP has 23 engagements on DDR around the world, mostly in Africa, working especially with specific needs groups (children, youth, women, persons with disabilities), through access to livelihoods, psychosocial support, civic engagement and ensuring links with stabilization, recovery, and peacebuilding programmes. 

UNDP has recently stepped up its DDR support in Ethiopia by providing advice to the National Rehabilitation Commission on the formulation of the National Demobilization and Reintegration Framework. In Ukraine, UNDP is supporting the Ministry of Veterans to build capacity and be ready for the estimated 200,000 veterans in need of reintegration assistance while the war continues. 

From our experience, community-based approaches are at the forefront. UNDP is launching a clear new Guidance Note on Community-Based Reintegration in 2023. It outlines locally led solutions where community members are the main lever in the reintegration of former members of armed forces and groups into society.  

Promoting skills training, job creation, reintegration into the local economy, and the representation of women in decision-making helps prevent recruitment. Supporting communities absorb those exiting armed forces and groups promotes reconciliation. 

Such efforts at the community-level need to be framed as an intrinsic part of the wider development approach. That is, supporting new ‘reintegration pathways’ for ex-combatants, persons formerly associated, dependents, victims and receiving communities as a vital means to lay the foundation for people to return to; and resume normal life. This is a proven means to ensure sustainable peace from which the ‘green shoots’ of sustainable development can sprout. 

There is also a pressing need to place more emphasis of those who have suffered disabilities because of conflict, including ex-combatants. UNDP is working with the International Disability Alliance to formulate guidance on disability-inclusive reintegration that will benefit a range of countries – from Ethiopia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The future of Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration

In the UN system, DDR is framed by the Integrated DDR Standards (IDDRS) - a set of policies, guidelines, and procedures crucial for informed decision making. They have been adopted by the Inter-Agency Working Group on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, of which UNDP is co-chair. A high-level event on DDR on June 13th looks at better operationalizing the standards and presenting new perspectives. 

Reintegration is a prerequisite for stability and recovery, and creating an environment in which peace, reconciliation, and access to livelihoods and decent work can take root. By reducing violence, deaths and arms flows, and freeing trafficked women and child soldiers from armed groups, DDR is a clear means to deliver sustainable development and deserves the support of Member States.