December 2019 Monthly Forecast

In Hindsight: Negotiations on Resolution 2493 on Women, Peace and Security

On 29 October, during the Security Council’s annual open debate on women, peace and security, resolution 2493 was adopted, following long and difficult negotiations led by South Africa. The resolution passed unanimously, and Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, who chaired part of the debate, remarked that she had been told that this was “a welcome return to consensus in the Council”.

Attaining this consensus was not easy. In the lead-up to the debate, South Africa needed to make several concessions to obtain a text acceptable to all, leaving some Council members feeling, as the UK put it after the adoption, “disappointed that the Council did not seize the opportunity to draft a resolution that was more ambitious in scope”. Nor were things always smooth procedurally, with some changes not communicated on time, including when the text was put in blue on the Friday before Tuesday’s debate. At times, it seemed that civil society and some member states following the negotiations closely would have preferred having no resolution, rather than one that risked walking back the agenda.

South Africa circulated the first draft of the resolution on 9 September to all Council members ahead of the busy high-level week in the UN General Assembly. The first of three face-to-face negotiation meetings was held on 17 September, with the bulk of negotiations conducted over e-mail.

South Africa intended the resolution to focus on the “full implementation” of the women, peace and security agenda. Women’s sexual and reproductive health rights—never explicitly mentioned in any of the drafts—played a role in the initial US position that they could not support the “full” implementation of the agenda. After the resolution was adopted, the US representative stated that the US “cannot accept references to sexual and reproductive health”. It seems that the US argued that its national position on sexual and reproductive health meant that it could not support the implementation of the entirety of the agenda, as that would include resolutions of the Council containing such references. Apparently, the US had argued for replacing “full” with “effective” implementation. In the end, the formulation “full” implementation was retained.

Other members used their statements after the vote to emphasise their opposing view. The UK said, “we endorse its confirmation of the Council’s call for full — and I stress the word “full” — implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) […] The emphasis on full implementation — and again, I stress “full” — is vital”, adding that “an effective response to conflict-related sexual violence […] needs to include sexual and reproductive health services.” France, in its statement after the vote, called it “regrettable that the Security Council continues to be silent on the crucial issue of sexual and reproductive health and rights” and welcomed “the fact that resolution 2493 calls for the full implementation of all resolutions on this agenda, which are mutually reinforcing and to which France is committed in all their aspects.”

The role and protection of women human rights defenders also proved controversial during negotiations. It seems that a majority of Council members threatened to abstain in the vote should draft language related to “women human rights defenders” be deleted. These members were apparently willing to accept the indirect reference that appears in the final formulation, however, crafted after strong resistance from China and Russia to the original explicit language. Paragraph 6 of the resolution now “encourages Member States to create safe and enabling environments for civil society, including formal and informal community women leaders, women peacebuilders, political actors, and those who protect and promote human rights, to carry out their work independently and without undue interference, including in situations of armed conflict, and to address threats, harassment, violence and hate speech against them”. Russia, in its statement, said, “we feel obliged to point out that the resolution contains a number of provisions that go beyond the Security Council’s mandate. It is overloaded with issues relating to the protection and promotion of human rights, which the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council already deal with successfully and effectively. We urge the Security Council to adhere strictly to its mandate, and we do not support attempts to justify its interference in matters that are part of the remit of other organs.” The UK, on the other hand, deplored the lack of an explicit mention of women human rights defenders, which was echoed by France. China made its negotiating position clear in its statement during the open debate, saying that: “Non-governmental organisations are expected to play a constructive role by observing the laws of the countries concerned, respecting the ownership of the host Government and fully consulting with them.” China went on to say that it “therefore reserves its position vis-à-vis paragraph 6 of resolution 2493 (2019), which we have just adopted.”

The resolution takes note of the work of the Informal Expert Group (IEG) on women, peace and security. The initial draft had called on the chairs of the IEG to submit an annual update on progress towards implementing its recommendations, a recommendation made in the Secretary-General’s latest report on women, peace and security. This was cut, however. China stressed that “the Group is not an official body of the Council” and that “the work it does in the name of the Council must respect the views of all Council members in a manner consistent with the Security Council mandate and the rules of procedure, or its decisions will not be authoritative or morally binding.” Russia declared that it was “compelled to conclude that that Group has not fully succeeded in becoming a coordinating link in the chain of the work in this area.” Among other aspects, Russia criticised the IEG for being “unable to avoid a certain degree of politicization in its work”.

As with last April’s resolution on sexual violence in conflict, which met with abstentions from China and Russia, some Council members and civil society representatives questioned the wisdom of pursuing any resolution on women, peace and security in the current political environment, whose dynamics have not changed significantly since April. Some observers also queried the value of an outcome that would not add much that was new to the agenda. South Africa, however, felt that it was important to reiterate key points of the agenda ahead of the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325 next year. In the end, the resolution made some headway in the areas of women’s participation in all stages of peace processes, and although the explicit language on women human rights defenders was omitted, there is recognition of the need for a safer environment for them and for civil society to do their work. The task ahead remains the full implementation of this and past resolutions on women, peace and security.