February: Sexual Violence on the Security Agenda

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

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This month, February 2012, the latest Report of the UN Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence (A/66/657–S/2012/33) was sent to the UN Security Council and the Council will meet to discuss it's content in an Open Debate scheduled to take place on February 23. The Report discusses numerous incidences of sexual violence in situations of conflict, post-conflict and of concern during the reporting period (December 2010 to November 2011) and also includes for the first time an annexed list of parties to conflict responsible for patterns of rape (as requested by the Security Council in SCR 1960), which has been referred to as “naming and shaming mechanism”. PeaceWomen will monitor and analyse the debate and outcome document, check Debate Watch later in the month. (Also see previous Council meetings 14 April 2011 Briefing SRSG, WPS: Sexual Violence; December 2010: Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict; September 2009 Sexual Violence in Conflict ; 2008 Sexual Violence in Conflict).

It is important to underline that although the Council created a specific Office to focus on conflict-related sexual violence, it is not separate from the broader women, peace and security agenda. A prevention approach means there is a focus on the root causes of sexual violence which are inherently linked with the lack of participation, gender equality and inclusion. Addressing the root causes of sexual violence includes focusing on conflict prevention and therefore disarmament, the robust regulation of the arms trade as well as appropriate control of the circulation of existing arms. This Report does in a limited way note the links between the perpetration of sexual violence and high levels of militarisation and proliferation of arms (see para 43, 53, and 66). To move forward on this, PeaceWomen, Reaching Critical Will and other NGO partners met with Margot Wallstrom, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, last week to brief her on Arms Trade Treaty and to stress the importance of addressing the root causes of sexual violence. This ENews editions articles on the Arms Trade Treaty Preparatory Committee and a special article on the linkages between arms and sexual violence.

Also this month, the women's movement, including WILPF UN office is preparing for the upcoming Commission of Status of Women (CSW 56), see article below for further details. Rural women are often subject to particular rights violations, exclusion, isolation, and poverty, and are acutely affected by natural and manmade disasters including economic crisis, climate change, militarization and conflict. To draw attention to some common themes, we will highlight cases from our national sections, which exemplify the complexity and range of challenges facing rural women. Read WILPF CSW written statement.

As usual, the PeaceWomen Enews compiles the latest Women, Peace and Security news from around the globe – highlighting the leading stories from the peacewomen.org portal. One major area of concern this month is the increased reports of sexual and gender based violence in displaced-persons camps in South Sudan and Somalia. Another is the disregard of the role of women in Syria, with the Arab League fact finding mission including only two women, and with little media attention being drawn to the role of women as agents of change, let alone the inclusion of women's voices in negotiations.

In Afghanistan, news highlights how women's organisations are campaigning to be included in the US and NATO led peace talks. There are fears that women's rights will be bartered for a ceasefire, much like the now-failed peace agreement with the Taliban in the nearby SWAT Valley resulted in the banishment of women from public life. I also recently attended and participated in a workshop on Women, Peace and Security in Afghanistan from January 28-30, see Report and Recommendations.

The past month saw disturbing reports outlining cases of abuse and sexual exploitation by UN police forces serving in Haiti, yet another reminder of the ongoing lack of accountability for sexual violence, and the importance of gender mainstreaming in all reconstruction and peacekeeping efforts. A related topic was examined in an online seminar ‘Regulating the Conduct of Military Personnel in Peace Operations: The Role of International Law in Curbing Impunity', in which PeaceWomen interns contributed to an online discussion of the legal challenges faced by those wishing to prosecute individuals implicated in sexual violence in peacekeeping missions. There certainly remains policy and implementation gaps to address these abuses within UN peacekeeping, but most of all, there remains a lack the political will by member states. These stories, and more, are covered in this month's ENews compilation.

PeaceWomen vocalizes our strong support for women's groups demanding their rights and continuing the work of peacemaking, peacebuilding and the prevention of conflict around the world. We will continue to utilize our position with consultative status at the United Nations to bring these voices to the fore.

CSW 56

This year's CSW will take place from February 27th to March 9th on the priority theme: The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.

WILPF's delegation will be made up of participants from many of our global sections, including Pakistan, Nigeria, US, Sweden, Japan, Lebanon and the Philippines. PeaceWomen are also supporting a small delegation from the Caucasus.

The 56th CSW sees WILPF host three events, two of which will take place the 29th of February, namely “Achieving Human Security for Rural Women in Africa” and “Empowering Rural Women in eradicating poverty and hunger—how can we really help". A third event discussing “Food Security, Conflict, Peace and Rural Women” will be held on the 1st of March.

