Head of ISSAT - Mark Downes

3 Dec 2015 7:16

Who are DCAF-ISSAT’s founding members and what are their roles?

Within the broader international community there is an emerging consensus that inclusive, responsive, and effective security and justice institutions are indispensable to address state fragility, ensure rule of law, provide human security and to create the enabling environment for development to take root. Yet, there is also recognition that the donor community has lacked the capacity, at times the political will, and right approach to support national SSR processes in stabilisation, post-conflict, and fragile contexts. In this regard, DCAF-ISSAT, a Division of the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), was established in 2008 by various Member States and Multilateral organisations to help address this evident gap and to increase the capacity of the international community to support Security Sector Reform (SSR) processes, improve coordination within and across the donor Governments, and to help develop more effective approaches to SSR that are evidence based and service delivery focused.

ISSAT operates as part of DCAF, a centre of excellence working to support security, development and the rule of law. ISSAT is composed of 14 member countries (Austria, Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom) and five multilateral actors/observers (European Union, International Organisation of the Francophonie, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Organisation for Security and Cooperation for Europe and the United Nations).

What is involved in DCAF-ISSAT’s work?

ISSAT provides support to donor nations and multilaterals to reinforce and strengthen their individual and collective efforts to improve security and justice sector reform processes, primarily in conflict affected and fragile states. ISSAT builds the capacity of its Governing Board and the wider SSR community by ensuring that the reform programmes delivered by its Governing Board Members make most use of international good practice. Coordinating with the international community, we endeavour to facilitate greater cross-government coordination and collaboration among our members. We encourage joint action and co-learning, thereby enhancing support for local ownership and building national capacity, to enhance the effectiveness and quality of SSR programming.

Can you tell us more about your team?

Our team brings expertise from both the global north and the global south with a broad spectrum of skills including the military, police, justice and rule of law, to human rights management, governance and development. ISSAT’s capacity includes  those who have undergone reforms in their own countries, and those who have been involved in supporting reforms from either a multilateral or bilateral perspective.

We cover a range of activities and provide discreet reinforcement of country missions covering programme design, developing good-practice methodologies and providing backstopping for programme assessments, design, or evaluations. Our training and e-learning courses  help defence, police, justice and development personnel transform their national experience into internationally applicable advisory practice. We also turn information and knowledge gathered into practical tools for member and field practitioners to mainstream common language and best practice. It is important that all the actors speak the same language and have a shared approach towards supporting SSR. It is difficult to coordinate if there is no joint understanding of the concept of SSR, or if this can also refer to other areas as well. ISSAT strives to improve coordination and collaboration within and amongst SSR, development, and security communities for more integrated, holistic and people-centered solutions.

How would you describe SSR’s link to preventing mass atrocities?

We can acknowledge today that the international community has learned hard, but valuable lessons, from the past few decades, that ensuring effective and long-lasting human security requires an inclusive approach. The same applies to initiatives and policies in preventing mass atrocities, and it is clear that we need better coordination and collaboration to reinforce this approach to emphasise human security. Many of us working in R2P, Atrocity Prevention and SSR agree that this requires ensuring consensus around a shared vision of the future state, a shared understanding on the role of security and justice actors and the relationship with the population, as well as a shared agreement on how to take forward reform, which are all key to sustainable and effective human security.

Promoting the professionalism and integrity of uniformed personnel so that the service they provide is accountable to the state and its people is just one example of ways of alleviating the risk of mass violence. Both GAAMAC and ISSAT work to ensure that security and justice be treated as public policy issues to create a space for building trust, dialogue and discussion while ensuring that security institutions are better sensitised and respond to the security needs of diverse groups and individuals.

The pillars of our work and that of SSR resonate with those of GAAMAC and like-minded entities who contribute to improving a country’s ability to manage conflict in a non-violent manner, by focusing on ensuring security and justice institutions are effective, that they operate under the rule of law, without political or ethnic bias and above all are accountable. We need to identify capacity and accountability gaps within these institutions and ensure that we all work more closely to mainstream issues such as gender representation and diversity not only at managerial level, but also at operational levels, as well as ensuring a wide spectrum of society is represented through ethnic diversity. Security institutions that are not representative of the population they are meant to serve may have a challenging in understanding the particular security changes of different social groups.

Today, we are seeing ever greater currency in the concept of the security-development nexus. This is evidenced by the inclusion of security goals within the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals. In practice, however, more needs to be done to ensure that security and development communities working together on common objectives becomes the norm rather than the exception. SSR is an effective bridge between the two communities, and ISSAT continually strives to bring development and security practitioners together to work through more integrated and collaborative efforts.

So we at ISSAT are also evolving and our work recognises the need for more horizontal engagement with communities working on R2P, preventing mass atrocities, human rights and development. Building resilient national security and justice institutions, creating safety nets for marginalized groups and reducing corruption are all elements that those operating in the field of SSR and the prevention of mass atrocities factor in to their work. As such, ISSAT has identified the need to mainstream SSR with a specific lens on preventing mass atrocities. There certainly is a gap in connecting synergies within our communities and work. We identify with the core goals of all these communities and look forward to GAAMAC playing a strong role in helping to bridge the gap.

To learn more about DCAF’s work on Security Sector Reform and Governance you can visit their website on, and to find out more about DCAF-ISSATs work with the international community regarding SSR go to