Managing Exits from Armed Conflict

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  • UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

    Project Status:
    Ongoing
    UNU-CPR RESEARCHERS: Dr Siobhan O’Neil, Kato Van Broeckhoven, Cristal Downing, Sophie Huvé, Saniya Ali.

    In its efforts to disrupt cycles of violence, the United Nations and its partners have long provided and supported a range of interventions to help groups and individuals exit armed conflict. Despite decades of programming, however, there is a significant knowledge gap as to what approaches work effectively and under which conditions.

    This dearth of knowledge of what drives individuals to leave armed conflict and transition to civilian life makes it difficult to design effective programming, craft coherent mandates, and effectively allocate resources. This presents a particular challenge in “new” conflict contexts, including those where there is no semblance of a peace process, there is a proliferation of parties to the conflict – including those groups listed as terrorist – and new technology that has lowered the barriers for large-scale violence.

    To address this problem, building off of the Cradled by Conflict project, United Nations University Centre for Policy Research, with generous support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, IrishAid and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) – along with the United Nations Department of Peace Operations (DPO), UNICEF, the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – have partnered to enhance our understanding of conflict transitions: how and why individuals exit armed conflict and which interventions are effective at encouraging transitions away from the battlefield. Since 2022, the project has been delivered in coordination with the UN Institute for Disarmament Research.

    Managing Exits from Armed Conflict (MEAC) – working with UN partners, Member States, and researchers – has already produced a unified, rigorous approach for assessing the impact of interventions that support conflict exits and a standard vision for what reintegration “success” looks like across the UN. In 2020, MEAC began testing these assessment tools in multi-year pilot studies in several countries.

    The MEAC initiative offers tactical and strategic benefits. At a tactical level, the MEAC pilot studies will gather data that will allow practitioners on the ground to tailor and adjust programming in real-time to improve its efficacy and better help beneficiaries, as well as better meet their donor monitoring and evaluation obligations. At the strategic level, the common evidence base generated by the MEAC pilot studies will assist policymakers in crafting more effective policies and mandates, and efficiently allocating resources.

    Ultimately, equipped with a better understanding of conflict exits, the international community will be better able to help interrupt cycles of armed conflict and promote sustainable peace.


    * Funding for the first phase of the MEAC project was generously provided by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Funding for one of the community surveys in Nigeria in December 2020-January 2021 benefited from research support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), awarded through Innovation for Poverty Action’s Peace & Recovery Program.

  • Findings Reports

    The Managing Exits from Armed Conflict (MEAC) Findings Report series seeks to put evidence about conflict transitions and related programming into the hands of policymakers and practitioners in real-time. The reports detail findings from MEAC studies in Nigeria and Colombia. The reports contain short overviews of findings (or emerging findings) across a wide range of thematic areas (e.g., climate-driven recruitment into armed groups) and include analyses on their political or practical implications for the UN, Member States, and local partners.

    Findings Report 1

    This report is based on data collected from November 2020 – February 2021 as part of an ongoing survey of community leaders in Borno State, Nigeria. It focuses on emerging findings on the impact of climate change on recruitment into the insurgency in the North East. The report will be updated as more survey data is collected, not only from community leaders, but also from community members and even former associates of Boko Haram and other armed groups. This report provides an overview of climate-conflict links in Nigeria, followed by emerging, related findings from the MEAC community leaders survey, and ends with the examination of a few key policy and programmatic implications of these findings.

    Findings Report 3

    This report is based on data collected from December 2020 to January 2021, as part of a phone survey with a randomized sample of 3,117 community members* from the Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC), Jere, and Konduga areas in Borno State, Nigeria. The report presents the results of three specific questions on gender-related dynamics. This data was gathered to help understand the context in which girls and women are recruited into armed groups, particularly the gender norms and gender expectations in the region. Insights into the roles of women and girls in society in North East Nigeria provide an important lens through which to view gender differences in conflict experiences, including within armed groups and armed forces, and reintegration trajectories after involvement. Divorced from this purpose, however, these data points are likely of interest to a range of practitioners – and policymakers – working in Borno State. Although there are only a few survey results outlined in this report, UNU-CPR is producing this overview as part of a standalone brief in order to get it into the hands of UN and NGO partners working in the region to address urgent humanitarian crises.

    Findings Report 4

    This report is based on data collected from December 2020 to January 2021, as part of a phone survey with a representative sample of 3,173 community members from key locations in and around the Maiduguri metropolitan area in Borno State, Nigeria. The report presents descriptive statistics from some of the key demographic and socioeconomic information gathered as part of this survey. UNU-CPR is producing this overview of the data as a standalone brief, however, because it provides a broad picture on economic and social life in parts of Borno State today. Moreover, this robust data may be useful to UN and NGO partners working in the region to address urgent humanitarian crises and UNU-CPR wanted to ensure the information was made available quickly.

