On Wednesday (15 April), The Security Council, under the Jordanian presidency, held its annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence. The 67-speaker debate began with a briefing from Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura to the Council on the Secretary-General’s annual report on conflict-related sexual violence (S/2015/203). The report highlights 2014 as a disturbing year marred by sexual violence within the context of violent extremism. It centered primarily on addressing the use of sexual violence by non-state armed groups, such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)/ DAESH, which operate outside the realm of international law. Sexual violence was recognized as a strategic tactic of war, not a mere byproduct of conflict. Hamsatu Allamin, a civil society representative from Nigeria, also addressed the Council on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. Allamin asked for strengthened efforts and coordination of international and local work to support the hopes of those “yearning for peace and an end to violence…[who] are willing to lay down their arms, but lack an alternative” including through action on the Arms Trade Treaty.
Throughout the debate, speakers discussed the need to strengthen UN Peacekeeping Operations by integrating gender-specific training; to better incorporate the women, peace and security agenda within the Council’s thematic work; and to recognize all perpetrators of sexual violence including state actors. References were also made for expanding designation criteria for sanctions committees – including the 1267/1989 al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee - to include sexual violence. In the SG’s report, the analysis concluded that Conflict Related Sexual Violence is exacerbated in situations where systemic gender-based discrimination already exists; further, as a primary reason for displacement, this sexual violence creates a vicious cycle of vulnerability for women in conflict-settings. As conflicts throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and elsewhere, continue to spread and the rate of displacement intensifies, now more than ever is time for action to ensure the protection of civilians through humanitarian action. As SRSG Bangura noted in her statement, “the history of wartime rape has been a history of denial.”
As was stated by SRSG Bangura and further echoed by speakers throughout the day, “sexual violence in conflict represents a great moral issue of our time.” Sexual violence drives displacement, and there is an increased vulnerability of displaced or refugee women and girls to sexual exploitation, such as human trafficking, early marriage and forced marriage. Bangura noted that, in the past five years alone, a normative foundation had been created and deeper knowledge, analysis, and information had allowed for strategic interventions. Today, more resources are being directly allocated for sexual and gender-based violence programming than ever before, and further, accountability for a crime historically considered as “cost-free” to commit was finally beginning to emerge. While states and communities are increasing ownership of the overall problem, accountability through legal measures remains a major obstacle. Finally, Bangura stressed the emergence of non-state armed groups and their use of sexual violence as a tactic of war. The Council must continue to explore engagement with these actors as well as revisiting and modifying existing mechanisms, institutions, and tools as needed to address these evolving threats.
PeaceWomen monitored the debate and worked with the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security to support civil society speaker Hamsatu Allamin who presented a civil society statement to the council. Allamin highlighted the role of both state and non-state armed groups as perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence. She stated that, prevention efforts are futile without women’s participation in leadership and in peace processes. Allamin asked for strengthened efforts and coordination of international and local work to support the hopes of those “yearning for peace and an end to violence…[who] are willing to lay down their arms, but lack an alternative” including through action on the Arms Trade Treaty. She urged the Council to ensure for the development of comprehensive justice strategies that comply with international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as with ethical and safety guidelines.
Of the 67 made, 37 statements (55%) made some mention of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. References were made to UNSCR 1325 generally (20 statements, 30%), to the implementation and integration of 1325 in some capacity (25 statements; 37%), and to the High Level Review of the resolution set for October (21 statements, 31%). As a general recommendation, integration and inclusion of Women, Peace and Security within national and regional policies and programmes was also significant throughout the debate (28 statements, 42%).
Another key recommendation involved increased efforts towards the active participation of women in peacebuilding and post-conflict settings (35 statements, 52%), however most references (31 statements) made were general with very little actionable steps suggested. While the Council seems to understand the importance of increasing active participation of women, it is fragmented in how it perceives this increase. For some, it was integration of women in peacekeeping or security forces; for others, it was increased inclusion of women in political and socio-economic settings both during peace processes and in post-conflict.
