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.[1]

What is Security Sector Governance?

Security sector governance describes how the principles of good governance apply to public security provision. 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.


Why is it important?

“Ensuring democratic governance of the security sector, on the basis of the rule of law and respect for human rights, is crucial to securing the peaceful and sustainable development of States in a variety of contexts. A democratically governed security sector enhances the safety and security of individuals, and prevents abuses by the sector’s personnel”.[2]

A state will not be able to deliver acceptable levels of security to its population and safeguard human rights unless its security forces can operate effectively and under democratic control. To ensure that society’s rules are observed, it must have an enforcement capability that is both efficient and fair. A functional security sector is a precondition to democratisation and a factor for regional stability.[3]

How does it work?

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.


The United Nations underlines five fundamental stages or areas of focus in the process of establishing democratic governance in the security sector. These are:

  • Strengthening the national legal framework
  • Strengthening civil society’s role and capacity
  • Strengthening institutions
  • Strengthening management system and internal oversight[4]


The Centre for Integrity in the Defence Sector (CIDS) underlines that professionalism and integrity in public service are a key component of good governance. Professionalism of the civil service depends on the following factors:

  • Clear separation of political and civil service positions
  • Recruitment and promotion based on merit and competition
  • Ensuring accountability
  • Regulation of duties and rights (impartiality, integrity, conflict of interests)
  • Effective regulation of grievance-handling
  • Regulations to ensure fair performance appraisals
  • Statutory and transparent salary system
  • Observance of common standards [5]


Moreover, SSG policies ought to take into account the following areas of focus:

  • Effective oversight mechanisms
  • Regulation of conflict of interests
  • Audit function
  • The role of the ombudsman
  • Human resources management
  • Strategic financial planning and budget management[6]


Who is involved in Security Sector Governance?

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



Centre for Integrity in the Defence Sector. Criteria for Good Governance in the Defence Sector: International Standards and Principles (2015)

CIDS (2015) Guides to Good Governance: Professionalism and integrity in the public service. No 1.

DCAF (2009), Security Sector Governance and Reform, DCAF Backgrounder Series. New series .

DCAF (2009) Bucur-Marcu Hari, Fluri Philipp, Tagarev Todor (eds.) Defence Management: an Introduction. Security and Defence Management Series No. 1.

DCAF – UNDP (2008) Public Oversight of the Security Sector. A Handbook for Civil Society Organisations.

IMF (2007) Code of Good Practices on fiscal transparency

NATO-DCAF, (2010). Building Integrity and Reducing Corruption in Defence: A Compendium of Best Practices.

NATO (2012) Building Integrity Programme

OECD (2002) Best Practices for Budget transparency.

Transparency International (2011). Building Integrity and Countering Corruption In Defence and Security: 20 Practical Reforms.

UN SSR Task Force (2012), Security Sector Reform: Integrated Technical Guidance Notes.

UNDP-DCAF (2007) Monitoring and Investigating the Security Sector.

New editions of the DCAF SSR Backgrounder Series.


[1] Source : DCAF(2009), Backgrounder. Security Sector Governance and Reform.

[2] UN SSR Task Force (2012), Security Sector Reform: Integrated Technical Guidance Notes, p. 92.

[3] DCAF(2009), Backgrounder. Security Sector Governance and Reform.

[4] UN SSR Task Force (2012), Security Sector Reform. Integrated Technical Guidance Notes.  p. 95.

[5] CIDS (2015) Guides to Good Governance: Professionalism and Integrity in the Public Service. No 1.

[6] NATO-DCAF, (2010). Building Integrity and Reducing Corruption in Defence:. A Compendium of Best Practices.


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