Democratic Security Sector Governance

Parliamentary oversight of the security sector refers to the role the democratically-elected branch of the legislature plays in oversight and monitoring of security sector policies and practices. More broadly, parliamentary oversight is a critical component of legislative governance of the security sector.

The role of parliamentarians and parliamentary committees is multi-faceted:

  • determining the legal framework for security policy and practice;
  • monitoring, debating and shaping policy and practice in plenary sessions and in specialised committees, including not only those dealing with defence, law enforcement and intelligence oversight, but also human rights, audit, budget and finance committees;
  • approving, developing or rejecting policy, laws and budgets; and involvement in the appointment processes for senior posts within the security institutions to minimize any political interference

Such activities presume a sustained degree of motivation and focused activity by interested parliamentarians. The authority of parliamentarians on security sector oversight issues derives from the credibility of their oversight activities and their ability to monitor and engage with the public, government and security institutions on oversight issues.

Conducting any or all of these oversight activities can serve as a catalyst for change in the security sector: once parliamentarians publicly or privately highlight a particular oversight challenge, it is usually assigned a higher priority by government, institutions and the security sector itself.

Maintaining a comprehensive legislative framework for oversight and management of security institutions is of critical importance. Such frameworks must be compatible with international obligations and universal human rights. Scrutiny of draft legislation, amendments to and the adoption, or rejection, of such laws are parliament’s fundamental responsibility. Without such consistent law-making activity the level of national oversight will become less effective overall.



Hans Born, Philipp Fluri, Anders Johnsson, Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector: Principles, Mechanisms and Practices, Handbook for Parliamentarians No. 5, (Geneva, 2003).

For general guidance, also see: Office for Promotion of Parliamentary Democracy, European Parliament, Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector, (European Parliament: OPPD, 2013),

For NATO and NATO partner nations see:

Eden Cole, Philipp Fluri, Simon Lunn (eds.), Oversight and Guidance: Parliaments and Security Sector Governance, (Geneva: 2015)

Hans Born, Philipp H. Fluri, Simon Lunn (eds.), Oversight and Guidance: The Relevance of Parliamentary Oversight for the Security Sector, (Geneva, 2003)  Second edition (Geneva 2010), here.

For detailed guidance on Parliament’s powers in relation to security sector oversight, see:

Teodora Fuior, Parliamentary Powers in Security Governance, (Geneva, 2011).

For oversight of intelligence services, see:

Hans Born and Aidan Wills (eds.), Overseeing Intelligence Services: A Toolkit, (Geneva: DCAF, 2012).

Hans Born and Ian Leigh, Making Intelligence Accountable, (DCAF-University of Durham, Parliament of Norway, 2005).

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