Date: 23 June 2017
Period: 1-31 May 2017
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 situation in Syria and discusses the creation of four de-escalation areas in four areas (paras. 3, 4, 6). The UN Secretary-General endorses such action and suggests that the creation of de-escalation areas contributes to the improvement of humanitarian situation on the ground (para. 41), even though some military activities are still underway in these areas (para. 4). In the meantime, the report highlights that air and ground-based strikes, along with the use of explosive weapons, continue to be used, indiscriminately killing and injuring people and destroying and damaging vital infrastructure (paras. 14, 15, 44). There have been also some concerns over the action taken by the local authorities at the transit site, where displaced people are reportedly having their identification documents taken from them while they are being processed at the camps and not being granted freedom of movement (para. 10). Humanitarian convoys have still difficulties accessing several areas, including the Kurdish-controlled areas (paras. 24, 25). Despite this, several humanitarian actions have been successful (i.e.: the second cross-border polio campaign in Idlib, Ladhiqiyah, Aleppo and Homs (para. 33); UNICEF also provided nutrition services for over 260,000 children (para. 34). Highlighting the effect of arms on the ground and ongoing challenges with providing humanitarian aid, the UN Secretary-General continues to call for the need of a political solution in Syria.
Of 47 paragraphs in the report, 1 (2,13%) include references to women and gender. In efforts to strengthen political transition in Syria, the Special Envoy initiated technical consultations to more deeply explore legal and constitutional issues relating to a political transition, including with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board. The Annex however includes data on violations committed against women, disproportionately highlighting their vulnerability.
The protection needs of women in Syria are not discussed in the report. The conflict in Syria has witnessed intense use of explosive weapons in highly populated areas by warring parties and their international allies. This practice has not yet been faced with the Council’s scrutiny despite causing huge civilian death, destruction of infrastructure and displacement, all with distinct, severe and disproportionate impact on women. Women affected by explosive violence often have fewer opportunities to access health care services and reconstruction processes. They also become more susceptible to further physical attacks and sexual exploitation, especially when displaced from their homes. In fact, the report does not refer to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes, not even once.
The risk of SGBV is heightened during conflict by aggravating factors, including the polarisation of gender roles, proliferation of arms, militarisation of society and 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 and improvised explosive devices. 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 several Member and observer States of the Council support the Syrian political process, many of them are nevertheless paradoxically implicated in arms transfers to all warring parties. Restrictions on the freedom of movement also contribute to the growing risk of GBV. The billions spent on technologies of war rather than on peacebuilding, development and human rights perpetuate a militarised security approach to conflict and international relations, that has proved neither successful, nor sustainable.
While Resolution 2139 (2014) requests all relevant actors to ensure full participation by all groups and segments of Syrian society (para. 30), the engagement of the Special Envoy with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board remains irregular; not enough details on the role of the Board is reported. 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. Council members facilitating the Astana peace process have a specific obligation to ensure women’s full and meaningful participation in the negotiations and operation of the de-escalation areas and security zones. As a result, 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.
Relief and Recovery
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 in the existing legal framework. While the existing political dead-lock 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.
Women are the leading actors who address peace and security issues, break siege, mobilise convoys to ensure supplies, identify early warning signs of radicalisation. They are also the first responders and providers of medical support. Yet they are not trusted with the necessary space for meaningful participation and resources to develop and continue their work. Reporting process should be reflective of the status of women’s participation in design and implementation of all initiatives throughout the conflict cycle. The UN Secretary-General should call on the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria to strengthen and enhance the role of the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board in the peace process and invite the Security Council to ensure its framework for operation promotes accountability for human rights violations and effectively incorporate Syrian women’s voices in all respects of the process. Moreover, the UN Secretary-General should urge the Office to include Syrian gender experts in all expert meetings under the technical consultative process to ensure that a gender perspective is taken into account in discussions on constitutional and legal issues.
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 required. The ways in which the needs of adolescent girls, who are more likely to be subjected to militarised violence, should be identified and implemented. The UN Secretary-General should explicitly call upon the Security Council to prioritise gender-sensitive approaches to protection of civilians in both the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the operation of de-escalation zones and security areas, in order to ensure that vulnerabilities that women and children face are not further exacerbated.
The report confirms that militarisation is on the rise in Syria. The UN Secretary-General should urge Council Members and observer states to start adopting a different approach that addresses the root causes of the unending conflict in Syria, and confront the ongoing transfer of weapons to all parties in the conflict using the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty as a basis for action. Such approach is guaranteed to prevent and reduce gender-based violence in Syria and facilitate a new, nonviolent, effective, community-driven and sustainable peace process.
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. The Office’s process for collecting and disseminating information must also demonstrate more transparency, preserve the representative nature of information sourced. It must be carried out in cooperation with civil society organisations through engagement with local sources.