    Findings Report 5

    This report is based on data collected from December 2020 to January 2021, as part of a phone survey with a representative sample of 3,483 community members and a survey conducted with over 215 community leaders (e.g., Bulamas, Lawans, ward chairmen) from November 2020 to February 2021 from key locations in and around the Maiduguri metropolitan area in Borno State, Nigeria. The report presents emerging findings about community experiences with and perceptions of Volunteer Security Outfits – and how they differ by gender. This data was gathered to understand the full range of actors involved in the insurgency and support UN partners working in the North East of Nigeria in their efforts to demobilize children from – and support efforts to professionalize – self-defence groups.

    Findings Report 6

    This report is based on data collected from December 2020 to January 2021, as part of a phone survey with a randomized sample of 3,471 community members from key locations in and around the Maiduguri metropolitan area in Borno State, Nigeria. The report presents data around the pervasiveness of COVID-19 messaging by the government and armed groups, and how each are understood and received by the public. This data may be useful to UN and NGO partners working in the region to bolster the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Findings Report 7

    This report is based on data collected from December 2020 to March 2021, as part of a phone survey with a representative sample of 2,963 community members from key locations in and around the Maiduguri metropolitan area (MMC) in Borno State, Nigeria. It presents data around community receptivity to and perceptions about individuals who exit Boko Haram. This brief will focus on how people feel about someone returning to their community and will set the stage for subsequent briefs that will focus on social reintegration, and transitional justice and reconciliation preferences. These insights are unique as this data is collected in ongoing conflict, while reintegration is actively happening, and communities in and around Maiduguri are receiving those who exit Boko Haram and other armed groups.

    Findings Report 8

    This report is based on data collected from April to May 2021 as part of a phone survey of community members in 11 municipalities across Colombia. It presents findings on climate change and human-induced environmental degradation, including impacts such as displacement and association with armed groups. It also includes analysis of some of the different levels and types of impact that these climate trends have on women and ethnic groups. This data may be useful to government, UN, and NGO partners working in Colombia to tackle climate change and environmental degradation, and to dismantle armed groups and bring about peace, including through implementation of the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP.

    Findings Report 9

    This report is based on data collected from April to May 2021 as part of a phone survey of community members in 11 municipalities across Colombia. This report focuses on public perceptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, armed group messaging about COVID-19, and the potential impact on public health preferences. This data may be useful to government, UN, and NGO partners working in Colombia to support their peacebuilding and other relevant policies and programming in the context of COVID-19. It ends by exploring the implications of these findings to public health and peacebuilding policy and programming.

    Findings Report 10

    This report is based on data collected from December 2020 to March 2021, as part of a phone survey with a representative sample of 2,963 community members from key locations in and around the Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC) in Borno State, Nigeria. It presents data around community receptivity to and perceptions about individuals who exit Boko Haram. This report builds on published findings that indicate that people are generally accepting of former Boko Haram associates, but delves into what social acceptance means in practice and how it translates into the way people interact with former armed group associates in their daily lives. These insights are unique as this data is collected in ongoing conflict, while reintegration is actively happening, and communities in and around Maiduguri are receiving those who exit Boko Haram and other armed groups.

    Findings Report 11

    This report is based on data collected from April to May 2021 as part of a phone survey of community members in 11 municipalities across Colombia. It presents findings on gender roles and stereotypes in Colombia, gendered attitudes towards the use of different types of violence, and gendered experiences of fear of ex-combatants. This data may be useful to government, UN, and NGO partners working in Colombia to support their policies and programming to break down gender inequalities and ensure a gendered approach to reconciliation in Colombia, including through implementation of the 2016 peace agreement between the Government and the FARC-EP.

    Findings Report 12

    This report is based on data collected from December 2020 to March 2021, as part of a phone survey with a representative sample of 2,963 community members from key locations in and around the Maiduguri metropolitan area in Borno State, Nigeria. It presents data on the public’s perspectives on transitional and criminal justice as a way for responding to former Boko Haram associates. This report will examine the public’s receptivity to apply transitional justice to returning armed group associates, either as an alternative or alongside criminal justice and counter-terrorism approaches to Boko Haram. These insights are unique as this data is collected in ongoing conflict, while reintegration is actively occurring and communities in and around Maiduguri are receiving those who exit Boko Haram and other armed groups.

    Findings Report 13

    This report is based on data collected from December 2020 to March 2021, as part of a phone survey with a representative sample of 2,963 community members from key locations in and around the Maiduguri metropolitan area in Borno State, Nigeria. It presents data about individual victimization and exposure to violence, and how this relates to a respondent’s willingness to accept former Boko Haram associates who return to their communities. Victimization refers to being subjected to conflict-related harm (physical violence, sexual violence, coercion, threats, and property damage). These insights are unique as this data is collected in ongoing conflict, while reintegration is actively occurring and communities in and around Maiduguri are receiving those who exit Boko Haram and other armed groups.

