Report Period: 1 to 31 July 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 covers security and humanitarian developments in Syria in the 1-31 July 2017 period. The report explains that military activities and militarised escalation continued to be reported. Multiple actors are currently conducting military operations against ISIL in Raqqah, escalating air and ground-based strikes. Heavy clashes, shelling and airstrikes continued to result in significant civilian casualties and injuries. In addition, de-escalation areas continued to face challenges in reducing violence. Fighting in these areas, and across Syria, continued to affect civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals. In July, there were several international initiatives (including the seventh round of formal intra-Syrian talks in Geneva and a ceasefire initiative), focused on finding a political solution to the conflict, and reducing violence. From the 10 to 14 July, the seventh round of formal intra-Syrian talks took place in Geneva. Additionally, a ceasefire initiative in several south-western governorates resulted in a drop in violence.
The Secretary-General emphasises that there is no military solution to the conflict, and that only a political process will provide a lasting solution to the Syrian conflict. The Secretary-General calls on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic to be referred to the International Criminal Court, and for the Syrian Arab Republic to grant access to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. He also calls upon all States and parties to the conflict to cooperate with 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. Lastly, he states in the report that an inclusive political process is the only way to find a lasting solution to the conflict.
As the conflict continues and there is no political solution, approximately 13.5 million people in the Syrian Arab Republic remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance, including 6.3 million internally displaced persons. Delivering humanitarian assistance continues to be challenging due to active conflict, restrictions and administrative impediments. Despite these challenges, humanitarian efforts continue to take place. The UN and partners provided food assistance to approximately 700,000 people (para. 3). The Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy delivered medical and nutritional items for 35,000 people in besieged areas, and the WHO and UNICEF delivered 480,000 treatments and 150,000 consultations (paras. 23, 31). Despite these successes, medical supplies continue to be removed from convoys, amounting to 66,884 treatments in July (para. 27).
Of 44 paragraphs in the report, there was one reference to women. The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria convened for intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, and met with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board to seek its insights and inputs. No other details were provided in the report, and the Secretary-General did not state whether or not anything was agreed on. The Annex includes data on violations committed against women, disproportionately highlighting their vulnerability. This lack of a gender consideration is repetitive; other reports do not mention gender or women. Only one out of 11 reports analysed since January 2017 have mentioned the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board. Other reports focused on women’s vulnerability and protection.
Protection is discussed in this report, but women’s specific protection needs are not mentioned. In fact, the report does not refer to any problems commonly faced by women and girls who are displaced and/or in camps, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes, early marriages in exchange for financial resources and women-specific sanitation and hygiene needs in conflict zones. 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.
This is especially apparent when the report described humanitarian aid challenges and successes. The United Nations and various partners delivered food assistance for more than 735,000 people. While this is a positive step forward, the lack of gender analysis is a major gap in the Secretary-General’s reports. For example, women and girls suffer from lower nutrition. However, women play vital roles in ensuring the food security of their families. The report also mentions health challenges UN humanitarian partners faced, including the removal of health supplies from convoys. A gender perspective was not included, despite its importance; women and girls in conflict have less access to medical care, including reproductive health. Without addressing these issues and knowing what was or was not delivered through a gender lens, the report lacks a full picture of what is happening in Syria. Women and men face different health and food needs in conflict, and will be differently impacted by these challenges and successes. A “one size” humanitarian plan will not succeed for all.
Lastly, in this report the Secretary-General speaks of the extraterritorial accountability Member States have under humanitarian and human rights law. He urges all countries to preserve the right of all Syrians “to seek asylum and enjoy refugee protection until conditions are conducive to return in safety and in dignity. I wish to reiterate that any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary and to a place of their choosing (para. 40).”
Various sides in the conflict continue to use weapons, including air and ground strikes, landmines and explosive devices, in civilian areas. The report however did not mention any measures undertaken to prevent the proliferation of weapons. Despite calling for 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 use of weapons throughout Syria 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.
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 given the spaces or opportunities for meaningful participation.
Despite his commitment to gender equality and inclusivity, 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 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 insufficient and irregular. The Secretary-General mentions Syrian civil society in his report, and the necessity to strengthen their inclusivity and continuity, but does not mention any women’s civil society organisations (para. 3). It is necessary to include Syrian women in leadership, development, conflict resolution and promotion of sustainable peace.
The 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 of 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.
The Secretary-General calls on all parties to end indiscriminate attacks, but does not describe what kinds of violations or attacks are taking place. Women in conflict face different types of human rights law violations, including SGBV. SGBV must be addressed, including those amounting to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Despite women’s specific skill sets, 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 must also be addressed. The Secretary-General should ensure that his reports mention specific gender work undertaken in this context. Additionally, he must ensure that relevant international actors adequately address women’s particular needs, such as secure access to health assistance that includes sexual and reproductive health, nutritional 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 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 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 states that he “remains deeply troubled by the ongoing allegations of serious violations and abuses of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law that are having a grave impact on the lives of civilians across the country (Para 42).” The 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.
***Analysis compiled by Ines Boussebaa