Women, Peace and Security: Open Debate and Presidential Statement
The Security Council will hold its annual open debate on women, peace and security tomorrow (28 October). As president of the Council for October, Argentina has chosen to focus the debate on the effects of displacement on women, including both refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, will brief and will also read out a statement from the Secretary-General, who is currently travelling in Africa. Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs Dr. Chaloka Beyani and Suaad Allami, an Iraqi lawyer and the Founder and Director of Sadr City Women’s Center and Legal Clinic, will also participate.
Mlambo-Ngcuka will likely focus her statement on the plight of stateless and IDP women, an issue that has been more expansively addressed in the latest report on the implementation of resolution 1325. Allami is likely to focus on extremist violence and terrorism and how that phenomenon drives displacement in Iraq where the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is in control of a great deal of territory. In addition, the Council and participating member states are expected to watch a video clip prepared by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations featuring women from the Malakal Refugee Camp in South Sudan.
Earlier this month, Argentina circulated a concept note outlining areas for the Council to consider (S/2014/731). During the debate, Council members may raise issues highlighted in the concept note, including the additional challenges displaced women face as a result of unequal citizenship laws, asylum processes and lack of access to identification documents. Participants are also likely to examine women’s roles as leaders within their temporary communities as well as in the conflict that caused the displacement. They are also likely to reflect on displaced women’s heightened risk for human trafficking, sexual violence, forced marriage, early marriage and lack of access to basic resources, such as education and health services.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, forced displacement figures for 2013 exceeded 50 million, reaching levels unseen since World War II. Eighty percent of the world’s displaced population are women and children. The majority of the world’s refugees originate from Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria, with new displacements coming from intensifying conflicts in the Central African Republic, Iraq and South Sudan. All of these conflicts are on the Council’s agenda and will likely be the situations highlighted by member states during the open debate.
With the 22 October briefing on South Sudan by Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura and their own recent visit to South Sudan fresh in their memory, some members are likely to highlight the impact of displacement on women in that country. Bangura said in her briefing that IDPs there face acute protection concerns and rampant sexual violence. Somalia is another situation where members may want to focus their attention during the debate. In a briefing on 14 October, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Nicholas Kay, expressed concern about allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of displaced women by the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). At the same briefing the head of AMISOM, Maman Sidikou, confirmed that the AU has established a panel to investigate the allegations.
Council members are also expected to adopt a presidential statement tomorrow. The draft text reiterates the commitments made in resolution 2122 for the Council to increase its attention to women, peace and security issues and welcomes the emphasis in the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the UN system’s focus on implementation and the need to translate those commitments into improved outcomes (S/2014/693). The presidential statement also addresses the particular needs of women refugees and IDPs, highlights the impact of violent extremism on women and welcomes the Secretary-General’s commissioning of a global study in preparation for the 2015 High-Level Review of the implementation of resolution 1325.
The draft presidential statement was circulated on 20 October by the UK and, following two rounds of negotiations and bilateral meetings, was put under silence on 24 October.
The draft presidential statement contains important language linking the women, peace and security agenda to the disproportionate impact of small arms, displacement and violent extremism on women. However, during negotiations last week, a few sticking points emerged, particularly on accountability-related language in the draft text.
The draft presidential statement included language on accountability and the International Criminal Court (ICC), as adopted a year ago in resolution 2122 on women, peace and security. It seems China pushed for the more recent language from August this year on accountability and the ICC, as reflected in resolution 2171 on conflict prevention, because that reference included the principle of complementarity to domestic legal systems. However, in the end, the original language was retained as the accountability language in resolution 2171 on conflict prevention was not specifically related to women, peace and security and gender-based violations.
Russia also had concerns that, while the new language on the impact of violent extremism on women made no direct references to ICC, it did enumerate violations that were almost parallel to those in the Rome Statute of the ICC (i.e. murder, abduction, hostage taking, kidnapping, enslavement, sale and forced marriage, human trafficking, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence). As a result, in the final text these violations are characterised as “human rights violations and abuses”, rather than “atrocities”.
There were also discussions about dropping references to ad hoc and mixed tribunals since EU members of the Security Council would like to keep the focus on the ICC as the locus of international justice, but it seems it was important to the US to maintain references to ad hoc and mixed tribunals as appropriate international justice mechanisms and the original language was retained.
Finally, both China and Russia objected to welcoming the global study commissioned by the Secretary-General and the appointment of the lead author, Radhika Commaraswamy, the former Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict. It seems China and Russia wanted to dilute the Council’s relationship to the outcome of next year’s global study and the High-Level Review. Nevertheless, a majority of Council members insisted that some references had to be retained as the global study was requested by the Council in resolution 2122 and it would be disingenuous for the Council to distance itself from the outcome. Specific references to Coomaraswamy’s appointment as well as a call on member states to support the study were removed and replaced with more general language welcoming the commissioning of the study and encouraging member states to contribute “as appropriate”. The difficulty in getting agreement over language on the global study is an indication of possible difficulties that may arise next year when the Secretary-General submits the results of the study for the Council’s consideration.
After tomorrow, the next time the Security Council is likely to consider the women, peace and security agenda is in April 2015 at the annual debate on sexual violence in conflict.