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Countries emerging from armed conflict or authoritarian rule face difficult questions about what to do with public employees who perpetrated human rights abuses—and the institutional structures that allowed such abuses to happen.

Vetting refers to the processes of assessing the integrity of individuals—including adherence to relevant human rights standards—to determine their suitability for public employment. Countries undergoing transitions to democracy and peace frequently use such processes to exclude abusive or incompetent public employees from public service.

Yet the topic of vetting has received little systematic attention. As a result, many vetting processes have been handled poorly and unfairly.

Project Aims

The ICTJ Research Unit conducted a comparative and comprehensive multiyear research project examining vetting processes in countries emerging from armed conflict and authoritarianism. Beyond being a means of punishing individuals, the research found that vetting—particularly in the security and justice sectors—can make an important contribution to:

  • reestablishing civic trust and re-legitimizing abusive public institutions
  • disabling structures within which individuals carried out serious abuses
  • removing obstacles to transitional reform.

Publications and Case Studies

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In early 2007, the project culminated in the publication of Justice as Prevention: Vetting Public Employees in Transitional Societies (SSRC, 2007), the second book in the Advancing Transitional Justice Series, edited by ICTJ's then Director of Security System Reform, Alexander Mayer-Rieckh, and Director of Research Pablo de Greiff. It includes case studies of vetting in nine countries, including:

  • Argentina
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • The Czech Republic
  • East Germany
  • El Salvador
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Poland
  • South Africa

The book also contains four thematic chapters, which examine a number of critically important issues for vetting processes, including:

  • information management
  • due process
  • vetting's relationship to other institutional reforms and
  • vetting's relationship to transitional justice.

As with all ICTJ research projects, this one was designed to produce useful results for both the academic and the policymaker and practitioner communities.

On the basis of its research, ICTJ developed operational vetting guidelines that appear in Justice as Prevention, but that have also been published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as part of its series of Rule-of-Law Tools for Post-Conflict Societies, and by the United Nations Development Programme.

ICTJ also published Census and Identification of Security Personnel after Conflict: A Tool Book for Practitioners and provided input in the SSR Handbook of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).