Reporting Period: 1 March to 31 August 2018.
Pursuant to Security Council Resolutions 2348 (2017) and 2389 (2017), the Security Council requested a report on the implementation of the commitments under the Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Region. Resolution 2348 (2017) requests MONUSCO to take fully into account gender considerations as a crosscutting issue throughout its mandate and to assist the Government of the DRC in ensuring the participation, involvement and representation of women at all levels. Resolution 2389 (2017) also urges continued regional and international support for initiatives aimed at promoting inclusive dialogue amongst national stakeholders and stresses the importance of opening political space to enable the full and free participation of peaceful political parties, civil society and the media, as well as the full participation of both men and women in the political process.
The reports focus on conflicts in Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan, and contains many references to Rwanda and Uganda.
In the most recent UNSC meeting on the DRC, the predominant focus was the electoral process. Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative and Head of Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en République Démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO), briefed the SC on the progress of including women in the electoral process leading up to the elections in December. Her primary focus was the amount of candidates, stating that only 12% of candidates were female and only one woman was running in the presidential election. Furthermore, H.E François Delattre issued a statement expressing concern relating to ongoing violence and the disproportionate effect this has on both women and children.
South Sudan’s latest peace deal, one of some 16+ following the outbreak of war in 2011, was signed shortly before this year’s UN General Assembly opening ceremony and was met with careful optimism. In the past few days, there have been horrific reports of violence, and according to Doctors Without Borders the rape of 125 women. Violence against women in South Sudan is double the global average.
Central African Republic
In November of this year, the UN warned of potential impending famine for the CAR if drastic action was not taken to end the ongoing conflict, which has caused mass displacement and the worst situation for food insecurity in four years. Furthermore, Alfred Yekatom, a former military leader, previously nicknamed ‘Rambo’ was taken to trial by the International Criminal Court on 14 charges of crime against humanity.
The section titled ‘Advancing women peace and security’ (Para. 65-72) focuses predominantly on issues relating to economic, social and democratic participation of women. The Secretary-General outlines the steps taken by his special envoy to advocate for greater participation by women in peace and political processes and for the needs of women and girls (Para. 65). The report of the SG also outlines the missions created by UN-Women and the Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region for the purpose of promoting women’s participation in decision-making and to highlight the concerns of women (Para. 66).
The report also details the work of the Special Envoy on “solidarity missions” to Burundi, the CAR and the DRC. These projects were led by women representing the Women’s Platform for the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, the Network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation (FemWise-Africa) and the Regional Women’s Forum of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (Para. 67). The report states that in the case of the aforementioned project in Burundi that national and international stakeholders were included, and that dialogue focused on the need for space and inclusive political discourse that empowered women (Para. 68). In the context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General outlines that the project leaders met with government officials, as well as civil society leaders and women’s organisations. The discussion resulted in a call for legal reform, and focused on the sociological, cultural, legal and financial barriers to women’s participation in political and electoral processes (Para. 70).
The word ‘protection’ is used only once and in relation to protection concerns for refugees (Para. 32). Unfortunately, there is neither a discussion relating to protection innovatives or measures for any people, nor are any groups outlined as specifically at risk, or in need of any particular measures for their protection.
Sexual and gender based violence, and sexual exploitation are entirely absent from the report. ‘Exploitation’ is used four times within the report but each time in reference to the exploitation of natural resources- not of people. Therefore, it is unclear how these issues are being addressed within the region.
The references to prevention within the report are limited to the outlining of the aforementioned work by Fem-Wise Africa. No reference to other forms of prevention is mentioned anywhere else in any context, including conflict, violence or disease.
The lack of reference to any preventative programs, actions, or mechanisms by the report leaves much to be desired. Preventative measures are vital for women in many contexts. Perhaps most vital is the need for preventative action against sexual and gender based violence, as well as against economic and democratic exclusion. These are fundamental to a long term, sustainable, peace process.
RELIEF AND RECOVERY
The Secretary-General outlines the work of his Special Envoy with the Regional Women’s Forum of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in field visits conducted by the follow-up mechanism for the repatriation of former combatants to ensure that the needs of women and girls are addressed in the repatriation process (Para. 72). The report does not outline the size of this programme, nor the amount of people who were part of it;therefore, it is difficult to ascertain the size and success of the programme.
The report details the work of the Technical Support Committee of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework toward strengthening trust and cooperation, and the creation of recommendations for addressing displacement, enhancing judicial cooperation and natural resource management and advancing women, peace and security in the region (Para. 79).