WILPF International submitted a written statement regarding this year's CSW, noting that, “For nearly a century, WILPF has concentrated on the links between gender inequality, socioeconomic injustice and the root causes of war. The statement draws particular attention to cross-cutting issues: participation; land rights and access; indigenous rights; natural resources; food security, and the particular challenges and impacts of disasters, conflict and insecurity on the lives of rural women. The statement underlines that “rural women are often subject to particular rights' violations, exclusion, isolation, and poverty, and are acutely affected by natural and man-made disasters including economic crisis, climate change, militarization and conflict”. As a point of reference the statement provides case studies from some of our national sections which highlight these challenges.

ATT prepcom

WILPF's Reaching Critical Will Project (RCW) continues to campaign in the international arena for the full and immediate abolition of nuclear weapons. The fourth ATT PrepCom is meeting in New York from 13-17 February 2012 to prepare for the July negotiations of an arms trade treaty. RCW is working with other NGOs to cover the proceedings and provide analysis and primary documentation online.

RCW believes that an ATT should not merely be used as a procedural authorization of arms transfers, but should be a strong tool with the primary purpose of preventing armed conflict, preventing the violation of human rights and international humanitarian law, and seriously reducing the culture and economy of militarism. RCW also urges the ATT to include a gender perspective, and recognise that women are instrumental in designing and implementing arms control programmes, arms transfer decisions, peace agreements, and post-conflict reconstruction plans.

Letter from Colombia

January was spent in the lovely land of Colombia. First stop was Bogotá where I spent two weeks working in the Limpal (WILPF) office translating documents and editing the English version website, next was a side trip to Medellin to visit friends and discover the ‘Paisa' lifestyle.

Tonight I am heading North to my final destination of Cartagena de Las Indias, where I will be meeting and participating in workshops with some of the women displaced by Colombia's armed conflict. These women are working together with Limpal to provide a voice and to secure rights for women in the region.

Whilst in Bogotá I had the exciting opportunity to attend the Colombian launch of the World Bank's 2012 Report on Gender Equality and Development, the event also included the release of the Regional Study on Work and Family: Latin American and Caribbean Women towards a New Equilibrium. The launch provided an overview and analysis of the report with a special focus on the Latin American and Caribbean context. A question and answer session followed the presentation, providing an interesting insight into the gender equality reality in Colombia.

Rural women and migration was a common theme, with particular attention being given to problems associated with the high proportion of children being raised by grandparents or a third party carer in order to enable parents to move to urban areas. Also revealed was the report's finding that Colombia's growing rate of adolescent pregnancy is in large part a consequence of the lack of employment opportunities for women in the country, with many young women (particularly those in rural areas) choosing, in light of a lack of real job opportunities, to start a family and to forgo further study or training. In response to this finding the Office for Gender Equality has announced the development of a Government program aimed at providing greater employment and access for young Colombian women. Speakers included the Director for the World Bank in Mexico and Colombia, the Colombian High Commissioner for Women's Equality, Ana Revenga, co author of the World Bank Report and Laura Chioda, author of the Regional Report on Women and Work.

A particularly spirited address was given by the Civil Society representative Florence Thomas, Director of the Group, Women and Society and Ana Maria Ibáñez researcher from the Colombian Centro de Estudios sobre Desarrollo Económico (CEDE) analysed the report from an economic perspective.

Apart from that it's been all sun and speaking Spanish! Hasta luego!

Dominique Lardner

Sexual Violence in Conflict and Militarism

National security forces continue to perpetrate with impunity acts of violence against civilians. This is seen in the latest Report of the UN Secretary-General's report on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). At least ten of the twenty situations of conflict, post-conflict and concern in the Secretary-General's report on conflict-related sexual violence involve national security forces.

One of these bodies, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), is listed in the annex as committing or being responsible for patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women, men and children. Not only do these armed bodies of governments fail to protect civilians from sexual and other forms of violence, but they are themselves aggressors and violent perpetrator of such crimes.

UN actors and member states have called in some instances for the "professionalization of national armed forces" as a means to address conflict-related sexual violence. The Secretary-General's report on CRSV cites "the limited progress in the development of an accountable and professional security forces, the lack of regular payment of salaries, the weak command and control structure of the Congolese army" as contributing to continued human rights violations, including sexual violence in the DRC. Training sessions on codes of conduct, securing armories, and providing adequate wages and services to personnel can represent practical means to address armed violence committed by security forces. However, too often these tactics are proposed and implemented to the exclusion of disarmament and demobilization efforts. As such they fail to address the root causes and perpetuating factors of violence, namely militarism and the proliferation of weapons.

