On the 24th of April Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, and Hervé Ladsous, Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations briefed the Security Council on Women, Peace and Security. The open briefing was followed by closed consultations with Council members. Briefings by the head of UN Women such as this provide an important opportunity to hear about the situation of women’s rights and must be continued by the Council.
Opening the briefing, Bachelet’s statement emphasized the vital role women play in reconstruction and resolving conflict. Here, Bachelet highlighted the ongoing collaboration between UN Women and the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) to better integrate women into mediation bodies and conflict resolution actions globally.
Noting the opportunity presented by elections to enhance women’s participation, Bachelet spoke of the joint initiative with civil society, ‘Women’s Situation Room for Peaceful Elections’, designed to ensure women’s protection in campaigning and voting during the Senegalese elections last month.
On a less positive note, Bachelet voiced disappointment on the failure of transitional leaders to acknowledge the role of women in achieving the Arab Spring revolutions, amplifying the voices of women who felt that they are being denied legitimate roles in reconstruction efforts.
On the topic of the ongoing conflict in Syria, Bachelet stressed the need to facilitate effective reporting on cases of sexual violence in conflict, stating that, “up to now it has been difficult to obtain information, and I urge the Council to be attentive to the gender dimensions of the crisis”.
Praising the involvement of women at Peace Talks held on Afghanistan and South Sudan, Bachelet emphasized that this should not be the exception to the rule as “in conflict resolution, women’s participation and gender expertise provide a firm foundation for women’s post conflict participation”.
In relation to the intersection of gender, rule of law and transitional justice, Bachelet highlighted the need to ensure accountability and redress for war crimes committed
against women in conflict. Here, she expressed the concerns of women in Mali and Yemen over the passing of laws providing amnesty for war crimes.
Bachelet praised the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights for the establishment of Commissions for Libya, Syria and Côte d’Ivoire, all three of which included gender experts and were able to expose the presence of sexual and gender based crimes. What is needed now according to Bachelet is implementation and support for follow-up on issues identified, including the presence of severe obstacles to reporting in Libya, namely, stigma, intimidation, family pressure and the fear of reprisals.
Finally, Bachelet stressed the importance of including reparations programmes in measures to ensure transitional justice, and reiterated the need to strengthen and promote legislation able to solidify women’s rights in the post-conflict period, ensuring that any gains made on women’s rights are not lost during reconstruction.
Following Bachelet’s briefing, Hervé Ladsous, Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) took the floor to update the Council on protection, security and women’s participation in UN mandated peacekeeping countries.
Echoing Bachelet Ladsous spoke of elections as an opportunity to gain greater representation and a louder voice for women in Parliament and society. Accordingly, he spoke of the training sessions run with potential women leaders by the United Nations Mission in Liberia to integrate a gender perspective into the 2011 Presidential election.
On the topic of sexual violence, Ladsous stressed that the protection of civilians was ultimately the responsibility of Governments. “Our peacekeeping missions cannot act as a surrogate for state authority,” he said. “We must do our best to strengthen frail state institutions to facilitate their ability to better protect civilians. We must also be prepared to protect civilians directly.” Examples of these preparations have been the development of a gender curriculum for National Cadets and the deployment of a Sexual and Gender Based Violence Team to support the National Police force in Haiti.
Although some progress had been made, Ladsous stated that the level of protection afforded to women in many of the UN’s peacekeeping countries remained unsatisfying. He concluded that both the council and Governments needed to redouble efforts to ensure that all women have access to protection and justice. “In states where the capacity of both the civilian and military justice systems remain weak, efforts must be renewed to strengthen judicial and military institutions – this is definitely the long-term solution to providing protection for civilians.”