In Hindsight: Negotiations on Resolution 2467 on Sexual Violence in Conflict
On 23 April, Germany convened a high-level open debate on sexual violence in conflict, a key event of its April presidency (S/PV.8514). Resolution 2467 was adopted, following difficult negotiations that only concluded during the debate. When the resolution passed with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia), Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas, who was chairing the meeting, said: “That was hard work…and not only today”.
Three permanent members of the Council (China, Russia, and the US) expressed opposition to several aspects of the text during the negotiations, and at various stages of the process, all three threatened to use their veto. The original draft resolution was ambitious. Designed to focus on a “survivor-centered approach” to preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict, it addressed several issues that were controversial for these permanent members. Among the contentious issues were whether to include language on the sexual and reproductive health of victims of sexual violence, whether to establish a formal mechanism (that is, a working group) on sexual violence in conflict, references to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and recognition of LGBTI as a vulnerable group.
In the lead-up to the debate, Germany was required to make a number of concessions in an effort to make the text acceptable to Council members. For one, the language on sexual and reproductive health in the initial draft was whittled away due to the threat of a US veto. The initial draft noted with concern the funding shortfall for services to address conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, including “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care such as access to emergency contraception, safe termination of pregnancy and HIV prevention and treatment, as well as reintegration support for survivors”.
In the face of US opposition to this formulation, the penholder fell back on agreed language on sexual and reproductive health from operative paragraph 19 of resolution 2106 (24 June 2013), which recognises:
the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence, taking into account the specific needs of persons with disabilities.
The US still found this agreed language unsatisfactory. Germany again revised the text, removing all reference to the various types of support and other multi-sectoral service for survivors (that is, the part of the paragraph from “including” onwards), replacing it with “in line with Resolution 2106” in the draft that it had already put into blue. Ultimately, during the debate, Germany agreed to omit entirely the paragraph on sexual and reproductive health to appease the US. A reference to resolution 2106 was retained in a preambular paragraph.
Another controversial matter in the negotiations concerned whether to establish a Security Council working group on sexual violence in conflict, which had been called for in the original German draft. This was ultimately not included in the resolution, nor was a compromise proposal requesting the Secretary-General to propose options, preferably within 12 months, for setting up a formal mechanism of this nature. Although the Secretary-General recommended that the Council “consider establishing appropriate arrangements, including…the possibility of a formal mechanism” in his 29 March report on sexual violence in conflict, a number of Council members had reservations about the establishment of a working group on this issue at present, maintaining that more time was needed to analyse its potential functions and budgetary implications and whether it might duplicate the work of the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security (IEG). During their explanations of vote at the 23 April debate, China and Russia in particular made clear their reluctance to see a working group at present, with China saying that “it is important to have extensive discussions well in advance” before creating “special mechanisms,” and Russia declaring that it was concerned “about the efforts to increase the number of bureaucratic United Nations bodies in order to create the appearance of robust activity”.
Another area of disagreement was the proposed language on the International Criminal Court (ICC). Early drafts noted that the fight against impunity for crimes of international concern against women and girls had been “strengthened through the work of the International Criminal Court, ad hoc international and mixed tribunals.” The US, which has expressed strong opposition to the ICC and recently rescinded the visa of its prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, objected to the reference to the ICC in this context, so it was removed. Instead, resolution 2467 merely “acknowledges the inclusion of sexual and gender-related crimes among the most serious crimes of international concern in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”.
On 20 April (Saturday), three days before the debate, China and Russia circulated an alternative draft resolution that used the German draft as its basis but removed all references to sexual violence “in post-conflict situations”, the ICC, and tasks for the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security (IEG) related to sexual violence in conflict. Germany put its text in blue after reviewing the Chinese-Russian draft. Although it did not accept many of China’s and Russia’s proposals, one key change it did make was to delete the tasks to be assumed by the IEG.
This was not enough to satisfy China and Russia, however. The night before the debate, Russia announced that it was placing the alternative Chinese-Russian draft in blue. It appears that this was a pressure tactic to extract more concessions from the penholder.
On the morning of the debate, China, Russia and the US still had outstanding issues with the German draft in blue. These issues were only resolved through bilateral exchanges during the debate. To get the US on board, the paragraph that had included the previously-agreed language on sexual and reproductive health that had already been diluted, was omitted entirely, as noted above.
The dilution and ultimate omission of the language on sexual and reproductive health was a bitter pill to swallow for several delegations, civil society organisations and other advocates for this issue, who have underscored that sexual and reproductive health is critical to the needs of survivors/victims of sexual violence in conflict. In the subsequent explanations of vote, Belgium, France, South Africa and the UK emphasized their concerns about the omission of this language. South Africa’s explanation was representative in this regard: “On the one hand, the text calls for a survivor-centered approach, while on the other hand it is denying survivors essential sexual and reproductive health services when they need them the most. The Council is therefore telling survivors of sexual violence in conflict that consensus is more important than their needs”.
