Disarmament, Demobilisation & Reintegration and the Disarming of Armed Groups during Armed Conflict: Considerations of International Law, Policy and Programming

Since the late 1980s, disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) activities – sometimes termed “micro-disarmament” – have been important components in efforts to stabilise conflict-affected societies as well as to facilitate longer-term development. According to the traditional view of DDR,1 disarmament is the collection from fighters and subsequent disposal of small arms and light and heavy weapons as well as associated ammunition and explosives. Demobilisation is the formal and controlled discharge of soldiers from armed forces or fighters from armed groups. The first stage of demobilisation involves processing of individual fighters in cantonment sites. The second stage of demobilisation encompasses a support package provided to the demobilised to assist in their reinsertion. Reintegration is the process by which ex-fighters acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income. As this Briefing Paper asserts, however, approaches to DDR have evolved materially over time, and have now entered a new phase, with concomitant challenges to both international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL). Originally designed as elements in a peace deal between former warring factions to consolidate post-conflict peacebuilding, DDR programmes have increasingly been implemented during armed conflict. And in the latest iteration of DDR programming, they have become an integral component of counterterrorism strategies during ongoing violence. These strategies are constructed with a view to defeating armed groups by draining them of human resources. In this context, disarmament is no longer the critical element; in its place, disengagement from armed groups and the encouragement of further defections predominate. This is so, despite the critical importance of humanitarian partners for any DDR programme respecting the principle of neutrality during armed conflict.