    Findings Report 14

    This report is based on data collected as part of a phone survey of community members in 19 municipalities across Colombia, from April to May 2021 in 11 municipalities and November to December 2021, as outlined in detail below. It presents findings on past and current child recruitment patterns, with a particular focus on new dynamics of child recruitment that have arisen since the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP (“Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo”) in 2016, including changes in recruitment tactics and recruitment of Venezuelan migrant and refugee children. This data may be useful to government, UN, and NGO partners working in Colombia to support their policies and programming to prevent and respond to child recruitment in this changing landscape of insecurity and vulnerability.

    Findings Report 15

    This report is based on data collected as part of two surveys: a survey of 275 local community leaders from the Maiduguri Metropolitan City (MMC) and Konduga areas of Borno State, conducted between September 2020 to June 2021, and a phone survey with a sample of 2,963 respondents representative of the population from Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC), Jere, and Konduga, which was conducted between December 2020 and March 2021. The report focuses on community leaders’ receptivity to returning Boko Haram associates. This policy brief focuses on how community leaders’ experiences of personal targeting, and the extent to which their community members participated in Boko Haram, affect their willingness to allow former members to return. These insights are unique as this data is collected in an ongoing conflict, while reintegration is actively occurring in the North East and communities are receiving those who exit Boko Haram and other armed groups.

    Findings Report 16

    This report is based on data collected as part of a phone survey of community members in 19 municipalities across Colombia, conducted in two waves from April to May 2021 and November to December 2021, as outlined in detail below.1 It presents findings on citizens’ perceptions of implementation of transitional justice measures stemming from the peace agreement signed by the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP in 2016. This data may be useful to government, UN, and NGO partners working in Colombia to support implementation of the peace agreement, particularly the transitional justice system that the agreement created.


    Reports, Policy Memos, and Case Studies

    Managing Exits from Conflict in Iraq: A Case Study of Basra and Tal Afar

    IOM Iraq is delivering programming across Iraq aimed at reducing local sources of violence and supporting economic recovery. These programmes target communities that experienced a high rate of mobilization during the war with ISIL and/or are recovering from the after-effects of occupation by ISIL and the subsequent military campaign to dislodge the group. This report is based on data collected from February 2022 to March 2022 from a total of 807 respondents across the provinces of Basra and Tal Afar, chosen as sites for the MEAC pilot in Iraq due to their high rates of mobilization and differing experiences during the war with ISIL. The report presents data about community experiences pre-, during, and post-war, and examines what community experiences, perceptions, and preferences mean for reintegration prospects in Basra and Tal Afar. This data may be useful to UN and NGO partners working in the region to bolster their early recovery programming, as well as efforts to support the communities who receive a high number of ex-combatants or persons perceived to be associated with armed groups.

    A Media Intervention Featuring Indirect Contact Promotes Peace in Rural Contexts Marked by Longstanding Internal Conflicts in Colombia

    This report is the result of a research collaboration between Andrés Casas – as part of his senior fellowship at UNU-CPR – and the Managing Exits from Armed Conflict (MEAC) project. The report presents the results of an ongoing project initiated in collaboration with the late Emile Bruneau to scale up an innovative intervention to reduce the sociopsychological barriers that make it difficult for communities and countries to transition out of conflict. Emile Bruneau’s research philosophy aimed to apply brain and behavioural sciences to work for peace and security. His work explored an empirical framework focused on the drivers of intergroup conflict and discrimination and tested intervention alternatives to identify and remove barriers to peace and integration. His goal was to find the mechanisms that could pull people and groups out of violence using a bottom-up approach to build peace in tandem with practitioners and communities.

    The Evolution of Inclusion: Three Decades of Policies and Programmes to Manage Exits from Armed Groups in Colombia

    The objective of this report is to provide a history of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) policy and programming in Colombia and derive lessons learned that can be applied to other contexts. This report traces the shifts and policy and programmatic outcomes that have shaped Colombia’s approach to DDR today, paying special attention to how international and national factors (including the work of the UN) have influenced the design and implementation of relevant interventions in Colombia; how policy and programmatic decision-making have served the overarching goal of conflict resolution in the country; and what the impact of these factors and decisions has been on children, women, and ethnic minorities within the population of individuals formerly associated with armed groups. It draws on an extensive literature review and more than 15 interviews conducted between November 2020 and August 2021 with stakeholders involved in the design and implementation of relevant interventions at different points of Colombia’s history, to better understand the evolution of Colombia’s approach to disengagement policy and programming.

    Conflict Exit Data Management and Integration at the United Nations

    Focusing specifically on data related to conflict exits, UNU-CPR undertook a review of existing data management guidelines, policies, and practices intended to inform MEAC’s own data management procedures. This policy memo builds on bilateral consultations, workshop findings, and a review of existing data management and protection guidance. The memo starts by exploring the current state of management and integration of conflict exit-related data across the UN as well as challenges, opportunities, and benefits to enhancing data integration in this space. From there, the memo identifies MEAC’s data management and integration needs and potential ways forward for the project. It concludes with considering ways to further data integration beyond MEAC in order to build the international community’s capacity to effectively support conflict exits going forward.