The active engagement of civil society in security-related issues is a key element of sustained democratic governance of the security sector. The growing acceptance of a broader, de-militarized and more subtle conception of human security – namely, the provision of security as a public good; responsive, transparent and accountable to all citizens – has supplanted the traditional notion of security as the sole preserve of political, security and military structures. As the end-users of public services, citizens are therefore entitled to voice their opinions on security, as well as other issues of concern, to ensure that public resources are efficiently and effectively allocated to meet their priorities. In Serbia, however, there remains a pressing need to systematically involve civil society organisations (CSOs), who have a key role to play in terms of aggregating and voicing such opinions, in security-related affairs.
Accordingly, to improve community relations with the security infrastructure of the Ministries of Defence and Interior in southern Serbia, TransConflict Serbia will recruit a network of CSOs, the Community for Mutual Trust (CfMT), to act as a focal point for both local communities and the respective security elements, in order to improve the level of communication and co-operation between these various actors. The CfMT represents a broad spectrum of constituencies, including Roma, women and the elderly, thereby ensuring that all sectors of society, particularly those traditionally marginalized groups, are given an opportunity to voice their concerns and perspectives, thus broadening both the responsiveness and legitimacy of security policy.
Monitoring – through their day-to-day interaction with local communities and civil society actors (including MZs, religious communities and trade unions), the CfMT possesses a unique position from which to monitor community relations with the security infrastructure throughout southern Serbia. The CfMT will communicate its findings through a variety of means, including press releases and briefings; disseminating reports and studies; making written and oral submissions to interested parties; giving media interviews and providing information for media reports.
Advocacy and Awareness-Raising – on the basis of the CfMT’s monitoring function, specially tailored campaigns will be developed to focus attention upon identified issues and areas of concern to the various local communities, thereby empowering vulnerable groups and contributing to improved media coverage of security-related issues at the local level. A key component of CfMT’s work will involve educating citizens about their rights vis-a-vis the security infrastructure, plus information about how an accountable and responsive security sector should ideally function.
Facilitating Public Dialogue and Debate – public debates, organized and facilitated by the CfMT, will provide local communities with the opportunity to discuss particular issues of concern both amongst themselves and with representatives from the respective security elements; allowing otherwise disenfranchised actors to participate in the deliberative process.
Recommendations – the CfMT will offer alternate perspectives and practical solutions to problems identified through its inclusive and extensive monitoring function, whilst also providing feedback on policy responses to issues of concern raised by the various local communities.
The CfMT will offer an important alternative source of information for members of the local community, the respective security actors, local and national politicians, and the Co-ordination Body for Southern Serbia. Research undertaken by TransConflict Serbia demonstrates how the insufficient level of understanding of citizens regarding the mandates, competencies and responsibilities of the respective facets of the security infrastructure in southern Serbia breeds unnecessary misunderstandings and mistrust, which the CfMT will seek to curtail by imparting independent clarification of such matters. In addition, by providing insights into the particular needs, perspectives and sensitivities of the various local communities, the CfMT will contribute to better understanding about how security policy impacts citizens’ day-to-day lives and ensure that their constituents’ concerns are reflected in policy formation.
For both the Ministries of the Interior and Defence, the CfMT will provide an important counterpart to their efforts to promote broader understanding about their respective roles and mandates with respective to southern Serbia. The CfMT will support and complement outreach activities undertaken by the various elements of the security infrastructure, thereby allowing them to reach a broader and more inclusive audience then has previously been the case, whilst enabling them to better tailor their approach to meet the specific needs of the local community. In this sense, the CfMT can function as a bridge between the security infrastructure and local communities. The CfMT will also complement and supplement the watchdog role of the media by providing diffuse information, drawing attention to specific issues and providing regular commentary. To supplement its knowledge and expertise, the CfMT will maintain close contacts with a variety of research institutions and think tanks specialising in security issues.
The CfMT will contribute to a greater level of confidence and satisfaction in the work of the security services throughout Southern Serbia; thanks to the improvements in communication, understanding and awareness about security-related issues that the CfMT will ultimately induce. The CfMT will also support the creation of a transparent, accountable and effectively governed security forces, and will help incorporate the needs and interests of vulnerable groups into the provision of security at the community-level. Over the long-term, the CfMT will not only progressively develop core competencies and capacities that will enable it to more effectively serve as a community focal point, but will also work to educate and prepare future generations of civil society actors to successfully improve relations between citizens and the security forces, thus contributing to the overall effectiveness of the entire security sector.