by Ines Boussebaa
Report of the Secretary-General:
Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015) and 2332 (2016)
Date: 21 September 2017
Period: 1 to 31 August 2017
Pursuant to Security Council Resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016), the Security Council orders: all parties to immediately put an end to all forms of violence and attacks against civilians; rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners; to demilitarise medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities; to lift the sieges of populated areas; to end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights. Pursuant to Resolution 2165 (2014), the Security Council also requests to establish a mechanism to monitor the humanitarian situation on the ground. In this vein, Resolution 2139 (2014) invites relevant actors to ensure full participation by all groups and segments of Syrian society, including women (para. 30).
The report of the Secretary-General covers security and humanitarian developments in Syria over the last month. The report explains that while the impact of violence continues to affect citizens, ceasefire agreements and de-escalation areas have contributed to a decrease in civilian casualties where agreements are in place. However, violent fighting and clashes, air strikes, artillery shelling and sniper attacks attacks continue. In August, 513,420 people were living in 11 areas under siege (Para 22). In Raqqah, 15,000 civilians are trapped in the city, at risk of air strikes, mortar, snipers, mines or being used as human shields (Para 5). In addition, when civilians attempt to leave ISIL-controlled areas, they face further risks including harassment, arrest and landmines (Para 6).
Delivering humanitarian assistance to people in need was challenging, and the United Nations had a difficult time accessing besieged and hard-to-reach locations. In camps, deaths occur due to harsh conditions, including poor water quality and health care (Para 7). Despite these challenges, humanitarian efforts continue to take place. For example, the United Nations delivered food assistance to more than 714,160 people through cross-border deliveries from Turkey and Jordan (Para 32). Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have obtained access through an Iraq crossing point, resulting in increased overall access for NGOs.
Of 47 paragraphs in the report, there was one reference to women, focusing on their protection: “Protection actors in the north-eastern area continued to scale up their response by expanding the presence of protection teams for consultations, analysis and the identification of needs (including through mobile activities in newly accessible areas), and the establishment and strengthening of existing static facilities, such as community centres, satellite centres, child -friendly spaces and safe spaces for women and girls (para 8).” The Annex includes data on violations committed against women, disproportionately highlighting their vulnerability. This lack of a gender consideration is repetitive; references to the Syrian Women Advisory Board made in earlier reports are no longer mentioned.
Protection is the only context in which women are discussed in this and the majority of previous reports, without specific attention given to their protection needs. The report states that protection actors must scale up their response by identifying needs, and establishing child-friendly spaces and safe spaces for women and girls (Para 8), effectively combining women and children into one group. Women’s specific needs are not addressed further than this. Despite references to the situation of displaced people and protection concerns in camps, the report does not refer to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes. The report briefly mentions problems in camps, including early marriages in exchange for financial resources. But, there is no specific mention of girls, just children and youth (Para 7). Additionally, the report mentions that 46,000 people received humanitarian and emergency assistance under the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All Initiative, including distribution of hygiene kits, but does not mention women-specific sanitation and hygiene needs in conflict zones (Para 27). Overall, the report fails to mention services, or the lack of services, provided for women in the context of the current humanitarian and security situations in Syria.
The report did not mention any measures undertaken to prevent the proliferation of weapons. Despite calling for violence de-escalation and the need for a political solution, the UN Secretary-General does not bring any light to the lack of international commitment to refraining from arms sales and ammunition supplies to the Syrian government and other parties to the conflict. It is part of the Secretary General’s mandate to report on efforts to prevent violence caused by arms. While several Member and observer States of the Council support the Syrian political process, many of them are nevertheless paradoxically implicated in arms transfers to all warring parties. The billions spent on war technologies rather than on peacebuilding, development and human rights perpetuate a militarised security approach to conflict that has proved unsuccessful and unsustainable.
Various sides in the conflict continue to use weapons, including air and ground strikes, landmines and explosive devices, in civilian areas. This has resulted in an extremely large amounts of civilian injuries and deaths, destruction of infrastructure and displacement, with a disproportionate impact on women. Women affected by explosive violence often have fewer opportunities to access health care services and reconstruction processes. They also become more susceptible to further physical attacks and sexual exploitation, aggravated by displacement and camps, the polarisation of gender roles, the increased use of arms, the breakdown of order and restrictions on the freedom of movement.
