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: 25 October 2017
Period: 1 to 30 September 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 continue to be reported (Box 1, Para 1). In addition, de-escalation and de-confliction areas continue to face challenges in reducing violence. Fighting in these areas, and across Syria, continues to affect civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals (Para 17, 18). On the 5th of September, government forces broke the three-year-long siege imposed by ISIL in besieged parts of Dayr al-Zawr city. According to the report, some 8,000 civilians are trapped in Raqqah, and many are affected by airstrikes, gunfire and landmines (Para 4). In the Dayr al-Zawr Governorate, military operations also continue to impact civilians, and some 270,000 people are displaced. Overall, fighting continues to affect civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, schools, markets and places of worship.
Delivering humanitarian assistance to people in need is challenging due to active conflict, restrictions and administrative impediments, and United Nations humanitarian partners have a difficult time accessing besieged and hard-to-reach locations. In addition, the report acknowledges severe shortages of food supplies and a sharp increase in the prices of basic commodities. Despite these challenges, humanitarian efforts continue to take place. After the siege was broken in Dayr al-Zawr, food, health and other supplies arrived containing life-saving items such as wheat flour, hygiene kits, solar lamps, plastic sheeting and kitchen sets for 15,000 families. In other parts of Syria, convoys delivered assistance to 34,000 people. In terms of health, since cross-border operations began in July 2014, the United Nations and its partners delivered health assistance sufficient for nearly 15 million treatments (including vaccinations for more than 2 million people), non-food items for nearly 4 million people and water, sanitation and hygiene supplies for 3 million people (Para 28).
Of 45 paragraphs in the report, there were no references to women, and only one reference to gender: “Moreover, the United Nations Population Fund and its implementing partners assisted 27,822 people in hard-to-reach locations throughout the Syrian Arab Republic, providing services relating to reproductive health and gender-based violence” (para 29). In addition, the report loosely refers to gender in a health context: “An attack on a hospital specialising in maternity and paediatric services in Haysh subdistrict, Idlib governorate, resulted in structural damages to the facility” (para 17). 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, as well as the importance attached to their work reiterated in numerous statements of the Special Envoy, are no longer mentioned.
Protection is discussed in this report, but women’s specific protection needs are not mentioned. Despite references to the situation of displaced people, the report does not refer to any problems commonly faced by women and girls 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. Women need different supplies in their hygiene kits and latrines mean different things for men and women. Safe latrines in schools mean more girls attend. More well-lit latrines in refugee camps lower rates of assault on women. Women and girls suffer from lower nutrition. The provided review of the existing humanitarian response plan does not explain how gender ties into these services, which is very problematic. 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. Without addressing these issues, the report lacks a full picture of what is happening in Syria and what services the United Nations is providing.
The report does not mention any measures undertaken to prevent the proliferation of weapons. Despite calling for de-escalation of violence 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. 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 (UNSCR 1325 Global Study UN Women, 2015). 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 Secretary-General does make a reference to sustainable peace, stating that accountability is central to achieving such peace. He emphasises that there is no military solution to the conflict, and that de-escalation arrangements are essential. The Secretary-General calls on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Despite his references to sustainable peace and the ICC, the UN Secretary-General’s report uses no gender perspective. 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. If they are not, sustainable peace may be difficult to come by.
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. The Secretary-General, as well as 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.
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 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 and provide concrete recommendation on how to overcome gender gap. 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 and women’s specific medical and sanitation needs must also be addressed. The Secretary-General should ensure that his reports mention specific gender work undertaken in this context and call for specific action to address gaps. Additionally, he must 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, 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 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 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.