On 30, January 2015, the Security Council held an open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, with a focus on the protection challenges and needs faced by women and girls in armed conflict and post-conflict settings. Chile held the presidency for the month of January, and Mr. Barros-Melet opened the debate. His opening was followed by the briefings of Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator; Ms. Helen Durham, Director for International Law and Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and Ms. Ilwad Elman of the NGO Working Group of Women, Peace and Security (NGOWG). There were 70 speakers in the all-day debate and, in line with the focus of the debate, all of the speakers used gender-sensitive language and discussed protecting women and girls from violence.
Out of the 70 speakers at the debate, 62 stressed preventing sexual violence, 57 mentioned Security Council Resolution 1325 (many of whom noted the upcoming 15th anniversary of the Resolution), 56 highlighted the importance of women’s participation in political or peace processes, 53 noted how women make up the majority of displaced persons, and 40 underscored the importance of empowering women. The briefers made strong statements in support of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and the wider positive implications that might come with proper implementation. For instance, Helen Durham of the ICRC resolutely stated: “As a group, women are not inherently vulnerable in armed conflict...Armed conflict changes the circumstances of all the people it touches. Women are made vulnerable mainly by the conditions that are imposed on them, not by their sex.” In addition, Ilwad Elman of the NGOWG told a moving story of a young girl who was raped by a Ugandan soldier, and emphasized that the “catastrophic consequences of violence against civilians and of protection strategies which are gender blind and have failed to meaningfully include women.” Despite the gender-sensitivity in this debate, the Council needs to address the gaps between principles and practice in implementing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda across all fronts.
Although there was no Presidential Statement or resolution adopted at the debate, as it was an important biannual debate on the Protection of Civilians, it addressed many of the current concerns on the Security Council’s Agenda. Forty percent of the speakers discussed accountability for actions, 80 percent underlined the general importance of protecting human rights and 55 percent noted the importance of development in securing global peace. Nine speakers also drew attention to the rights and needs of disabled persons in conflict settings, an area that is widely ignored in the discussion of protecting civilians. Often accompanied by chilling accounts, 35 speakers drew attention to the ongoing violence in Syria, 26 gave an example of the ongoing violence in Iraq and 18 speakers shed light on Boko Haram as a perpetrator of violence. Six speakers addressed the issue of explosive weapons, and another 5 discussed the importance of disarmament. These references aside, the issue of disarmament needs to addressed on a broader scale, especially with regards to the impact of such disarmament on women.