posted on Fri 21 Jun 2013 5:28 PM
Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict

On Monday (24 June), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on women, peace and security with a focus on sexual violence in conflict. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague will preside and the Secretary-General and Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura are expected to brief. Jane Anywar, a lawyer from Uganda, will also speak on behalf of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice based at The Hague. At press time, it was expected that the Council would adopt a resolution at the open debate.

The UK’s concept note for the debate focuses on addressing impunity and effective justice for crimes of sexual violence in conflict (S/2013/335). The UK has suggested several objectives for the open debate including discussing different restorative and punitive justice mechanisms; the incentives and disincentives of international judicial mechanisms vs. national justice systems; and how the Council can best support Bangura’s work on accountability issues.

The US authored a draft resolution that went under silence yesterday (20 June) following two weeks of difficult and protracted negotiations. There were several rounds of exhaustive negotiations at expert level, followed by bilateral discussions and finally a round of negotiations at the level of deputy permanent representative. It seems China, Russia and Pakistan broke silence this morning, but the US apparently chose to go ahead and put the draft in blue. However, it seems possible that further bilateral negotiations may take place before Monday in an attempt to resolve final issues. It seems the main points of contention echoed issues raised during the negotiations earlier this month on the presidential statement on children and armed conflict (S/PRST/2013/8) such as: language related to the mandate of the Special Representative, the Special Representative’s access to non-state actors and the ICC.

Like in the children and armed conflict negotiations, the issue of communicating with non-state actors has been particularly sensitive and seems to be the main outstanding issue over which silence was broken this morning. It is possible that this issue has become even more controversial now that Syrian government forces, including the Syrian Armed Forces, the intelligence forces and the Shabbiha militia (but not the armed opposition groups) are on the Secretary-General’s list of parties that are credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict, a list annexed to the Secretary-General’s annual report on sexual violence. Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan and Russia apparently wanted language stressing that any contact with non-state parties needed to be made with the consent of the concerned government and at the request of these governments. However, for some of the other members—in particular Argentina, Australia, France, Guatemala, Luxembourg, the UK and the US—this would be a restriction that would make it difficult for the Special Representative to carry out her mandate and was strongly rejected.

It seems many of the other issues that were difficult during these negotiations paralleled issues raised during the negotiations last year on the 23 February 2012 (S/PRST/2012/3) and 31 October 2012 (S/PRST/2013/23) presidential statements on women, peace and security.

One issue that is a clear carry-over from 2012 is the use of “conflict-related sexual violence” versus “sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict situations”. The distinction is subtle but significant. Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan and Russia expressed significant concerns that the term “conflict-related sexual violence” is too broad, resulting in reporting by the Secretary-General on countries that arguably do not constitute threats to international peace and security and therefore are outside the purview of the Security Council. Whereas the term “sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict situations” indicates reporting should be only on situations where security is a concern. Council members supportive of a more robust reporting mandate for the Special Representative are likely to view this as a setback.

This issue reflects a fundamental and increasingly entrenched disagreement among Council members over both what is within the purview of the Council and what is within the scope of the Secretary-General’s reporting mandate. This month, several other draft texts have been similarly affected by such pushback. During negotiations on a draft presidential statement in the lead up to the 19 June open debate on conflict prevention and natural resources, China and Russia sought to explicitly limit the focus of the text to “countries in armed conflict and post-conflict situations that pose a threat to international peace and security”. In the end consensus was not reached and the draft was not adopted. This issue was also raised during the negotiations on the children and armed conflict presidential statement.

The ICC has been a sensitive issue as well in recent months with Rwanda objecting consistently to such references in the April presidential statement on prevention of conflicts in Africa, this month’s presidential statement on children and armed conflict and also during negotiations on this draft resolution on women, peace and security.

However, despite difficult negotiations over these fundamental issues, the draft resolution put in blue this morning includes several elements which many Council members view as strengthening the women, peace and security agenda.

In particular, in recent years there has been an increasing concern among member states and civil society that the Council has been too focused on the protection aspects of the women, peace and security agenda to the detriment of the participation aspects. The draft resolution put in blue this morning apparently includes a reference to women’s political and economic empowerment as central to the long-term prevention of sexual violence. It also reflects the need for issues of sexual violence to be addressed in mediation efforts, peace agreements, ceasefire agreements, security arrangements and transitional justice mechanisms.

To address the Council itself being more systematic in its approach to this thematic issue, it seems the draft expresses its intent to address women, peace and security commitments when establishing or reviewing missions; issuing public statements; in terms of reference for visiting missions; in commissions of inquiry; and in the work of the Council’s sanctions committees.

The draft resolution also apparently explicitly references the need for effective participation of women, particularly to address sexual violence concerns in disarmament demobilisation and reintegration processes; security sector reform processes; and in justice sector reform initiatives. There also appears to be strong language on the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services.

The draft resolution requests continuing annual reports from the Secretary-General, with the next one due March 2014. This will trigger annual reports from the Secretary-General without the need for a resolution or a presidential statement from the Council.

For further background please see SCR’s brief on Monday’s debate in our June 2013 Forecast and SCR’s April 2013 Cross-Cutting Report on Women, Peace and Security.

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