Period: 1-31 December 2016.
Pursuant to Security Council Resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016), 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; to demilitarise medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities; to lift the sieges of populated areas; to end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights. Pursuant to Resolution 2165 (2014), the Security Council also requests to establish a mechanism to monitor the humanitarian situation on the ground. In this vein, Resolution 2139 (2014) invites relevant actors to ensure full participation by all groups and segments of Syrian society, including women (para. 30).
The report gives a detailed account of humanitarian and security situations. Specifically, it notes a fierce escalation of fighting throughout the month in the Aleppo, Damascus, Dayr al-Zawr, Homs, Idlib, Raqqah and Rif Dimashq governorates (para. 3). Reported casualties have resulted from mortar and rocket fires, explosive gas canisters, landmines and cluster munitions (para. 20). The report notes a growing number of displaced peoples in the country, with some 13.5 million people in need of protection and assistance, and highlights the disruption of critical infrastructure, including water supplies, as well as medical and educational facilities (paras. 16, 26, 28). It also introduces Security Council Resolution 2328 (2016) on 19 December 2016, in which the Council called for the evacuations to be conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law and principles (para. 6), and expresses some hope for the upcoming meeting in Astana for the development of an inclusive political process in Syria (para. 49).
Of 49 paragraphs in the report, 3 (6,12%) include references to women and gender. Existing references to women’s rights and experiences highlight their vulnerability. For example, the report finds that “threats against women and the most vulnerable civilians, such as children, older persons and persons with disabilities, as well as other violations and human rights abuses, were also reported” (S/2017/58, para. 18). All other references to women and gender are provided within the same rhetoric.
The protection needs of women in Syria are not discussed in the report. However, the reports of local sources suggest that threats and/or actual exercise of rape, sexual violence and sexual harassment are utilised in Aleppo, particularly by government and pro-government forces for persecution and retaliation purposes. In fact, the report does not refer to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes, not even once. The report also fails to specify the ways in which international or national non-governmental organisations address women’s health issues, including reproductive health and family planning provisions, and address women’s protection needs.
The risk of SGBV is heightened during conflict by aggravating factors, including the polarisation of gender roles, the proliferation of arms, the militarisation of society and the breakdown of law and order. There is no discussion on measures undertaken by relevant actors to prevent further instances of SGBV and proliferation of weapons. The UN Secretary-General does not bring any light to the lack of international commitment to refraining from arms sales and ammunition supplies to the Syrian government and other parties to the conflict.
While Resolution 2139 (2014) requests all relevant actors to ensure full participation by all groups and segments of Syrian society (para. 30), all subsequent reports are silent on this issue. The empowerment of Syrian women requires full recognition of their active role in leadership, development, conflict resolution and promotion of durable and sustainable peace, rather than perceiving them as mere victims of the conflict. The UN Secretary-General does not incorporate gender analysis in his coverage of the political and security situation and fails to highlight the main barriers to women’s participation in Syria.
The protection and empowerment of women in Syria require a more comprehensive legal response to the crimes committed against women in particular and against civilians in general, including the fight against impunity and the change of existing legal framework. While the existing political deadlock significantly limits the possibility of adjusting legal system and addressing impunity in Syria, the UN Secretary-General’s report, at the same time, makes no specific references to the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda and fails to account for the lack of services provided for women in the context of the current humanitarian and security situations in Syria.
Reporting process should be reflective of the status of women’s participation in design and implementation of all initiatives throughout the conflict cycle. Specifically, the UN Secretary-General should bring the attention of relevant stakeholders to the need to establish and support an ongoing consultative process with the Women’s Advisory Board. Reporting should generally reflect the efforts of local civil society, including women’s groups, as well as efforts of all actors to support the work of women’s civil society groups. Finally, the UNSG should inquire relevant actors to provide necessary resources for these activities.
The report must include information not only on cases of violations of the ceasefire agreement and the use of weapons against critical infrastructure. Also, it should discuss the efforts that are made by all parties to the conflict to end all forms of violence and attacks against civilians (S/RES/2139, para. 2). If there are no efforts made, it also has to be clearly stated and further addressed by the Security Council. An update on the ways to address restrictions on humanitarian aid to women in hard-to-reach and besieged areas and prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence, including in IDP camps is also required.
The munitions survey report showed that most munitions in Syria had been manufactured in factories located in China, Iran, Syria and the former Soviet countries. In his report, the UN Secretary-General should explicitly call upon member states to refrain from selling arms sales, providing ammunition supplies and delivering explosives to any of the parties in conflict or countries that might transfer the explosives to them because of their impact on civilians and on women, as mandated by articles 6 and 7 of the Arms Trade Treaty.
The lack of references to the WPS resolutions in both UNSG reports and UNSC resolutions on Syria further complicates the implementation of the WPS Agenda in the country-specific context. It is imperative that the UN Secretary-General’s reports on the situation in Syria integrate gender analysis throughout each section of the report to ensure women’s concerns are adequately represented, providing a balance between the protection and participation aspects.