On November 9 2011 the Security Council held an Open Debate, under the Presidency of Portugal, on the thematic agenda item: Protection of Civilians (PoC) in Armed Conflict.
Consistent with recent PoC debates just over a third of the statements, or 20 out of 48 made explicit reference to gender. The Council did not adopt any outcome document.
Receiving critical attention with regard to gender was the need to recognize and combat the increasing prevalence of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in conflict. Here, several countries including the US, Germany, Portugal and Sri Lanka reiterated the need to mainstream gender perspective and training into all UN prevention, mediation and peacekeeping efforts and to increase efforts to ensure justice for victims of sexual violence in conflict (SViC).
Regarding SViC at Security Council level, Germany noted and praised the commencement of the Security Council's new monitoring and reporting arrangement on SViC. France called for the systematic “inclusion of sexual violence as grounds” for Security Council endorsed sanctions. Drawing a parallel between lack of respect for International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law and the prevalence of violence against women in conflict, several speakers including Phillip Spoerri of the ICRC and representatives of Honduras, Canada, the EU and Luxembourg noted that more could be done by the Security Council in this area, and emphasized the need to strengthen accountability mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court. Commenting on the topic of ensuring justice at both international and national levels for victims of sexual violence the US emphasized the importance of guaranteeing protection for all “victims, witnesses, and judicial officers”, giving the example of US support for MONUSCO's witness-protection project for high profile and sensitive cases against perpetrators of rape, including aide to the Mission's Prosecution Support Cells.
In accordance with other Security Council debates on PoC much of the discussion on gender focused on how to better develop UN Peacekeeping mandates and equip peacekeeping forces to deal with the particularities of gendered violence in armed conflict and its consequences. Notable here was the statement of Bangladesh, which detailed the impact that presence of female uniformed personnel could have in the ability to protect, revealing its provision of an all-female formed police unit working in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Another comment on this topic came from Germany, “it is also of special importance to engage local communities, including women, especially in discussions on protection requirements by taking gender-sensitivities into account when planning and carrying out peacekeeping mandates”.
Finally, Sri Lanka outlined its creation of the Women's Protection Unit, providing post-conflict counseling and services to women. Canada detailed it's ongoing implementation of programmes in Afghanistan to support Afghan efforts to implement its law on the elimination of violence against women.
Although, the debate did not see the adoption of any significant resolution or presidential statement it did witness a robust and at times tense dialogue with many conflicting views being expressed over the validity of the Security Council mandated intervention in Libya, the ongoing deadlock in the Council regarding Syria and the merits of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) agenda.
The increasingly brutal and targeted nature of violence against civilians in conflict, as well as the need to pursue “political solutions” to conflict first, was highlighted in the debate. Accordingly, emphasis was placed on the importance of fighting impunity and on the need to strengthen and better utilize International Law apparatus such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure accountability for all actions perpetrated in conflict. “Without it (accountability), impunity emboldens perpetrators and breeds more violations that will undermine peace and progress,” stated Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Several countries, including France, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the United States and Gabon stressed that although protection of civilians would remain the primary responsibility of states, intervention by the international community was warranted in cases where a state was no longer able to ensure the security of its citizens, due to negligence, abuse or breakdown of government and security institutions. “When civilians are a target and the national authorities or the conflicting parties fail in their obligation to protect them, the United Nations – and especially the Security Council – has the duty to speak up and the obligation to act”, Statement by Anibal Antonio Cavaco Silva, President of Portugal.
The need for the international community to commit to addressing the root causes of violence, with a view to developing better methods of conflict prevention, was a clear theme, “Protection is essential, yet we must not lose sight of the need to address the causes of conflict, not just its symptoms.” Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon.
As was the need to address the alarming increase in violence being perpetrated against humanitarian workers, highlighted here by ICRC representative Phillip Spoerri as “one of the most serious yet neglected humanitarian issues of today”.
States represented at the debate included, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Egypt, France, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Slovenia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela.
UN and civil society representatives, speaking were, ICRC Director of International Law and Cooperation Phillip Spoerri, Mateya Kelly on behalf of the International Fact Finding Mission (IHFFM), Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon, Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. Statements were also made on behalf of the European Union, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians and the Human Security Network.
* Bolded countries and UN or Civil Society speakers are those who mentioned gender.