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Women, Peace and Security Debate

The Council will hold its annual open debate on women, peace and security on Monday, 29 October.* As President of the Council for October, Guatemala has chosen the role of women’s civil society organisations and their contribution to the prevention and resolution of armed conflict and peacebuilding as the theme for the debate. Earlier this month it circulated a complementary note (S/2012/774) outlining issues for the Council to consider ahead of the debate.

The President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, will preside over the debate with participation expected from the head of UN Women Michelle Bachelet, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Edmond Mulet, as well as representatives from the EU and NATO. In addition, Bineta Diop, the head of Femmes Africa Solidarité — an NGO created by African women leaders to empower African women to assume a leadership role in peacebuilding — will speak on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.

During the debate Council members may raise issues highlighted in the complementary note including the need to ensure that implementation of peace accords are responsive to women’s needs and that during UN transitions from peacekeeping to peacebuilding the risks to women’s security are taken into account.

Council members have been negotiating a presidential statement which is expected to be adopted following the debate. The draft presidential statement was circulated on 15 October by the UK, the lead on this issue in the Council. It seems that the almost daily negotiations have been protracted due to a number of difficult issues. However, this morning following a period of silence, there is now an agreed draft.

It seems the draft text makes several references to the impact of women’s civil society organisations, recognises the need in the Council’s own work for more systemic attention to the women, peace and security agenda and welcomes the Secretary-General’s call in his most recent report (S/2012/732) for enhanced women’s participation and a stronger commitment to address the challenges to women’s engagement in prevention and resolution of armed conflict and in peacebuilding at all levels.

Among the more controversial issues were references to women’s safety during electoral processes and women’s access to justice and accountability for sexual and gender based violence in armed conflict and post-conflict situations. It seems that although references were maintained to accountability issues they are much weaker than in previous drafts.

The most contentious issue during negotiations seems to have been how the Council should refer to its previous decisions on women, peace and security. Apparently, China, India, Pakistan and Russia suggested additional language that would limit Council commitments to the 1325 agenda to armed conflict and post-conflict situations. This is in line with similar arguments made in February 2012 in the negotiations on a presidential statement ahead of the open debate on the 1820 conflict-related sexual violence agenda. Some members during those negotiations had expressed the view that situations that do not constitute threats to international peace and security are outside the purview of the Security Council.

However, Council members who are committed to the 1325 women’s participation agenda, in particular the EU Council members and Guatemala, worry about backsliding on principles that have been accepted for 12 years. These members believe strongly that at the very least a reaffirmation of the women, peace and security agenda as set out in resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960 should be maintained. The final draft text seems to indicate that these members were able to convince the others not to make any fundamental changes to the Council’s position on this issue.

Another difficult issue during the negotiations was the desire by a few Council members to use the language “concerned member states” versus “member states” throughout the text. It seems that the compromise was to use the former construct where there were references to conflict situations but maintain the use of “member states” in areas that broadly referenced the 1325 agenda.

These negotiations reflect the Council divisions which have emerged on other thematic issues such as children and armed conflict, protection of civilians and the sexual-violence aspect of the women, peace and security agenda. Over the course of the last year these divisions have centred on varying interpretations on the scope of the reporting mandate of the Special Representatives for Children and Armed Conflict and Sexual Violence.

This dynamic now seems to be also impacting the broader 1325 women’s participation agenda. Several weeks ago many Council members thought that, in principle, the adoption of a presidential statement closely adhering to previously agreed language should be uncontroversial. However, that has not proven to be the case.

* This open debate was postponed when UN Headquarters closed due to Hurricane Sandy in late October. However, the Council did adopt the presidential statement on 31 October (S/PRST/2012/23). The open debate was rescheduled for 30 November when the head of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, briefed along with the Deputy Secretary-General, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping and Bineta Diop, the head of Femmes Africa Solidarité.

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