Throughout the debate, speakers referenced the need to challenge existing societal norms and gender perspectives in order to best address the root cause of gender inequality and gender-based discrimination, mainly gender-based violence (directly mentioned in 23 statements, 34%). Six statements called on inclusion of early warning initiatives as a means of prevention. France, Chad, Spain, Chile, Canada, and Nepal made reference in some capacity to women’s participation in security forces as a recommendation for both prevention of conflict early on and protection of civilians during conflict. The recommendation of participation varied based on statement: Spain and Nepal asked for women’s inclusion in both security and peacekeeping forces; Chile advocated for inclusion of gender-specific training of security forces; France and Canada made general reference to women’s participation; and Chad asked for the increase of women in security forces to help address issues such as the needs of survivors of conflict related sexual violence, suggesting a rise in women’s presence can improve the fight against impunity.
France, United Kingdom, Chile, and Malaysia amongst others highlighted the role of the state, first and foremost, to protect its civilians while complying with international legal mechanisms. Several other speakers, including those from troop- and police-contributing countries, called for the increased presence of female peacekeepers (19 statements, 28%) and in senior positions within multidimensional peace operations as well as an increase in women protection advisers (WPAs) and gender advisors (31 statements, 46%).
Many speakers cited the need for increased mission accountability by strengthening the gendered dimension of the UN system, specifically peacekeeping operations (PKOs) through integration of mandatory gender-specific training and gender mainstreaming of peacekeeping forces and humanitarian responders. Security Council President Dina Kawar, under her capacity as ambassador to Jordan, called for the appointment of Secretary-General special advisor on the protection of women in conflict. While suggestions were made for improving PKOs, few speakers highlighted sexual and gender-based violence at the hands of peacekeeping and security forces. Guatemala proposed the adoption of an international code of conduct for military and security forces in conflict and post-conflict settings.
Throughout the debate, speakers recognized that conflict-related sexual violence is a tactic of war aimed at the destruction of the individual and the undermining of peace and development globally. Broadly, speakers urged for improved accountability through increased referrals of perpetrators to the International Criminal Court (22 statements, 33%), while some, such as Nigeria, spoke on the promotion of criminal law reform in order to address impunity. Lithuania called for the “universal application of the Rome Statute, as it recognizes sexual violence offences as crimes against humanity,” with a handful of other speakers in agreeance.
France, Spain, Venezuela, Chile, and Belgium amongst others echoed the Secretary-General Report’s recommendation of the inclusion of targeted sanctions to combat the rise in sexual violence by non-state armed groups. This recommendation suggests that the Sanctions Committee on al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS/DAESH) include sexual violence in its criteria for applying targeted measures. The African Union highlighted the need for implementing and honoring existing legal frameworks to combat violence against women and sexual violence.
Poland, Lithuania, Ireland, and the European Union advocated the work done to include gender provisions within the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), citing the influence of small arms and light weapons on exacerbating gender-based violence and conflict related violence.
Throughout the all-day debate, speakers highlighted several key themes. Speakers, such as the United States, Lithuania, Nigeria, India, Thailand, and Brazil, advocated for the strengthening of peacekeeping operations, specifically through gender-specific training; improvement of women’s participation by increasing women peace advisers and gender advisers; and providing gender mainstreaming to peacekeeping and security forces. Many others made reference to the High Level Review of UNSCR 1325 in October, which will be hosted by Spain. SRSG Bangura, The United States, and Argentina made direct mention of the risks facing the LGBT community in conflict and the importance of their inclusion when addressing conflict-related sexual violence as this community becomes increasingly victimized and targeted. While overall, speakers are recognizing the evolving nature of conflict and the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, many of the recommendations suggested remain broad and vague. The Secretary-General’s report, for the first time, integrally links sexual violence to the strategic objectives, ideology, and funding of extremist groups. Further, the report notes that women’s empowerment and sexual violence prevention should be central to the international response.