Civilian Response Corps: Experiences From the Field

May 10, 2011 // 9:30am11:30am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Africa Program
Middle East Program

On May 10, 2011, The Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity hosted an event titled “Civilian Response Corps: Experiences from the Field.” The event included a panel of four members of the Civilian Response Corps (CRC), both active and standby, who shared their experiences on the ground in reconstruction and recovery in post-conflict regions of Afghanistan, Central African Republic and Sudan.

Richard Chema, US Department of Justice, outlined his role as a civilian advisor in the creation of a national criminal court in Afghanistan that would prosecute individuals for national security violations. The goal, he explained, was to create a system where individuals that had been detained on the battlefield could be prosecuted in a civilian court, thus moving away from enforcing the law of war. He emphasized how important it was to not impose a common law concept of due process on the procedures. This was a unique experience, as it had never been attempted before, and included four missions: 1) helping to identify appropriate detainees for prosecution; 2) establishing procedures to gather evidence; 3) facilitating the Afghan capacity; and 4) helping the Afghans with cases on trial. The name of the unit, as Chema insisted, said it all: “Combined—Americans and Afghans working together. Joined—all the different services. Inter-Agency—civilians and military working together.” He commended the heroic people he worked with, some of whom traveled under harsh conditions to complete this project.

Serving two tours in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, Jason Lewis-Berry, of the Office of the Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction (S/CRS) at the US State Department, worked in the strategic and critical province of Kandahar. His responsibilities were to first, establish a US embassy presence and second, to integrate US and Canadian operations with the provincial reconstruction team in order to create a bi-national organization in the region. Like Chema, Lewis-Berry discussed the importance of integrating civilians, US military and Afghans to help meet the needs of Afghans in the region. He described an innovative structure of stabilization teams that coupled civilians and military from both sides in order “to help mentor and build capacity to find ways to get resources and USAID programs, into their [Afghan] hands and city in a way that met their priorities.” He found that this best-practice model was successful and “helped empower the Afghan government.” Like his fellow panelist, Lewis-Berry stressed the importance of understanding what is happening on the ground, the necessity to be flexible and critical need to share lessons with other countries and agencies in order to have successful operations.

As a standby member of the CRC, Cecily Brewer, Foreign Affairs Officer in S/CRS, has been deployed to Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Afghanistan working to establish inter-agency coordination with the objective to bring together the different skill sets of the agencies in order to strive towards a common goal. Brewer also worked on data collection processes that examined the drivers of conflict and determined how the agencies could support the positive elements already on the ground. Working with the embassy to better integrate conflict assessments into policy analysis, her team developed indicators to gage progress to assist the Chief of Mission gain information on how they were working towards their goals. Brewer stated, “One of the lessons that we’ve learned is that you can’t have sustainability without building up local leadership,” acknowledging the importance of including NGOs to help identify knowledge gaps and tap into their expertise.

Under a mandate to “establish the operational and logistic capacity” in Southern Sudan, Martin Regan, also at S/CRS, worked on the ground to build relationships with local government, NGOs, international partners and community leaders in order to inform US policy on the region. He stated that in order for the South Sudanese Independence Referendum to be successful, it was critical that the people working under this mandate become generalists—doing more than their expertise and thinking on their feet in order to eliminate risks. Giving the primary credit to the people of Southern Sudan in pulling off a successful referendum, Regan lauded the “rewarding” role his team played in “facilitating proper conduct of the referendum and creating credibility for the international community.”

Event Speakers List: 
  • Steve McDonald // Public Policy Scholar
    Former Director, Africa Program, Woodrow Wilson Center.
  • US Department of Justice
  • Lead Foreign Affairs Officer, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, US State Department
  • Office of the Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction
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