Security Council Open Debate:
Women, Peace and Security- Sexual Violence in Conflict
May 15, 2017
Mina Jaf, Founder and Executive Director of Women's Refugee Route, addresses the Security Council open debate on the topic, “Women and peace and security: sexual violence in conflict”. UN Photo/Evan Schneider
The Security Council Open Debate entitled, “Sexual Violence in Conflict as a Tactic of War and Terrorism” was convened by the Council’s current president, Uruguay, on 15 May 2017. The meeting was framed as an opportunity to raise awareness on patterns and trends pertinent to the issue of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV), with a particular focus on addressing gaps in prevention; identification within the context of violent extremism; the delivery of victim’s services; survivor reintegration; displacement; and ensuring justice. Member State representatives and briefers at the debate highlighted the devastating impact of sexual violence on the collective identities of conflict-affected communities, the dual-traumatisation of stigma and victim marginalisation, the urgent need to combat impunity for these crimes and their nexus with terrorism and displacement. The discussion yielded significant references to the substantive work of the WPS agenda, yet fell short of prioritising women’s empowerment over protection concerns. Furthermore, though numerous speakers called for addressing the root causes of conflict, discussions related to key drivers such as militarisation, arms proliferation, and patriarchal power relations, were scarce.
Building on the Secretary-General’s 2017 Report on Sexual Violence in Conflict Deputy Secretary-General Amina J Mohamed urged Member States to confront the inequality and discrimination fueling sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which persist beyond the scope of conflict. Mohamed highlighted sexual violence as both a cause and catalyst of displacement, and demanded all relevant parties prioritise conflict prevention in their efforts to combat this crime. Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, echoed these points in his briefing, adding that social marginalisation can not only be fatal to survivors of SGBV, but can also fuel instability and facilitate the resurgence of conflict. Dieng called on the international community to ensure justice, victim support frameworks, and to cease treating survivors as intelligence assets.
Civil society representative Mina Jaf of Women’s Refugee Route, speaking on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, provided a much-needed grassroots perspective in the discussion. Jaf focused primarily on the context of displacement, offering insight from the ground regarding the gender-blind policies which too often dominate humanitarian response mechanisms. She highlighted the main implementation gaps facing displaced survivors, the added threats faced by LGBTQI persons, and highlighted the need for women’s meaningful participation and gender-analysis in the development of protection strategies. Finally, Jaf was one of the only speakers present to call attention to the fundamental nexus between arms proliferation and violent conflict, noting that human rights violations including CRSV are not only propagated, but created, by the flow of arms.
Following the briefings, Member State Representatives offered statements underscoring present risk factors pertaining to CRSV, including the foremost consideration of sexual violence as it relates to violent extremism and methods of warfare. Numerous representatives reaffirmed sexual violence as a security issue, while others, including the representative of the Russian Federation, cautioned against this designation. Notably, The representatives of Argentina, Bolivia, and Lithuania stated that sexual violence is a pre-existing symptom of patriarchy, which is exacerbated and reinforced by conflict or instability. Other widespread themes at the debate included highlighted the victimisation of men and boys, the use of sexual violence as a means of ethnic cleansing, and the persistence of this phenomena as a failure of the UN Security Council to properly implement its mandate. To address these variables, representatives called on relevant parties to ensure accountability; provide reparations and victims’ services; implement protection infrastructures; integrate gender perspectives throughout peacekeeping missions and national security forces; include SGBV as designating criteria in sanctions regimes; ensure women’s participation in peace processes and political structures; and address the root causes of conflict.
A total of 69 statements were delivered at the debate. Overall, the distribution of references pertinent to specific themes within the WPS agenda were far more prevalent among issues relating to the victimisation of women and girls, such as protection and SGBV. However positive numbers of representatives also drew attention to themes of empowerment, such as participation and conflict prevention. It must be noted that despite this progress, integral pillars of the agenda, such as disarmament, lacked the consideration required to fully address the phenomenon of CRSV.
Justice, Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform
Of the 69 delivered statements, 60 (87 percent) referenced Justice, Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform. Cultures of impunity and injustice were identified by relevant Member State representatives as drivers and enabling factors of conflict, which further impair post-conflict peacebuilding by impeding the collective healing processes necessary for preventing resurgences of violence. To overcome gaps relating to weak rule of law, women’s access to justice, and harmful social norms, speakers called on relevant parties to facilitate the investigation and documentation of CRSV, strengthening legal and evidentiary frameworks to enable prosecution, capacity building among state and community judicial institutions, and an emphasis on truth, reconciliation and transformative justice.
Of the 69 delivered statements, 36 (52 percent) referenced conflict prevention. Though a handful of speakers referenced pre-existing inequality between genders and the proliferation of CRSV, these representatives were a vast minority. Conflict prevention references were instead focused on vague statements regarding “tackling root causes” which by and large miscalculate the most critical drivers of conflict and crises. Without addressing, militarisation, arms flows, or gender dynamics governing peacetime communities, member states will fail to prevent both conflict and CRSV. Though suggested action steps such as improved risk assessment and early warning mechanisms comprise a positive trend, detailed commitments and mechanisms pertaining to such efforts remained absent from the dialogue.
