"Imagining a Better Future: Trust in Our Protectors" by Angela Yoon

Joint 1st Prize, High School Category, Essay Contest 2014

February 4, 2015

Angela Yoon

Angela Yoon, age 16, is a student at Seoul International School, South Korea, and a third-culture kid who loves to travel the world. She has published short stories and won writing contests on both a local and international level. When she has the time, she likes to immerse herself in a good book, write stories, and look for good music.

Essay Topic: What would you like to see happen during this century to make the world a better place?

On December 17th, 2010, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi ignited a flame that nothing, not even his own death, could put out. After having his job, equipment, and dignity stripped away by public humiliation and undeserved beatings from a police officer, Bouazizi set himself on fire to remind the world about unseen brutality. Today, amidst post-conflict peacebuilding efforts of Middle Eastern Arab Spring nations as well as Hong Kong's recent Umbrella Revolution, communities are joined through tears and prayers for individuals like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, whose lives were taken away by the hands of police officers who used unnecessary aggression in the name of security. All of these people were bound by the same misfortune—their voices had been ripped away, rendered meaningless by the people who were supposed to offer protection: the security sector.

Although these people may have been subject to elements of bias against certain religions, political views, cultural backgrounds, or races, they all prove an undeniable truth: a security sector cannot provide security if it abuses power and takes away the voices of its own civilians. In order to rebuild peace in this century of discord, nations who have or are currently experiencing strife should pursue Security Sector Reform (SSR), with the support and assistance of the international community. In war after war, conflict after conflict, certain areas of the world have demonstrated that security forces use unnecessary brute force and lash out with violence at those who speak out or protest, rather than protect individuals'rights and offer safety. People now run away from policemen or national guards rather than run toward them for refuge. What this world needs is a reform that will ultimately change the way security sectors make decisions and collaborate with governments to protect both national sovereignty and the welfare of civilians. This is the last step that today's generation must take to create a safe haven for posterity.

There is no universally accepted framework or definition of SSR in the status quo, as it is still an idea that is being developed by the United Nations, several of its member states, peacekeepers, and multiple task forces. Nevertheless, it is generally understood to be a reform that would make security sectors more accountable and fair throughout periods of conflict and post-conflict peace-building. SSR consists of various different aspects that are tailored to address most, if not all, facets of a security sector. This may involve the reconstruction of judicial systems, law enforcement branches, internal security, military forces, and intelligence agencies. Whatever steps are taken, the main goal of SSR is to transform the ways in which nations' security sectors make decisions in collaboration with their governments or authorities.

Bouazizi's self-immolation left a scar on the Tunisian population that led to widespread demonstrations ranging from peaceful marches to violent outbursts. Internal security forces responded with sheer force, immediately opening fire at participants of the uprisings and detaining rights advocates, journalists, and demonstrators. Ultimately, the authorization of violence against protestors all stemmed from the hands of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who thirsted to retain his 23-year-old reign. To quell the discord, he positioned Tunisia's armed forces as a defense mechanism and allowed the use of violence against anyone who disobeyed orders: a clear reason for civilians to fear their own protectors. Yet Tunisia is one of the few nations which has displayed significant potential for SSR. Amidst the turmoil, General Rachid Ammar of Tunisia's armed forces responded to the President's command with a striking "no," which became a turning point in the revolution, signifying a positive step toward justice. In essence, Ammar chose the path to fair treatment of demonstrators over the power of his leader.

China's most international city, on the other hand, is a recent case showing the dire need for SSR in today's century. Provoked by sentiments of betrayal by their government, Hong Kong citizens erupted in a massive movement known as the Umbrella Revolution to regain the liberty to hold democratic elections. However, as protestors of non-violent demonstrations from organizations including Occupy Central With Love & Peace walked the city's bustling streets, riot police responded brutally by spraying pepper spray and tear gas into the crowd. Unlike Tunisia's successful transition into the first steps of SSR, Hong Kong's situation was only worsened by the violence displayed by its security sector.

As demonstrated by Tunisia's and Hong Kong's internal security forces, it is true that the violence is often in the name of duty or loyalty. Policemen or guards, in many cases, do not shoot demonstrators at will, but they do so because they blindly follow the orders of corrupt authorities or governments who just want to silence uprisings. With this in mind, one may ask: If security sectors are simply pushed around as puppets of greater authorities, is SSR really necessary? The answer is yes, SSR is necessary because it is the only way that security forces, UN Task forces, and nations can interact and train each other to make the best decisions pertaining to safety for their civilians. Even if corrupt governments are unwilling to cooperate, security sectors may follow the footsteps of Tunisian General Ammar and take the initiative to spark a positive change, once they are equipped with the resources that help them understand their duty.

However, it must also be acknowledged that in some cases, security forces display unjust violence, even without the presence of corrupt or tyrannical governments. Michael Brown and Eric Garner are only two of the unarmed victims that have been killed by police officers in cases where less aggressive methods of detaining the individuals would have been enough. Even with that said, the guilty officers were not indicted. While there are questions regarding the role of racial discrimination in both situations, there is no doubt that their deaths have sparked a distrust in America's policemen and justice system, the two pillars of law enforcement that are meant to ensure fair protection. This is precisely an alarm calling for the use of SSR to restructure not only internal security forces like policemen, but also the judicial branches that are in charge of making all final decisions when it comes to law enforcement.

What makes SSR so difficult to develop is the fact that all areas possess distinct circumstances and demographics. Some countries are damaged by the over-militarization of security forces while others deal with corrupt managing bodies; it is impossible to create a one-size-fits-all policy that caters to all needs. This is precisely where international cooperation comes in. Although organizations such as the UN are actively drafting resolutions to facilitate basic measures, there must be greater emphasis on communication between governments and task forces who are in charge of representing the UN. This communication can lead to mutual agreements in the training of security sectors for a shift in focus toward justice and accountability. This can also lead to measures that will increase the transparency of decisions made by security forces, especially those related to the militarization of police and guards, as well as the management of law enforcement on both national and international levels. Proposals drafted so far by the UN and some member states are rather wishy-washy, but that is primarily because nations must address several issues at once; this is a procedure that can inevitably take up to a decade to adjust and complete, so it is of greatest importance that we start now. Our future needs to be able to trust its protectors.

Yes, there is much more going on in the 21st century than just security issues. Somewhere in this world, a 20-year-old woman is wheezing her final breaths before succumbing to the venomous horrors of AIDS, forced to watch her children die of starvation. Somewhere in this world, a Chinese migrant worker is washing wine-red blood off of his blistered palms, his entire body drenched in sweat from hours of factory labor. And somewhere in this world, there is a Middle Eastern boy smothered in blood, unable to escape the persecutors of his family due to his family's religion. These are all issues worthy of a voice, worthy of a change. But if ordinary people cannot ask for a change in fear that their own security forces will persecute them with callous violence, today’s generation will not and cannot see any solutions to these conflicts anytime soon.

The key is trust. If we cannot trust our own governments and protectors, how can we possibly hope to tackle all of the other obstacles that plague our world today?

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