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Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015) (S/2016/796)

Code: S/2016/796

Date: 16 September 2016

Topic: The situation in Syria during reporting period 1 to 31 August 2016

Women, Peace and Security

This report, filed pursuant to Resolution 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015), includes observations on the  deteriorating situation in Syria, which the Secretary-General proceeds to call “the worst conflict of a generation” and the “world’s greatest humanitarian tragedy (S/2016/796 p. 41),” however, it fails to account for the specific impact that the humanitarian and security situations have on women. Compared to the last report from 1 to 31 July 2016 (S/2016/631), references to the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda have decreased from one to zero (S/2016/631 p. 65). While this report highlights concerns over civilian casualties, displacement and obstacles to humanitarian provisions, it fails to apply a gender lens to consider how women are specifically affected by the continuously deteriorating security and humanitarian situations. The report does not refer at all to human rights violations targeting women, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV),  and consistently fails to provide sex-disaggregated data. Out of ten statistics that relay information about civilian casualties in Syria, only two indicate that women were among those who were killed (S/2016/796 p. 11, 12, 13, 15, 16; p. 12).     

References in Need of Improvement and Missed Opportunities

Reporting on women’s concerns in accordance with the WPS agenda could have been stronger on several occasions.

Human Rights

Considering the severe security situation for civilians due to continuing deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, the report could have further specified how women are adversely affected, particularly by referring to the use of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as a weapon of war. Failure to include data and analysis on SGBV in Syria is a significant oversight, as the prevalence of such violence is a major contributing factor to the humanitarian crisis. Several United Nations entities have released reports regarding the prevalence and severity of SGBV in Syria, including  the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict, which has reported that sexual violence against women, girls, men and boys has been a characteristic of the Syrian conflict from its inception (S/RES/1820 (2008) PP. 5, OP. 1; S/RES/1888 (2009), op. 1; S/RES/1960 (2010), op. 1; S/RES/2106 (2013), op. 1, 12; S/RES/2242 (2015) pp. 11, 14). Additionally, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR), the Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organization (UNICEF) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) have all released reports on this issue.  The Secretary-General should have called the Council’s attention to these publications and asked that action be taken to address this element of the humanitarian crisis.

Additionally, the report could have focused more strongly on the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs), including references to the security concerns of displaced women and the prevalence of sexual violence in IDP camps. Ideally, the report would have provided information on whether gender-sensitive provisions to ensure women’s safety are discussed and integrated into any human rights monitoring and protection efforts, including in IDP camps.   

Humanitarian Response

Due to lack of detail in reporting, it remains unknown if women or women’s local civil society organizations were consulted  for the design and implementation of humanitarian assistance (S/2016/796 p. 20).  This report misses an opportunity to recall WPS Resolution 1889 (2009), which details the importance of women being integrated into aid management and planning, and how not only Member States but also international and regional organizations should take further measures to improve women’s participation in this regard. Notably, assistance in terms of midwifery kits and reproductive health equipment is mentioned in the report, but no mention is made of the women in need of the equipment and how they are being adversely affected by this lack of supplies (S/2016/796 p. 25). Similarly, the report would be strengthened by noting the participation of women, or lack thereof, in the decision-making processes surrounding how aid is designed and distributed.

The report would have greatly benefited from commenting on whether any of the UN agencies or partner organizations, including OHCHR, WFP, WHO, UNICEF, UNRWA and UNHCR, had conducted gender-sensitive needs assessments to identify how women are affected differently in order to effectively tailor humanitarian assistance to their needs. In its mention of the continuous challenges regarding humanitarian access, including administrative difficulties in obtaining visas, the report would have been stronger had it specified whether any international or national non-governmental organizations were targeting women’s health issues, including reproductive health and family planning provisions and women’s rights advocacy, and if they faced additional challenges or restrictions (S/2016/796 p. 29).

Inability to access a majority of areas needing medical support is detailed across the report. The discussion would have been stronger if it was inclusive of information specifically regarding women’s needs, such as: secure access to sanitation and hygiene facilities; physical and mental health assistance, including reproductive health and family planning; and maternal health services. Future reporting should apply language contained in Resolution 2242 (2015), which recognizes the importance of gender programming in humanitarian responses and urges relevant actors to ensure women and women’s groups participate meaningfully in the programming and provision processes (S/RES/2242 (2015), op. 16). Further, the report would have benefited from detailing whether specific provisions have been made or are planned to assist women in hard-to-reach areas and besieged areas (S/2016/796, paras. 37-40).

Ideal Transformational Asks

Future reports must reaffirm, enhance and strengthen the Security Council’s commitment to fully and effectively incorporate the WPS agenda into all conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts in Syria, including through women’s participation and leadership in all decision-making processes and support for women’s civil society organizations. Given the deteriorating security and humanitarian situations in Syria, including the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, specific attention must be paid to women’s participation in all security-related matters, including addressing the security needs of internally displaced women and girls. Future resolutions and reporting on the implementation of the cessation of hostilities, including by the ISSG ceasefire task force and ISSG humanitarian task force, as well as on the likely establishment of ceasefire monitoring mechanisms must be reflective of the voices of local populations and account for women’s participation in design and implementation strategies.

Given the rapid dissemination of violent extremist ideology and the unimpeded attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Daesh), Al Nusrah Front (ANF) and individuals, groups and entities associated with Al-Qaida, future resolutions must be reflective of the latest WPS Resolution 2242 (2015), which recognizes the importance of women’s participation in countering violent extremism (CVE) (S/RES/2252 (2015), pp. 13, 14, op. 11, 12, 13). Recognizing the adverse impact of terrorism and violent extremism on women’s and girls’ human rights, future resolutions on Syria must consider consultations with women’s civil society organizations and ensure women’s participation and leadership in developing and implementing CVE strategies. The Security Council must further mandate international actors to conduct and support gender-sensitive research on the drivers of radicalization, particularly for women, and on the impact of counter-terrorism strategies on women’s rights and the operation of women’s civil society organizations.