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: 15 December 2017
Period: 1 to 30 November 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 military activities and significant military escalation that were reported in September and October continue to occur, in particular activities targeting areas still held by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (Box 1, para 1). Fighting across Syria, continued to affect civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals. Three out of four de-escalation areas see an overall reduction in violence impacting civilians, a positive development. In October, Raqqah city was retaken from ISIL after air strikes, fighting, damage to infrastructure and many civilian casualties. Now, civilians are returning to their homes. The single greatest protection concern, according to the report, is the prevalence of unexploded ordinances and landmines, and civilians have sustained traumatic injuries as a result of explosions. Some areas, such as eastern Ghutah and Dayr al-Zawr Governorate, saw an increase in fighting and a continuation of military operations, as well as a lack of access for commercial and humanitarian goods. This resulted in deteriorating humanitarian conditions for many people, including an estimated 393,300 people in eastern Ghutah (para 2).
Delivering humanitarian assistance to people in need was challenging as a result of active conflict, shifting conflict lines, administrative impediments and deliberate restrictions imposed on the movement of people and goods by the parties to the conflict (para 19). Despite these challenges, humanitarian efforts continue to take place. In November, the United Nations “reached millions of people in need from within the Syrian Arab Republic, including some 2,688,245 people who received food assistance through regular deliveries; 902,000 people were reached through cross-border convoys; and 228,950 people were reached through five humanitarian inter-agency cross-line convoys (para 6).” International and Syrian NGOs continue to play an important role, providing medical, educational, psychosocial and protection services, in besieged and hard-to-reach locations.
Of 42 paragraphs in the report, there was only one reference to women, in a humanitarian context: “1,131 pregnant and lactating women benefited from counselling on appropriate infant and young child feeding practices (para 28).” 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 discussed in this report, but women’s specific protection needs or gender are not mentioned. The report discusses the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities and schools, and difficulties in delivering humanitarian assistance. The report states that life-saving and life sustaining medical items sufficient for more than 10,651 treatments were rejected or removed from convoys in November by the Syrian authorities (para 24). A chart lists the types of treatments and kits removed, but do not mention any kits specific to women and girls’ health, including sexual, reproductive and maternal health kits or treatments. For example, women face higher rates of sexual violence in conflict, maternal mortality rates rise and there is an increase in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Treatments for all of this are necessary, as protecting the health and rights of women and girls is not only critical to weathering conflict - protecting women’s health can also accelerate recovery from crises. Another part of the report briefly mentions maternal health, stating that 1,131 pregnant and lactating women benefited from counselling on appropriate infant and young child feeding practices (para 28). Women’s and girl’s health needs were not mentioned beyond this. Overall, the report fails to mention services, or the lack of services, provided for women in the context of the current humanitarian and security situation in Syria.
Lastly, this report describes the humanitarian response plan funding, just over 50 percent funded (para 32). The report listing the difference sections that are funded, including food security and agriculture, non-food items and shelter, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, protection and community services, education, nutrition, and camp coordination and camp management. There is no mention of how gender ties into these services, which is very problematic. For example, women need different health, sanitation and protection responses. A different part of the report discusses nutrition, listing several steps United Nations nutrition partners have taken: conducting a nutrition sector survey that showed a deterioration in the nutrition situation among children under the age of 5, treating 2,800 children for acute malnutrition and giving 3,850 children high energy biscuits. No gender dimension was given, which is important to know as girls suffer from hunger and higher rates of malnutrition. Women and men face different struggles in conflict, and a “one size” humanitarian plan will not succeed for all.
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.
The report states that the United Nations-led intra-Syrian talks resumed in Geneva on 20 November, with a focus on the the 12 Living Intra-Syrian Essential Principles. These Principles offer a vision of a future State that can be shared by all Syrians, and on a process and a schedule for drafting a new constitution. The Secretary-General also states that road maps for a schedule and process to draft a new constitution and United Nations-supervised elections are also required. 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 all talks concerning leadership, development, conflict resolution and promotion of sustainable peace. A vision of the future State cannot be shared by all Syrians if not all sectors of society are included, and a new constitution will not represent all civilians if women are not involved in its “road map”. Unfortunately, women face additional barriers beyond the lack of their involvement. Despite mentioning a vision of the future, the Secretary-General does not mention money allocated to gender expertise in reconstruction efforts, and does not report on efforts to strengthen gender expertise. Overall, 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. 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, whether it is health or camp related, or any other important context, 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.
However, the Secretary-General does make a reference to sustainable peace, stating that accountability is central to achieve such peace. He also calls on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Despite this mention of accountability and sustainable peace, the UN Secretary-General’s report no gender perspective when discussing this (para 48). Since the conflict began in Syria, many human rights violations against women and girls have been committed, including the rape of women in government detention centers in Syria, and the sexual enslavement of women and girls and by the Islamic State. Women and girls do not have access to protection and justice while facing ongoing gender-based violence, including forced and early marriage, and “honor” crimes. This lack of access, as well as impunity for conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) tramples UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and undermines peace and security. These crimes are not an inevitable result of conflict; they are crimes that must be investigated and punished in order to achieve sustainable peace.
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. Lastly, the Secretary-General should make sure, and report on, whether or not there has been money allocated to gender in women’s participation concerning Syria’s future.
Women and girls face many risks. Restrictions on humanitarian aid to women, as well as the lack of women’s specific health supplies, in hard-to-reach and besieged areas must 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 nutrition, 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, malnutrition and a lack of education, should be identified and implemented. The Secretary-General must also elaborate on the gender elements of humanitarian funding plans. 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, explosives 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 sustainable peace the Secretary-General speaks of will only be possible once the root causes of conflict have been addressed.
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. SGBV must be addressed, 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. The Secretary-General must also make it clear in his reports that there has to be zero tolerance for violation of women and girls’ rights: all sides in a conflict will be prosecuted and justice will not be bargained away at the negotiating table. Reminding perpetrators and assuring victims that perpetrators will be held responsible assures a good base for women’s involvement in reconstruction.
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.