While Resolution 2139 (2014) requests all relevant actors to ensure full participation by all groups and segments of Syrian society (para. 30), the engagement of the Special Envoy with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board remains non-existent. Nothing was mentioned in this report concerning the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board. It is necessary to include Syrian women in leadership, development, conflict resolution and promotion of sustainable peace. Women’s participation increases the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years by 20 percent, and by 35 percent the probability of a peace agreement lasting 15 years (UNSCR 1325 Global Study UN Women, 2015). The UN Secretary-General does not incorporate gender analysis in his coverage of the political and security situation and fails to highlight the main barriers to women’s participation in Syria. He has committed to incorporating gender, and he should be working for inclusivity.
The UN Secretary-General’s report makes no specific references to the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda. The report makes one mention of women, as previously mentioned under protection. WPS is a cross-cutting issue, and it is imperative that the UN Secretary-General’s reports on the situation in Syria integrate gender analysis throughout each section of the report to ensure women’s concerns are adequately represented, providing a balance between the protection and participation aspects. In a humanitarian context, the Secretary-General must include the needs women have in camps, for example mentioning women-specific sanitation and hygiene needs in conflict zones in his reports. Additionally, WPS must be implemented on the ground. The Secretary-General and other actors must go beyond mentioning the needs women have, and act upon resolving them. Sex-disaggregated data must be collected on the ground to better understand the issues women face, and to best solve these issues.
Women are the leading actors who address peace and security issues, mobilise convoys to ensure supplies and identify early warning signs of radicalisation. Local and community-based women’s groups have access to and relationships with conflict parties, and should therefore be more strongly linked to the high-level mediation process. Council members facilitating the Astana peace process have a specific obligation to ensure women’s full and meaningful participation in the negotiations and operation of the de-escalation areas and security zones. Yet women are not trusted with the necessary space for meaningful participation and resources to develop and continue their work. The reporting process should be reflective of the status of women’s participation in design and implementation of all initiatives throughout the conflict cycle. The UN Secretary-General should call on the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria to strengthen and enhance the role of the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board in the peace process, and invite the Security Council to ensure its framework for operation promotes accountability for human rights violations and effectively incorporate Syrian women’s voices. Moreover, the UN Secretary-General should urge the Office to include Syrian gender experts in all expert meetings in the technical consultative process to ensure that a gender perspective is taken into account.
Women and girls face many risks. Restrictions on humanitarian aid to women in hard-to-reach and besieged areas must be addressed. Women and girls fleeing conflict must be afforded safe passage and protection while in transit and in final destinations. The prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence and women’s specific medical and sanitation needs must also be addressed. The Secretary General should ensure that relevant international actors adequately address women’s particular needs, such as secure access to sanitation and hygiene facilities, and health assistance that includes sexual and reproductive health, family planning, psychosocial, maternal health services and non-discriminatory medical services. Aid should be provided in line with IHL and not subject to any donor restrictions to ensure comprehensive medical care, including safe abortion. The needs of adolescent girls, who are more likely to be subjected to militarised violence, should be identified and implemented. The UN Secretary-General should explicitly call upon the Security Council and other actors to prioritise gender-sensitive approaches to the protection of civilians in both the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the operation of de-escalation zones and security areas, in order to ensure that the issues women and children face are not further exacerbated.
The UN Secretary-General should urge Council Members and observer states to start adopting a different approach that addresses the root causes of the unending conflict in Syria. There is an urgent need to curb the ongoing flow of guns and other weapons to all parties in the conflict, which exacerbate levels of SGBV. The Security Council must confront this issue, including by encouraging states to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and establish enforceable national and regional regulations on small arms, consistent with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) General Recommendation No. 30 and 35. This approach is guaranteed to prevent and reduce gender-based violence in Syria and facilitate a new, nonviolent, effective, community-driven and sustainable peace process.
The lack of references to WPS resolutions in both UNSG reports and UNSC resolutions on Syria further complicates the implementation of the WPS Agenda. In the future, the gender dimension of all issues should be clearly articulated, as agreements that are gender neutral have often proven detrimental to the well-being, security and needs of women.
As for accountability, the Secretary-General should call on Council members should support the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on international crimes committed in Syria. This should be paired with the UN Secretary General’s call to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. There must be accountability for SGBV, including those amounting to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The UN Secretary-General should call for long-term support to the documentation of violence against women and girls by resourcing and strengthening capacities of Syrian organisations and WHRDs working in this field, allowing them to follow up on cases and to support survivors to access justice.
There must be a more comprehensive legal response to the crimes committed against women and civilians in general, including the fight against impunity and the change in the existing legal framework. However, the existing political deadlock significantly limits the possibility of adjusting the legal system and addressing impunity in Syria.