The importance of accountable state security institutions for good governance cannot be overstated. Accountability not only upholds the humanity of civilian victims and survivors of harm but also promotes healing and prevents future harm. Unfortunately, accountability for harm is often difficult to achieve.
The report “Unaccountable: Rethinking US Security Sector Accountability Across the Domestic-International Divide” by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) and the Stimson Center delves into the accountability practices of US security institutions, from law enforcement to military operations abroad. The report highlights how shortcomings in accountability can enable harm and undermine democratic governance.
The research for the report includes in-depth interviews with impacted communities, civil society leaders, academics, and policymakers. It also features a nationally representative survey conducted by YouGov of attitudes towards accountability among 1,000 Americans.
The report offers recommendations for improving accountability practices, which go beyond criminal accountability for unlawful conduct. The recommendations reimagine comprehensive accountability for harm, with victims and survivors at the center.
The report identifies commonalities in victims’ and survivors’ experiences seeking accountability for harm across domestic and international contexts, regardless of the legality or perpetrator of the conduct in question. Access barriers to reporting and accountability mechanisms, high transaction costs, and disparities in attention to cases all present significant challenges.
The failure to hold security institutions accountable erodes public trust and undermines democratic governance. The report provides evidence of accountability failures in US history, from slavery and racial segregation to atrocities in the Vietnam War. While progress has been made, accountability for harm caused by US security policy and practices remains elusive.
The report’s key findings indicate that accountability has multiple forms, serves multiple purposes, and provides many benefits to victims and society. However, despite advances in certain forms of accountability, satisfactory accountability for harm caused by US security institutions is still lacking.
The report recommends a comprehensive, victim-centered approach to accountability that prioritizes non-repetition, taking responsibility for harm, and individual accountability. The report also recommends legal reform, accessible reporting mechanisms, independent investigations, and a culture of accountability within security institutions.
The report underscores the urgent need to strengthen accountability for US security institutions, policies, and practices across domestic and international contexts. Doing so would not only benefit victims and survivors of harm but also promote democratic governance and reinforce the credibility of the United States when promoting human rights, civilian protection, and democracy abroad.
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