Democratic Security Sector Governance

Security sector governance refers to the process by which accountable security institutions transparently supply security as a public good via transparent policies and practices.  Accountability of security institutions is affected by democratic oversight performed by a range of stakeholders including democratic institutions, government, civil society, and the media. Security sector reform is the process by which security institutions are subordinated to oversight mechanisms, vetting, and lustration in order to deliver transparent and accountable public services as a public good. Security sector governance reinforces the rule of law.

Democratic Governance and Oversight of the Security Sector


Democratic governance of the security sector comprises the active performance of individual and cooperative oversight functions by:

  • Democratic Institutions
  • Independent Oversight Institutions / Ombuds Institutions
  • Civil Society
  • Media
  • Executive
  • Government
  • Security Sector Institutions


Credible oversight and management of the security sector remains vital in order to ensure democratic and economic development. The overall rationale for ensuring substantive democratic governance of the security sector is to:


  • Enhance citizens’ safety and public security;
  • Strengthen security provision;
  • Enable democratic institutions to monitor and amend security sector policies and practices and ensure compliance with international standards;
  • Embed transparency and accountability mechanisms across the security sector;
  • Encourage the development and maintenance of a democratic culture rooted in respect for the rule of law and human rights within security institutions;
  • Provide effective checks and balances to ensure that security sector actors cannot commit abuses or human rights violations;
  • Manage the security sector cost-effectively in order to avoid a financially resource-heavy security sector; and reduce the possibilities for corruption;
  • Manage human and financial resources effectively, including effective disciplinary measures and career management structures, and encourage professionalism and respect for authority among security sector officials;
  • Promote the security sector as representative institutions of the society at large, ensuring equitable participation of women, and minorities.


Democratic governance of the security sector must ensure that security agencies and their staff meet expected standards of performance and behaviour as defined through laws, policies, practices and relevant social and cultural norms. These principles apply not only at management level, but also that of the individual staff member. In particular, security institutions should:


  • Prevent abuses of power and authority (by security actors themselves or by other interest groups);
  • Use resources appropriately and effectively through appropriate budgetary management;
  • Be as transparent as possible, making appropriate information available to other government agencies, oversight bodies and the general public;
  • Uphold human rights both by preventing abuses within the security sector itself and by preventing and investigating abuses in society as a whole;
  • Address the security needs of all people for whom they are responsible, regardless of sex, ethnicity, religion, age, or income.


Effective governance of the security sector is based on sustaining security institutions that are:


  • Governed internally and externally by a legal and institutional framework;
  • Accountable to the authorities and to the population;
  • Transparently managed according to codified standards and practices;
  • Based on, and responsive to, people’s needs;
  • Based on fair and equitable representation.



UN SSR Guidance Note on Democratic Governance of the Security Sector

DCAF Security Sector Reform Backgrounder

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Almanac on Security Sector Governance in Ukraine 2010

Editor(s): Merle Maigre and Philipp Fluri DCAF 2010 ISBN:978-92-9222-116-4 This Almanac forms the first English language collection of essays by Ukrainian civilian experts over-viewing Ukraine’s security sector agencies. The contributions reflect the g … read more

Legislating for the Security Sector Toolkit: International Police Standards guidebook on Democratic Policing

This toolkit contains international standards and principles of democratic policing. The guidebook is designed to assist OSCE staff dealing with police and law-enforcement issues as well as police practitioners and policy-makers working to develop and … read more

Integrity Self-Assessment Process: A Diagnostic Tool for National Defence Establishments

The Integrity Self-Assessment Process is a mechanism developed within the NATO Partnership Action Plan on Defence Institution Building (PAP-DIB). The process is focused on practical support for nations, helping their defence reform efforts, as well as … read more

Report on the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces

The Report focuses not only on the subordination of armed forces to democratically elected political authorities, but also to the legal standards and to the principles of democracy set out by them, which are to be enforced by the competent organ or aut … read more

Securing Peace and Development: The Role of the United Nations in Supporting Security Sector Reform

In this report a number of immediate priorities are recommended for the development of a holistic and coherent United Nations approach to security sector reform, in support of national actors. These include: (a) developing United Nations policies and g … read more

Security Sector Reform and Gender Toolkit

This Toolkit is an initial response to the need for information and analysis on gender and SSR. It is designed to provide policymakers and practitioners with a practical introduction to why gender issues are important in SSR and what can be done to int … read more

Guidebook on Democratic Policing

This Guidebook is designed to assist OSCE staff dealing with police and law enforcement issues as well as police practitioners and policy-makers working to develop and strengthen democratic policing. The Guidebook is intended to serve as a reference to … read more

Handbook on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Armed Forces Personnel

The Handbook is the product of a research project initiated in January 2005 by DCAF in cooperation with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Rather than examining the external aspects of the issue, such as the conduct o … read more

Report on the Democratic Oversight of the Security Services

The focus of the 2007 report is democratic oversight of security agencies, meaning oversight of the agency, or agencies, performing the function of internal security.

Defence Institution Building Sourcebook in Support of the Partnership Action Plan on DIB: What Kind of Defence Do We Need?

This book aims to be a sourcebook on ‘defence institution building’, drawing on established practices in Western Europe, but also on recent experiences from among new NATO members. All contributions focus on ongoing defence reform. The chapters in this … read more

Реформування системи правоохоронних органів України та міжнародний досвід трансформації поліції в країнах Центральної та Східної Європи: Матеріали міжнар. “круглого столу” (м. Київ, 14 жовт. 2005 р.)

Реформування системи правоохоронних органів України та міжнародний досвід трансформації поліції в країнах Центральної та Східної Європи: Матеріали міжнар. “круглого столу” (м. Київ, 14 жовт. 2005 р.)

Current Problems of Reform in the Defence and Security Spheres of Ukraine: Ukrainian and English-Language Materials from the International Conference held in Kiev, 11-12 May 2005.

Актуальні проблеми реформування сфери безпеки іоборони України Матеріалu міжнародної конференції1 (м.Кuїв, 11-12 мравңя 2005)

Defence Institution Building (Conference Papers)

Papers presented at the Conference on 2005 Partnership Action Plan on Defence Institutions Building (PAP-DIB) Regional Conference for the Caucasus and Republic of Moldova, held in Tbilisi, 25 April 2005.

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