Women, Peace and Security Open Debate
Tomorrow (17 April) the Security Council will hold an open debate on Women, Peace and Security to consider the Secretary-General’s annual report on sexual violence in conflict (S/2013/149) following a briefing by the Secretary-General and Zainab Bangura, his Special Representative on the issue. Louise Mushikiwabo, the Foreign Minister of Rwanda, will preside with high-level participation also expected from other Council members. In addition, Saran Keita Diakite—the President of the Women, Peace and Security Network of the ECOWAS region, Mali — will speak on behalf of the New York-based NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.
Bangura is also likely to update the Council on her trips to the AU Summit in Addis Ababa in January, the Democratic Republic of the Congo in late March, Somalia in early April and the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting in London in mid-April.
There will be no outcome following the open debate. However, Council members view tomorrow as a starting point for discussions on a possible presidential statement or resolution later in the year. It seems the next logical point for the adoption of such an outcome would be in June when the UK’s preventing sexual violence initiative will likely be highlighted in the Council and at the G8 summit since the UK will preside over the Council in June and is the president of the G8 this year. The 11 April G8 Foreign Ministers’ statement highlighted the need to address impunity and hold perpetrators to account for acts of sexual violence in armed conflict. The statement also underlined the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions in tackling sexual violence and increasing women’s participation in peacebuilding and transition processes. (France, Russia, the UK and the US are both permanent members of the Security Council and G8 members.)
It seems there is interest among some Council members to work towards an outcome in the coming months to operationalise the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report—in particular, a mechanism or procedure to systematically monitor commitments by parties to conflict under resolution 1960. (It remains unclear at this point what the precise structure and tasks of this mechanism would be.) The UK appears to be supportive of such a mechanism and is also looking to tomorrow’s interventions to gauge interest amongst the broader UN membership. The US seems to be adopting a more cautious approach, as it believes there are sufficient tools to implement the women peace and security agenda in existing resolutions. However, the US is receptive to see what key messages emerge from tomorrow’s debate from fellow Council members and member states at large about how such a mechanism might add value to the Council’s work on the women, peace and security agenda. Other Council members might also have concerns about whether such a mechanism would translate into noticeable benefits without adding needlessly to the Council workload. (The UK is the penholder on women, peace and security in the Council. The US is the penholder on sexual violence issues.)
It was difficult in 2012 in the Council to advance the women, peace and security agenda broadly and, in particular, the sexual violence in conflict aspect, especially due to the concerns expressed by China, India, Pakistan and Russia. In discussing the Secretary-General’s 2012 report on conflict-related sexual violence (S/2012/33), these members made it clear they opposed the inclusion of situations that in their view did not constitute threats to international peace and security and were therefore considered to be outside the purview of the Security Council. (For a comprehensive analysis of the Council’s work on women, peace and security in 2012, please see our 10 April Cross-Cutting Report, Women, Peace and Security: Sexual Violence in Conflict and Sanctions).
However, it seems many of these criticisms were addressed in the Secretary-General’s 2013 report. Compared with the 2012 report, situations added were Afghanistan, Mali and Yemen, and situations dropped were Chad and Egypt. The category of sexual violence in the context of elections, political strife or civil unrest that was part of the 2012 report was removed. As in 2012, the current report also has an annex with three significant additions: the Syrian government forces and their allied militia, the Shabbiha; the Séléka rebels in the Central African Republic; and several armed groups in Mali. There were also additions under the existing Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) listing, such as the DRC national police, the M23 rebels and several more Mai-Mai groups in the Kivus. (Further information on the 2013 report is available in our April 2013 Monthly Forecast.)
Initial reactions to the 2013 report on sexual violence in conflict by Council members seem to be cautiously positive, even amongst Council members who registered significant concern last year. The 2013 composition of elected members may also lead to easier discussions on this issue as new Council members Argentina, Australia and Luxembourg are strong advocates of the women, peace and security agenda and the other two new Council members, the Republic of Korea and Rwanda, are expected to be supportive of the issue.