The Secretary-General also outlines the continued work of the Special Envoy and the executive secretariat of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to improve judicial cooperation, women and peace and security, the repatriation of former combatants, economic integration and population displacement (Para. 84). Beyond this the report lacks detail as to what exact actions have been taken, and how many people have been affected.
Overall the engagement with the importance of the participation of women in the economy, society and democracy within the report was quite good; however it would be improved by a more comprehensive support of grassroots women’s organisations and of specific initiatives to help overcome the barriers outlined. For example, in many conflict or post conflict areas women face disproportionate and gender-specific risks when travelling to polling stations. Providing protection for both these journeys, as well as through women-only polling stations, are a excellent way to improve women’s participation in the democratic process. Women’s situation rooms, particularly in the context of the DRC where sexual and gender-based conflict (SGBV) is particularly prolific, would be a great help to Congolese women.
In the future the Secretary-General should outline in his reports support for mechanisms that help women to overcome their gender specific barriers to participation. Stating support is the inception of what must be done, but it is neither the middle nor the end of effectively supporting women; meaningful, comprehensive action must be taken. It is not enough that barriers be identified by the SG and his Special Envoy- the ways and means by which they can be overcome must be outlined.
In future the Secretary-General must identify at risk groups and outline the measures taken for their protection. For example, women face disproportionate and gender specific risks when displaced and when in conflict, they also have a range of specific needs that it is imperative to address. For example, displaced women must have access to sanitation in order to remain both healthy and safe; the lack of this access is a major issue for many. UNICEF has worked extensively on this issue in South Sudan, effectively including women in the planning and management of sanitation projects. The expansion of this work should be supported by the Secretary-General. There has been similar work, also by UNICEF, in the DRC- which has provided really vital support to displaced women and children and in preventing the spread of measles. This work is exceptional and deserves promotion and expansion.
Given the ongoing issues with peacekeeper sexual exploitation generally within the region, the complete lack of reference to this issue within the report is inexcusable. In the example of South Sudan, where the United Nations Mission In South Sudan (UNMISS) recalled a 46-member peacekeeping police unit following allegations of sexual misconduct with civilians, no charges have yet been made despite the fact that this case occurred in February of 2018. In April 2018 , Nepalese peacekeepers were accused of raping two teenage girls, a situation that also occurred South Sudan. In both instances UNMISS declared that such acts were unacceptable and violated the victim's rights to dignity and safety but as of yet have not taken any legal action against the accused. Similarly in the DRC the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) peacekeepers have been accused on numerous occasions of sexual exploitation. The issue was raised recently in October 2018 when a Nigerian police officer serving with UNMISS was accused of sexual misconduct and allegedly paid off the accuser.
The Secretary-General must address these issues and outline protection measures for victims and for at risk persons, this point is particularly potent for this SG who has been outspoken on this issue in other contexts.
The Secretary-General could support innovatives by promoting a re-evaluation of social norms though education and the ‘bystander approach’ in which people are taught not to be a bystander when they witness sexual violence. There could be many Congolese created responses to this ongoing issue, and the Secretary-General should support actively the creation and implementation of prevention measures.
It is critical to engage with grassroots organizations, create safe spaces for survivors, work with the government to prioritise women’s protection from sexual violence.
In future reports should outline comprehensive accountability mechanisms and be transparent about their effectivity. The ongoing culture of impunity is a major contributor to this continued issue, the UN should not rest on its laurels that some barriers to victims seeking justice have been lifted. The perpetuation of this issue is evidence of the failure of previous approaches.
In order to effectively deal with this issue, the UN must prioritise a comprehensive policy for data collection- in order that the problem be understood better. The fears of retribution felt by victims must be addressed, otherwise there will never be an environment in which victims are comfortable to come forward. Equally, there must be protections for whistleblowers and persons within the UN to report and address these issues.
The appointment of Jane Connors as Victims’ Rights Advocate (VRA), and the personal intervention of the Secretary-General is not a sustainable approach to the issue. It is necessary to have a bottom-up, victim-centric approach that empowers grassroots organisations and communicates to victims in their own languages and on their own terms.
RELIEF AND RECOVERY
The Secretary-General should also support women’s and civil society’s participation in implementation by strengthening action to ensure women politicians, candidates, activists and human rights defenders are protected. In the context of implementation of the political agreement, the Secretary-General should promote action for the support of civil society initiatives such as a Women’s Situation Room , which are aimed at mitigating conflict before, during and after elections. Further, the Secretary-General should demand the government of the DRC refrain from criminalizing and restricting the peaceful and legitimate activities of human rights defenders and civil society, lift the ban on public demonstrations, and drop charges against women human rights defenders and peace activists.