By Ines Boussebaa
Period: 1-31 June 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 UN Secretary-General covers security and humanitarian developments in Syria over the last month. The report explains that while the de-escalation areas had a positive effect on reducing violence in some areas, hostilities, including on-going fighting, shelling and military operations, continue in de-escalation areas and proposed de-escalation areas. Military operations increasingly shifted towards ISIL-held areas. Air and ground strikes throughout the country killed civilians in high numbers, especially children, resulting in 173 people killed in June (para 6). Civilian infrastructure, including healthcare and education facilities, were adversely affected. The UN Secretary-General stated that a political process is the only course that can offer solutions to the current conflict; There is no military solution. Currently, 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance across the Syrian Arab Republic, and access to health care, food, clean water and education poses significant challenges (para. 39). Despite these challenges, humanitarian responses are providing more than 240,000 people with some form of assistance on a monthly basis. The report highlighted that those displaced face protection concerns in camps, including restricted movement and confiscation of identity documents. In besieged and hard-to-reach locations, international and Syrian NGOs provide support, including medical, educational, psychosocial and protection.
Of 44 paragraphs in the report, there was one reference to women, focusing on their victimisation: “The United Nations Relief & Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East concluded a second round of cash assistance for 2017, food parcels, and health treatments for 18,991 men & 27,338 women (para 31)”. The Annex includes data on violations committed against women, disproportionately highlighting their vulnerability. This lack of a women’s rights-sensitive consideration is repetitive; references to the Syrian Women Advisory Board made in earlier reports are no longer mentioned.
The protection needs of women in Syria are not discussed in the report. 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, especially when displaced from their homes and living in camps. Despite a mention of displaced people and protection concerns in camps, the report does not refer to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes.
Women face higher risks of SGBV in conflict, usually aggravated by the polarisation of gender roles, the increased use of arms, militarisation of society, the breakdown of order, restrictions on the freedom of movement and the use of displaced persons camps. This report did not mention any measures undertaken to prevent SGBV or 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.
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 (UNSCR1325 Global Study UN Women, 2015). 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. 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. While it is not his mandate, he should be working for inclusivity.
Relief and Recovery
The UN Secretary-General’s report makes no specific references to the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda and fails to account for the lack of services provided for women in the context of the current humanitarian and security situations in Syria. Despite the UN Secretary-General calling for the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic to be referred to the International Criminal Court, and asking all Member States to support the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, there is no mention of the crimes disproportionately committed against women (SGBV in war, detention). 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 legal system and addressing impunity in Syria.
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. Yet they 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 children civilians 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 medical needs must also be addressed. The Council 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 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. 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. The Office’s process for collecting and disseminating information must also demonstrate more transparency, preserve the representative nature of information sourced. It must be carried out in cooperation with civil society organisations through engagement with local sources.
Relief and Recovery
As for accountability, 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. The Secretary-General should also urge the Security Council to apply political pressure on the Syrian government to allow independent UN experts and Syrian WHRDs inside the country to monitor the situation.