Center for the Promotion of Human Rights and Development in Africa

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Institutional Reform

Public institutions—such as the police, military, and judiciary—are often instruments of repression and systemic violations of human rights. When transitions to democratic government occur, reform of such institutions is vital.

Institutional reform is the process of reviewing and restructuring state institutions so that they respect human rights, preserve the rule of law, and are accountable to their constituents. By incorporating a transitional justice element, reform efforts can both provide accountability for individual perpetrators and disable the structures that allowed abuses to occur.

Institutional reform can include many justice-related measures, such as:

  • Vetting: examining personnel backgrounds during restructuring or recruitment to eliminate from public service or otherwise sanction abusive and corrupt officials.
  • Structural reform: restructuring institutions to promote integrity and legitimacy, by providing accountability, building independence, ensuring representation, and increasing responsiveness.
  • Oversight: creating publicly visible oversight bodies within state institutions to ensure accountability to civilian governance.
  • Transforming legal frameworks: reforming or creating new legal frameworks, such as adopting constitutional amendments or international human rights treaties to ensure protection and promotion of human rights.
  • Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration: disbanding armed actors—such as paramilitary groups—and providing justice-sensitive processes and means by which ex-combatants can rejoin civil society.
  • Education: training programs for public officials and employees on applicable human rights and international humanitarian law standards.

Institutional reform as a transitional justice measure aims to acknowledge victims as citizens and rights holders and to build trust between all citizens and their public institutions. Measures to assist this include promoting freedom of information, public information campaigns on citizen’s rights, and verbal or symbolic reform measures such as memorials or public apologies.

CPHDA’s Role

The effectiveness of justice-related institutional reform can be enhanced when integrated in a comprehensive transitional justice policy that includes criminal prosecutions, truth-seeking, and reparations to victims. CPHDA’s work focuses on the connections between institutional reform and other transitional justice approaches.