January 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 December 2021
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Women, Peace and Security: Open Debate on Protecting Women’s Participation

In January, the Security Council will hold an open debate entitled “Protecting Participation: Addressing Violence Targeting Women in Peace and Security Processes”. One of the signature events of Norway’s presidency, the meeting will be convened at ministerial level and chaired by the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anniken Huitfeldt. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and one or more civil society representatives are expected to brief. No outcome is expected.

Background and Key Recent Developments

It appears that Norway intends to use the open debate to address how violence, intimidation and reprisals against women peacebuilders, civil society representatives and human rights defenders undermine the objective of ensuring women’s participation in peace and security processes. It seems that the open debate is intended to promote a discussion of concrete ways for the Security Council to address and prevent these forms of targeted violence.

Adopted in April 2019, resolution 2467 states that “women’s protection and participation are inextricably linked and mutually-reinforcing”. The Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Sami Bahous, recently underscored this point during the annual open debate on women, peace and security (WPS) in October 2021. She said: “We cannot expect women to build peace if their lives are constantly under threat.” The protection of women human rights defenders, peacebuilders, and civil society leaders was also the focus of the NGO Working Group on WPS’ open letter to UN permanent representatives ahead of the October 2021 annual open debate. The letter argues that the protection of women human rights defenders and women peacebuilders “remains one of the starkest gaps in the Security Council’s implementation of the WPS agenda” and that the Council has “failed to address the root causes of this issue or mount an effective response when attacks against civil society occur”.

The Secretary-General’s 2021 annual report on WPS states that in 2020 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified 35 cases “of killings of women human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists in seven conflict-affected countries”. In addition, the report notes that “[m]any more” women have faced threats and harassment in connection with these activities. The 2021 report also announced that the Secretary-General’s annual report on WPS in 2022 will have a focus on women’s rights and is expected to include “recommendations for better protection for women human rights defenders against all political violence in public life”. As such, it seems that the open debate in January is intended to lay the groundwork for Council discussion on this theme ahead of the annual WPS open debate.

Security Council members discussed reprisals and intimidation against women human rights defenders and peacebuilders on 21 February 2020, when Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Niger, and the UK co-hosted an Arria-formula meeting entitled “Reprisals against women human rights defenders and women peacebuilders who engage with the Security Council and its subsidiary bodies”. January’s open debate will be the first formal Security Council meeting on the issue.

Norway’s focus in the debate on the connection between women’s participation and protection is consistent with the 1 December 2021 statement of shared commitments on WPS undertaken by elected Council members Albania, Niger, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The statement builds on the “presidency trio” initiative on WPS undertaken by Ireland, Kenya and Mexico during their consecutive Council presidencies in September, October and November of last year. In their statement of shared commitments, these four countries pledged to make WPS a “top priority” during their respective presidencies and to ensure that the agenda “is fully and meaningfully integrated into all aspects of the Council’s work, including in country-specific discussions”.

The 1 December 2021 statement echoed many of the commitments already undertaken by Ireland, Kenya and Mexico, including striving to achieve gender parity among invited Security Council briefers and ensuring a “strong representation of diverse women civil society briefers”. Other returning elements are the commitment to make WPS issues an explicit focus of at least one mandated geographic meeting and highlighting the Council’s discussions on WPS through dedicated press stakeouts. In line with the theme of January’s open debate, one of the novel elements of the statement of shared commitments is a focus on women peacebuilders and human rights defenders. In particular, the four states have committed to “[s]upporting the safe participation of civil society briefers” in Council meetings, to take “a zero-tolerance approach” on reprisals, and to call for “accountability for such acts”.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 29 September 2021, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris presented to the Human Rights Council the latest Secretary-General’s report on reprisals against individuals cooperating with the UN (A/HRC/48/28). Brands Kehris said that more than 100 of the 240 individuals referred to in the report were not mentioned by name because of protection issues and that this signalled the “high level of risk affecting cooperation with the UN in contexts where fear can inhibit such cooperation”. The Secretary-General’s report specified that “cases not publicly reported or kept anonymous … continue to concern predominantly women”. The report included cases of reprisals connected to engagement with the Security Council. For instance, it reviewed the case of a civil society representative who was reportedly accused by the National Security Services (NSS) of South Sudan “of being paid to raise the issue of sexual violence and accountability” during a meeting with a visiting Security Council delegation in March 2020. According to the report, the civil society representative “discontinued any direct contact with UN staff in public, as well as resigned from the civil society organization they represented, and ceased UN cooperation when NSS intimidated their co-workers”.

Key Issues and Options

The main issue for the Security Council remains the holistic and substantive implementation of its resolutions on WPS, including through better integration of WPS considerations into its country-specific decisions.

Regarding the theme of the open debate, promoting civil society’s substantive participation and addressing reprisals against civil society briefers are issues of importance for many Council members. Norway, as the Council president for January, could prepare a chair’s summary of the open debate to capture salient themes of the discussion.

Another option would be to convene a follow-up meeting in a closed format with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor. Among other issues, the meeting could focus on the interaction between long-term and short-term strategies to prevent reprisals and strengthen the participation of diverse women civil society actors. During such a meeting, Council members may consider calling for support of the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund’s (WPHF) new funding window on protection and participation of women peacebuilders and human rights defenders in crisis and conflict contexts, scheduled to be launched in January. (The WPHF is a multi-partner trust fund whose board is composed of UN entities, including UN Women, civil society organisations, and states).

During the presidency trio initiative, a high number of women civil society briefers participated in Council meetings. Among the novel elements in the statement of shared commitments by Albania, Niger, Norway, and the UAE is a pledge to follow up on recommendations and priority issues raised by civil society briefers. The four countries that issued the statement and other Council members may also be interested in developing ways to monitor the impact of their commitment to follow up on the concerns expressed by civil society briefers.

Council Dynamics

Language on women human rights defenders proved highly contentious during the negotiations of resolution 2493 (2019), the Council’s most recent WPS resolution. Some Council members threatened to abstain if draft language referring directly to women human rights defenders were deleted, while China and Russia strongly resisted the inclusion of said language. Negotiations eventually led to the compromise text that now appears in the sixth operative paragraph, in which the Council “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”. In their statements after the vote, however, Russia and China distanced themselves from this language, with China reserving “its position vis-à-vis paragraph 6” and Russia pointing out that the resolution contained “a number of provisions that go beyond the Security Council’s mandate”. The two countries reiterated similar positions during the February 2020 Arria-formula meeting on reprisals against women human rights defenders.

During the annual open debate on WPS in October 2021, Estonia, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Tunisia, the UK, and the US mentioned human rights defenders or women human rights defenders in their remarks. Both Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines referred to reprisals, with Niger noting that special attention “should be paid to young women peacebuilders who face serious reprisals for their vital work”. Russia, on the other hand, presented a seemingly unchanged position on the issue, reiterating that the Security Council “should focus on situations that pose an imminent threat to international peace and security” as the “work to promote the role of women” is already carried out by other UN bodies, such as the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.

The UK is the penholder on WPS, and the US is the penholder on conflict-related sexual violence. Ireland and Mexico are the co-chairs of the Informal Experts Group on WPS.



Security Council Resolutions
29 October 2019S/RES/2493 This was a unanimous resolution, which requested further information on the progress and setbacks in the WPS agenda as well as recommendations to address new and emerging challenges.
23 April 2019S/RES/2467 This was a resolution on sexual violence in conflict, passed with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia).
Security Council Meeting Record
21 October 2021S/PV.8886 This was the annual open debate on WPS.


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