Non-state armed groups and political transformation

Re-thinking disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration

Former combatants share how they became political leaders in our videos | Former combatants share how they became political leaders in our videos | Photo: Berghof Foundation

Together with the United Nations we work to improve support to the transformation of non-state armed groups after war.

Timeframe: 2021 - 2024

Together with the United Nations DPO DDR section, we convene events and produce policy documents and training resources for mediators and practitioners in the field of disarmament, demobilisation, and re-integration (DDR), and others involved in peace processes and post-war peacebuilding, aiming to facilitate effective political re-conversion processes.

The disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of non-state armed groups (NSAGs) are integral components of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. For many armed groups, their political participation in democratic processes is a key condition for their readiness to undergo DDR processes. However, while DDR is a well-established instrument within UN, and other international peace missions, there is little programmatic support for rebel-to-party transitions and the political (re-) integration of ex-combatants. The new module 2.20 of the International DDR Standards (IDDRS) on the Politics of DDR offers a fresh attempt to manage this intersection.

This project aims to support the operationalisation of this new policy guidance by providing expertise and evidence from practitioners, including mediators and former combatants who became political leaders. It will generate and disseminate concrete guidance on planning, designing and implementing DDR processes that are not only reactive to politics but also help shape political environments conducive to sustainable peace.

Together with the United Nations DPO DDR section, we produced videos with personal testimonies from former combatants who became political leaders:


Political aspirations, such as claims to political participation or self-governance, are prominent in the discourses upheld by many armed opposition groups, and represent an important source of mobilisation and recruitment.

In the context of peace processes especially, negotiations with the leadership of politically-motivated armed groups are generally premised on their transformation into an unarmed political entity, in order to bring about a permanent end to armed conflict. Their leaders are not likely to agree to negotiate unless they have the ability to compete in the electoral arena as a condition for their disarmament and demobilisation. Irrespective of the nature of their political claims, most armed groups usually end up taking political positions at the local, regional or national level – with or without international assistance.

International actors can provide strategic and technical support to ensure that the political (re-) conversion of armed groups takes place in the best conditions, facilitating conflict transformation and fostering sustainable peace. External support to the political transformation of NSAGs can also enhance respect for democratic principles, by training their members in paying attention to constitutional policymaking, legislative processes, gender parity, inclusive and consensual decision-making, accountable electoral and fundraising practices. Therefore, an integrated approach is required, in coordination between all relevant (UN and other) agencies dealing with peace process support, DDR, and political and governance assistance, including human rights and transitional justice.

Many former armed groups have successfully transformed into peaceful and democratic political parties and their leaders became heads of state, parliamentarians, governors, or mayors. There is a wealth of experience to learn from, and these experienced politicians can in turn provide useful advice for agencies and missions willing to invest in operational support for political reintegration.

This project aims to capitalise on past lessons learnt and best practices in order to improve the design, planning and implementation of political transformation support programmes by UN and other international peace(building) support agencies.


During the first project phase (2021-2022), the following activities were completed:

  • Production of video clips showcasing personal testimonies from former combatants who became political leaders.
  • An expert workshop in Berlin (in December 2021) on the nexus between mediation and DDR explored framework conditions for mediation processes to facilitate effective political transformation, and to pave the ground for a holistic planning and implementation of the security, socio-economic and political dimensions of DDR.
  • A policy event in New York (in June 2022) to sensitise UN agencies and member states on challenges and opportunities of supporting the political transformation of non-state armed groups during or after armed conflicts.
  • Two publications presenting findings and recommendations to practitioners in the mediation, DDR and political transformation communities.

The second project phase (2023-2024) includes:

  • On-the-ground capacity-building activities in direct support to political transformation for the involved parties, either during the design and implementation of a DDR process or during the negotiation of a peace agreement (for example: Workshop with Ethiopian National Rehabilitation Commission conducted in Addis Ababa, December 2023).
  • Facilitation of a research-policy-practice exchange on mediating the political transformation of non-state armed groups.
  • Development of a training module for DDR and/or mediation practitioners.
  • Iterative analysis of available data to develop a primer for practitioners embarking on any type of support to political transformation, including the opportunities but also risks and challenges of supporting politically sensitive processes.

The project collaborates closely with other organisations active in this area, such as the Swedish Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA),the Politics After War Network and Swisspeace.

Partners and funding

The project is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office through the United Nations Department of Peace Operations (UN DPO), Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions (OROLSI), Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) team.


Updates from this work:

Read more about how former armed groups can successfully be transformed into peaceful and democratic opolitical parties:



Project lead

Véronique Dudouet
Senior Advisor
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Team members

Johanna-Maria Hülzer


Media contact

Florian Lüdtke
Media and Communications Manager
+49 (0) 177 7052758
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