A number of additional changes were made in the course of the debate to secure the acquiescence of China and Russia, including with regard to the IEG. For example, resolution 2467 “recognizes” the work of the IEG but does not “welcome” it, as had the previous text. While indicating that the Council would consider information, analysis and recommendations from the IEG, it stops short of considering measures to implement them, as had also been the case earlier. Furthermore, reference to the Council’s intention to integrate considerations of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations in the work of relevant counter-terrorism sanctions regimes was omitted from the draft resolution during the debate. These changes are consistent with concerns that China and Russia share about the expansion of the women, peace and security agenda item. During its explanation of vote, Russia said that it was able to abstain on the text only after “provisions that were wholly unacceptable” had been removed from the German draft in blue. It further expressed its dissatisfaction with efforts to broaden “the mandate of various UN entities and bodies and instruct them to deal with sexual violence”. Russia and China withdrew their text when resolution 2467 was adopted.
In spite of palpable disappointment with omissions and revisions in the text, positive elements of the final product were referenced after the vote. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten, who had expressed consternation about the removal of language on sexual and reproductive health and had reportedly wanted a working group to be established, nonetheless said that despite its limitations, the resolution is “a step in the right direction”. Even while providing strong critiques of the resolution, some Council members tempered their remarks by noting its positive aspects.
The recognition of the “survivor-centered” approach to sexual violence in conflict in resolution 2467 was considered a step forward by several speakers. In this regard, the resolution encourages member states to ensure that “prevention and response are non-discriminatory and respect the rights and prioritize the needs of survivors…notably in the context of their health, education and participation”. The resolution further emphasises that all efforts to investigate and document sexual violence should “respect safety, confidentiality and informed consent of survivors” and that “monitoring and investigating strategies are connected to specialized multi-sectoral referral pathways to services for survivors”.
Drawing from resolution 2106 of 2013, which focused on accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict, the resolution reiterates the Council’s intention, “when adopting or renewing targeted sanctions in situations of armed conflict, to consider including designation criteria pertaining to acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence.” At the same time, it builds on resolution 2106 by encouragjng the Secretary-General to ensure that panels of experts/monitoring groups of sanctions committees include personnel with sexual violence and gender expertise where mandated.
Resolution 2467 further expands on previous language by requesting the Secretary-General to deploy women protection advisors to relevant UN peace operations “particularly at a senior level, ensuring that they have direct access to senior leadership of such peace operations, and offices of UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators in all relevant situations of concern”. Another important element of the resolution is its emphasis on civil society organisations spearheaded by women and girls in addressing sexual violence. In this respect, the resolution recognises the importance of supporting these organisations in all prevention and response efforts. It also encourages member states and relevant UN entities “to support capacity building for women-led and survivor-led organizations”.
The resolution puts forth a new reporting requirement, requesting the Secretary-General to report to the Council “within two years and no later than the end of 2021” on issues related to “the equal rights of all individuals affected by sexual violence in armed conflict, including women, girls and children born of sexual violence in armed conflict”. It further requests that, in his next annual report to the Council on sexual violence in conflict, the Secretary-General include a “gap analysis and recommendations…on how the Security Council can strengthen and monitor implementation of relevant commitments by parties to conflict as well as how the UN can better support local, national and regional efforts to address the needs of survivors of sexual violence in conflict”. The “gap analysis and recommendations” leave open the possibility that the Secretary-General could advocate the establishment of a working group and describe envisioned activities for it in next year’s report.
In the end, the mixed perspectives about the final outcome expressed by some Council members reveal many complicated questions about Council deliberations that have no simple answers.
The first has to do with timing. Many civil society advocates questioned the wisdom of pursuing a resolution on sexual violence in conflict in the current political environment, in which they maintain that the concept of gender and sexual and reproductive health rights are under siege. In this regard, the Trump administration has made its views on sexual and reproductive health clear since the president assumed office, and in March, the US sought to curtail language on this issue in the outcome document of the Commission on the Status of Women. Writing for the London School of Economics and Political Science Centre for Women, Peace and Security, Louise Allen and Laura J. Shepherd have suggested that given the administration’s stance: “The smart play might well have been to put the agenda into maintenance mode”.
In contrast, the counter-argument to this view came from German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who asked the rhetorical question at the press stakeout following the vote: “Do you stop your activities and wait for better weather because there is one government [a reference to the US opposition to language on sexual and reproductive health] that doesn’t want anything on this topic?” He added that several of the briefers at the meeting—2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Denis Mukwege Mukengere and Nadia Murad, and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney—believed that Germany should push ahead to advance accountability and the role of civil society on this issue.
The second question concerns what effect the negotiating process has left on Council dynamics. Some members would have preferred a more inclusive process on an issue of importance to them.
The third question has to do with the level of ambition of the proposed outcome. Some member states have privately questioned the pursuit of an “omnibus” resolution that incorporated so many issues known to be problematic for three of the five permanent members. Germany’s determined efforts and its compromises were critical in securing the adoption of resolution 2467. The long-term impact of this resolution on the women, peace and security agenda remains to be seen.