January 3, 2007
U.S. efforts to improve the effectiveness and human rights performance of internal security forces have been partially successful in Afghanistan and El Salvador, but far less successful in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.
In a report looking at the four nations, researchers concluded that assistance to states transitioning from authoritarian to democratic systems – such as Afghanistan and El Salvador – has been more effective in improving their internal security forces than assistance to governments that remain repressive, such as Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
The report suggests that the United States should rethink the type and amount of assistance it provides Pakistan's law enforcement agencies.
Despite American assistance, the study found that Pakistani security forces continue to inflict “highly draconian punishments such as home demolition, the seizure of businesses, and the forfeiture of other properties and assets.”
“We found little evidence that the United States has paid very much attention to human rights issues in its programs of security assistance to Pakistan,” said Olga Oliker, one of the two lead authors of the study. “Moreover, there is little evidence of improvement in Pakistan's accountability and human rights practices over the last five years.”
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States has provided millions of dollars in internal security assistance to the four governments as part of the war on terrorism.
The RAND study examined whether U.S. assistance enhanced the ability of internal security forces in the four nations to counter security threats, increased their accountability, and improved their human rights records.
Researchers found that security, human rights and accountability were so deeply intertwined that countries' internal security forces should be judged on accountability to their citizens as well as on their ability to respond to security threats.
“Improving the human rights practices of police and other security forces is just as important as improving their performance against terrorist and criminal groups,” said Seth Jones, the other lead author of the study.
The study concludes that post-conflict environments are frequently the most conducive for changing the system and culture of internal security organizations, because they provide a window of opportunity for rebuilding existing security forces or building new ones from scratch.
Regimes emerging after a conflict also are more likely to allow external actors such as the United States and the United Nations more leverage with their senior officials and managers, according to the study by RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
In Afghanistan, for example, the United States was able to help improve the accountability and human rights practices of Afghan police forces because it had leverage in building a new Afghan National Police and Ministry of Interior. While significant problems remain, the researchers found that Taliban and warlord militias are responsible for the vast majority of human rights abuses.
However, the RAND report cautions that despite the progress made in building institutions and accountability in Afghanistan, “there is little evidence of an improvement in the effectiveness of Afghan internal security forces,” especially in light of an increasingly violent insurgency in the south and east.
The report notes that assistance to internal security forces is not enough, in and of itself, to improve accountability and human rights protections in organizations and regimes that are resistant to change. Even when regimes seek U.S. assistance and are amenable to change, RAND researchers found that long-term American assistance does not guarantee improved effectiveness and accountability for domestic security agencies.
The study stresses the importance of knowing when to quit or withdraw U.S. assistance to repressive regimes.
“The United States should significantly restructure or even withdraw its assistance to repressive regimes if their internal security agencies fail to improve transparency, human rights practices and overall effectiveness,” Jones said.
For example, in instances where the culture is not amenable to reform, the political climate is too hostile or the assistance provided is inadequate, U.S. interests may best be served by severing aid, Jones said. In these cases, cooperation might continue, but assistance to law enforcement agencies should stop, he said. Report authors suggested that this option should be considered in Pakistan.
In Uzbekistan, researchers found that while some programs – counter-proliferation, export control and some investigatory methods – had moderate success, U.S. assistance there was largely unsuccessful in fostering broader reform. Under such circumstances, the study authors recommended better oversight and evaluation, as well as the curtailing of the ineffective programs.
“Uzbekistan's security forces' record on accountability, transparency and respect for human rights is poor,” Oliker said.
Conversely, the study found that withdrawing American aid too early can virtually assure failure, since it can take years to train, equip and mentor police and other security forces and actually change the police culture. It also takes time to for the new structures and policies to become institutionalized, according to the study.
RAND researchers also noted that officials providing assistance to foreign regimes must provide both the equipment and the skills necessary for reform. Such aid can include training on how to conduct forensic investigations and providing equipment to monitor borders.
Another necessary component of reform, according to the report, is a functioning justice system that prohibits arbitrary or politicized sentencing, along with oversight mechanisms such as an inspector general.
The dichotomy of working with a willing post-conflict government while still struggling with the challenges of a repressive regime was demonstrated in El Salvador. In that country, security aid from the United States after the 1992 Chalpultepec Accord helped create leadership buy-in from some Salvadoran political leaders and pressure from the United Nations and other governments, the study said.
These combined forces resulted in improved accountability and human rights practices by the Salvadoran police, researchers found. However, the significant decline in torture and non-sanctioned assassinations was accompanied by a major increase in crime rates and instances of violent crimes.
“The failure to improve the actual effectiveness of the Salvadoran police, in terms of reducing violent crime, demonstrates that human rights and effectiveness are both critical in establishing a viable security force,” Jones said.
Jones, Oliker and other study authors — Peter Chalk, C. Christine Fair, Rollie Lal and James Dobbins — concluded that U.S. assistance to repressive regimes must ultimately “be judged by its ability to encourage internal security forces that are effective in dealing with threats, accountable to their populations and respectful of human rights.”