Not only do calls to professionalize foreign armies exclude disarmament, they fall upon a backdrop of a global arms trade valued at 50 billion USD per year and a global military expenditure of 1.6 trillion USD in 2010. Women are uniquely affected by the accumulation of weapons, the arms trade and armed conflict. Weapons facilitate trafficking, forced prostitution and sexual violence. Women are not only uniquely targeted due to their sex and their gendered roles during armed conflict, they experience increased violence after the guns have allegedly gone silent, both in the country that experienced violence and the country to which troops return (see for example, Gun Free Kitchen Tables Initiative). Finally, this military funding diverts resources away from investments for gender equality, including access to education, capacity building and health services.

Given the ties between militarism, arms and sexual and gender based violence, WILPF urges that UN bodies and member states re-conceptualize their approach to addressing sexual violence in conflict. This does not preclude providing adequate wages and training to national security personnel. Indeed training of military personnel on gender and gender security issues should be mandated before deployment. Performance reviews should be tied to gender responsiveness and include accountability measures and consequences for non-compliance. Additional measures include eliminating diplomatic immunity in sexual exploitation cases for private contractors and international personnel, ensuring accountability for perpetrators with secured funding for independent prosecutors. In a recent project, WILPF-US proposed these, and 62 other concrete recommendations to the U.S. government in formulating its National Action Plan on SCR 1325.

However, changing states' response to sexual violence in conflict requires the more difficult demand of shifting from militarism, in this case professionalizing armies, to disarming societies. This requires a shift of human, technological and financial resources away from military spending, particularly trading in arms, components and ammunition, towards investing in gender equality. Disarming societies also requires that existing military resources, namely weapons, are regulated. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), currently being negotiated, offers some potential in this regard. For more on the ATT, see the ATT prepcom information provided by Reaching Critical Will above.

Isabelle Cutting

WILPF Conference Report

In December 2011, the Swedish section of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) arranged a conference on the issue of impunity for SGBV in conflict and post conflict settings. The conference was arranged in cooperation with the Swedish NGO Kvinna till Kvinna and Amnesty International in Sweden. It brought together an international group of experts, women's rights activists and governmental representatives to share and discuss obstacles and strategies relating to ending SGBV impunity.

The aim of the report “From impunity to accountability” is to list some of the most critical challenges ahead on international, national and local level in the fight against impunity. The report draws on discussions during the December conference, at which the participants spoke about the obstacles they face in their day-to-day work against impunity, and how these obstacles may be overcome. In addition to this, the report also includes a number of conclusions and recommendations from previously published reports relating to impunity for sexual and gender based violence in conflict and post conflict settings.

To view the full report, click here.

Monthly Action Points (MAP) for the Security Council

For February, in which Togo has the Security Council presidency, the MAP provides recommendations on country situations including: Haiti, Somalia, Syria, and Timor-Leste. The MAP also provides recommendations regarding the expected Council discussions on Women, Peace and Security. Download February 2012 MAP in English [PDF]

The Working Group is also this month supporting a Libyan women delegation to New York and Washington. As the Security Council engages on discussions on the mandate renewal of UNSMIL, Libyan women's views on the priorities and challenges should inform the decisions to be made. A roundtable discussion will be held on Wednesday 22nd February 2012 from 1:15pm to 2.45pm at the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations

Panelists: Amina Megheirbi, President of the Board of Attawasul Association for Youth, Women, & Children of Free Libya and Alaa Murabit, founder of The Voice of Libyan Women

Debate Watch

On the 19th of January the Security Council held an Open Debate, under the Presidency of South Africa on the importance of the rule of law as one of the key elements of international peacekeeping, conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

The Council adopted a Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2012/1) which in its fifth paragraph says that the Security Council reiterates its concern about the situation of the most vulnerable groups and displaced persons including women. The paragraph also says that the Council expresses particular concern about sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations and recalls in this regard SCR1325.

Of the 15 UN Security Council Member statements, 6 countries mentioned women/gender or made references to the women, peace and security agenda (WPS). Those countries were Azerbaijan, Germany, India, Portugal, United Kingdom and USA. Non Security Council States or others who mentioned WPS included Brazil, Mexico, Austria, Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, Mexico, Peru and the European Union. Those speakers who mentioned WPS have had their statements published on this site. The debate focused on punishment of those who had committed crimes against humanity and violated international law and almost all speakers stressed the fight against impunity and that the role of the International Court of Justice should be strengthened. Other themes that were discussed during the debate were the importance of not only technical assistance when it comes to transitional justice processes but also a respect for human rights, reconciliation mechanisms and how the United Nations could change or alter their rule of law programmes.

For more on this debate, click here.