Of the 69 delivered statements, 36 (52 percent) referenced women’s participation. Relevant statement called on the international community to promote the full participation of women in comprehensive prevention and peacemaking efforts, including post conflict reconciliation. Within this number, 13 statements (19 percent) urged relevant parties to counter the shrinking space for civil society throughout the UN system and ensure the inclusion of local women’s organisations. Additionally a number of speakers stressed the need for women’s meaningful participation in decision-making and leadership roles. Nonetheless, as a pivotal pillar of the WPS agenda, women’s participation should have been among the most present themes at this debate. The UN system continues to place an inordinate amount of emphasis on protecting women, as is evidenced by the 77 percent of speakers at this meeting referencing this theme. This language relegates women’s status to that of victims, removing their agency, and failing to consider that though faced with disproportionate threats, protection is not the solution to victimisation - empowerment is.
Of the 69 delivered statements, 2 (3 percent) referenced disarmament. Increased militarisation and arms trades fuel both conflict and SGBV, which is often perpetrated by individuals holding weapons. Furthermore, military funding diverts resources away from investments in essential elements of conflict prevention such as gender equality, access to education, capacity building and health services. In this light, disarmament should have been among the most prevalent issues discussed at this debate, particularly given the heavy armament use (including chemical weapons) in many of the conflict-affected states listed in the Secretary-General’s report on CRSV, which impose a devastating impact on the lives of women.
It is notable that despite the preponderance of data offered in the Secretary-General’s report concerning relevant developments to sexual violence in nearly 20 conflict situations, few speakers afforded consideration to country-specific situations.
Approximately 25 percent of representatives condemned or expressed concern for the activities of violent extremist groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) without further geographic specificity. The crises in Syria (14 percent) and Iraq (10 percent) were further address, however the dialogue was limited to references of women and girls’ victimisation in those states, with few exceptions. Situations in Colombia (2 percent) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (9 percent) were largely referenced as good practice examples concerning the engagement of women in political processes and national efforts to ensure accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence, as well as reintegration support for survivors. The situation in Nigeria was referenced in 7 percent of the delivered statements, primarily in connection to Boko Haram, the enslavement of the Chibok girls, and the humanitarian impact of these issues. Cursory attention was afforded to crises in Palestine (1.5 percent), Lebanon (1.5 percent) and Yemen (2 percent), each of which maintained the overarching trend of emphasising victimisation in these territories, without suggested action steps or mitigation efforts to overcome persisting barriers.
To fully address the root causes of conflict, UN Member States must:
Deny authorisation of any arms sales or transfers when there is a risk that the weapons would be used to commit or facilitate human rights violations;
Implement (when applicable) gender aware disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programmes for women and men combatants;
Regulate the internal arms control which is carried out by civilians;
Establish a transparent, complete, and current arms register and:
Ratify and implement the Arms Trade Treaty, which requires exporting parties to take into account the risk of conventional arms being used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence.
Reiterating the Security Council’s commitment to gender equality and that women’s and girl’s empowerment and gender equality are critical to conflict prevention and broader effort to maintain international peace and security (UNSCR 2242 (2015)), Member States should:
Establish national mechanisms, including legislation and policies for rigorous, transparent, and gendered risk assessments of international transfers of arms and export licences developed in full consultation with civil society organisations and;
Implement and uphold domestic violence and SGBV legislation in line with international human rights standards which promote women’s rights and gender equality.
Women, women civil society organisations and survivors of CRSV must be part of:
The negotiations and monitoring of ceasefires and peace processes;
The design and implementation of protection of civilian strategies;
The development of conflict prevention and combating violent extremism strategies, and also brief sanctions committees.
The Meeting Record is available here.
States Represented at this meeting included:
Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Sweden, United States, France, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Egypt, China, Italy, Kazakhstan, Spain, Nigeria, Switzerland, Senegal, Japan, Rwanda, Peru, Liechtenstein, Iran, Pakistan, Brazil, Canada (for the Group of Friends on Women, Peace and Security), Hungary, Estonia, Chile, Ireland, Guatemala, Poland, Bangladesh, Colombia, Argentina, Norway (for the Nordic countries), Panama, Turkey, Lithuania, Mexico, Sudan, Costa Rica, Germany, India, Czech Republic, Belgium, Republic of Korea, Tunisia, Albania, Netherlands, Syria, Portugal, Côte d’Ivoire, Venezuela, Indonesia, Ghana, South Africa, Israel, Malaysia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Cambodia, Maldives, Sierra Leone and Djibouti.
Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Mina Jaf (speaking on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security) European Union, Holy See and African Union.