Prepared By Colleen Bromberger
Reporting Period: 1-30 September 2018
Press Conference on 2014 Syrian Presidential Election-Judy Bello, activist and member of Fellowship of Reconciliation, who traveled with a group of observers to monitor the recent presidential elections in the Syrian Arab Republic, speaks to the press at UN Headquarters today. (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)
Pursuant to Security Council Resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016), 2393 (2017) and 2401 (2018), 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 (OP 6); to demilitarise medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities (OP 10); to lift the sieges of populated areas (OP 5); to end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights (OP 13). Pursuant to Resolution 2165 (2014), the Security Council also requests to establish a mechanism to monitor the humanitarian situation on the ground (OP 3). In this vein, Resolution 2139 (2014) invites relevant actors to ensure full participation by all groups and segments of Syrian society, including women (OP 30). Moreover, Resolution 2401 (2018) demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay, and engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation of this demand by all parties (OP 1).
During the reporting period, there was considerable military escalation in the Idlib province, which affected civilian populations through bombings of schools and hospitals (para 1). This led to the establishment of a dimilitarised zone in Idlib by Turkey and the Russian Federation (para 2). Displaced persons, as well as those individuals requiring humanitarian assistance, were continually assisted with humanitarian aid, despite the fact that no convoys were deployed and the bi-monthly humanitarian program was not approved by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic (para 5).
Of the 44 paragraphs in the report, only five (~11%) made any reference to women, gender and/or sexual and gender-based violence. This marks a continuing trend of a decrease in gender-sensitive references within the Secretary-General’s reports on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic; in particular, this report shows a 4% decrease from the report in August, 5% decrease from the report in July, and a 12% decrease from the report in June. While the Secretary-General has increased his references to Women, Peace and Security issues since the first report of 2018 in January of 2%, the recent downturn in percentages of gender-sensitive references is concerning for fulfilling the mandate of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2139 (2014).
As in the previous report, the Secretary-General made no references to participation, including and excluding gender. The political process is mentioned briefly by the Secretary-General in his references to the convening of the Astana guarantors meeting by the Special Envoy in Geneva to move the political process forward (para 12). While the Secretary-General does urge the concerned parties to continue with the Special Envoy working toward a political solution (para 44), this marks the third report in a row with no references to the importance of a inclusive political solution. Furthermore, the references to the political solution in the three most recent reports have been solely top-down, without a comprehensive notation of how local organisations are being included in the peace process. Similar to the previous report, the Secretary-General references the importance of civil society organisations (CSOs) in complying with 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 (para 42); this is a welcomed addition in that it highlights the critical role of CSOs in accountability and justice.
Since the previous report, there has been no increase in the functioning community centres, which offer services that assist with preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), offered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), keeping the number of centres at 97 (para 31). As noted previously, and despite the continued assistance that the UN entities provide in outreach programmes, the report failed address the link between SGBV and armament, particularly in armed conflict settings. Arms control is an important avenue for the prevention of SGBV; however, United Nations bodies, such as the UNSC, have notoriously avoided the linking the reduction of SGBV and disarmament in their debates.
While protection remains one of the most prevalent themes in the Secretary-General’s report, very few of these references contain substantial and concrete actions on the protection of women through gender-sensitive services. For example, the Secretary-General refers to the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) provision of reproductive health and gender-based violence services, which reached 275,000 people during the reporting period. Unfortunately, since the Secretary-General does not offer disaggregated data in his report regarding civilians affected by the increased violence in the region, there is no way to determine if gender-specific services were offered for women, including internally displaced persons (IDPs). While the identification of vulnerabilities, as well as the noted services to combat these injustices, are critical to developing inclusive frameworks for protecting civilians, this lens continues to ignore patriarchal systems and violent masculinities in perpetuating warfare and further entrenching gender norms of women as a vulnerable population.
Relief and Recovery
As noted in the previous report, detention in the Syrian Arab Republic remains a serious concern for the relief and recovery stage of humanitarian assistance. For example, 27 staff members of both the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were either detained or missing during the reporting period (para 37); however, no disaggregated data was provided in his report regarding these detainees departments, missions, gender, age, last location seen, etc. Additionally, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received reports of those civilians who were detained after remaining in the Governorates after reconciliation with the Government following the takeover of the area in April and May 2018 by Government forces (para 22), indicated a serious delay in communication between UN agencies working in the region, and Government officials. The lack of information and focus in the Secretary-General’s reports is a huge problem considering the size and scope of detention. Furthermore, the report was a missed opportunity to highlight some of the efforts of women’s organisations, such as the group Families for Freedom, that advocate for combatting arbitrary detention in the peace negotiations.
The transparent, accountable and sustainable implementation of UNSCR 1325 (2000) and consecutive WPS resolutions is key to achieving sustainable peace in the Syrian Arab Republic. Future reports of the Secretary-General should note the progression and/or regression of all participation efforts, especially concerning specific women’s groups or CSOs, such as the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board, in fulfilling the request of Resolution 2139 (2014) to ensure full participation by all groups and segments of Syrian society. Specifically, women must be equally included in CSO delegations with a 50% quota, as well as include women in all stages of the campaigning, negotiations and the political process. Pursuant to his mandate to facilitate an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, the Secretary-General should also stress the effective incorporation of Syrian women and civil society voices in peace dialogues and negotiations with mainstream peace and mediation organisations, think tanks and analysis groups working in and on Syria, so as to support the incorporation of gender perspectives into their policy, programmatic and advocacy work. More references to the importance of CSOs in future reports would be helpful in demonstrating the necessity of local and bottom-up advocacy work in the overall peace process.
In order for conflict to be holistically preventing, disarmament efforts must be addressed at both the local and high levels. Field missions must support curbing the ongoing flow and trade of arms, including explosive and small or light arms. At the high level, the Secretary-General should encourage the Syrian Arab Republic, and the surrounding states of Turkey and Jordan, to ratify and implement the 2013 UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), as well as 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 Recommendations No. 30 and 35. In the context of gender-sensitive disarmament approaches, the Secretary-General must also inquire the Syrian government and the UNSC to support and provide flexible and predictable funding to women’s organisations in their work to prevent violent extremism and rehabilitate former extremists in the country. Future implementations of disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programmes must prioritise and be set up in consultation with women and girls.
In order to adequately assess the needs of those affected by the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, future reports must include disaggregated data, particular by gender and age, in how humanitarian services were addressed. Furthermore, the Secretary-General should call upon relevant international actors, including Jordan and Turkey, to strengthen their collaboration with women and CSOs to streamline coordination mechanisms and ensure the delivery of adequate, gender-sensitive humanitarian aid to vulnerable persons. He should also call for the international community to provide funding for psychosocial support programmes, with increased emphasis on trauma therapy, for survivors of sexual violence. Similarly, he should demand that parties to the conflict, over whom they have influence, release women and children held in detention, captivity, or as hostages as a confidence building measure and ensure that any women or children who have been subjected to sexual violence or abuse of any form be prioritised for specialised medical treatment, especially psychosocial care and support.
Relief & Recovery
The existing political deadlock on accountability in the Syrian Arab Republic greatly limits any meaningful measures to tackle immunity of perpetrators of grave human rights violations and crimes. In consideration of this, the UNSC should support the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) on international crimes committed in Syria. Future reports should discuss, as a matter of urgency, referral mechanisms to the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc tribunal for human rights violations in the country, including enforced disappearances and detentions of civilians and United Nations personnel.