posted on Mon 22 Apr 2019 11:48 PM
Sexual Violence in Conflict: High-level Open Debate

Tomorrow (23 April), the Security Council will hold a high-level open debate on sexual violence in conflict. Heiko Maas, the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, is expected to chair the meeting. The anticipated briefers are: Secretary-General António Guterres; Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten; 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Denis Mukwege Mukengere and Nadia Murad; Amal Clooney, human rights barrister; and Inas Miloud, co-founder and Director of the Tamazight Women’s Movement in Libya. Some 90 member states are expected to participate in the debate.

At press time, it seems that Germany is planning to table a draft resolution on sexual violence in conflict for a vote during the meeting, in spite of strong concerns that have been raised by three permanent members, China, Russia, and the US. Among the most contentious issues in the negotiations have been whether to include language on sexual and reproductive health of victims of sexual violence and whether to establish a working group on sexual violence in conflict.

While Germany has made amendments to the draft in blue, removing some of the most contested language in an effort to obtain acquiescence from China, Russia and the US, it seems that difficulties remain. Russia indicated this evening that it was placing an alternative Chinese-Russian draft in blue. According to rule 32 of the provisional rules of procedure, “…draft resolutions shall have precedence in the order of their submission.” This means that the German draft would be voted on before the Chinese-Russian draft, assuming that neither draft is withdrawn. At press time, it does not appear that the Chinese-Russian draft, unlike the German one, had been scheduled for a vote tomorrow, which could mean that negotiations are continuing.

Security Council Report plans to produce a more in-depth analysis of these negotiations at a later stage.

2019 is the 10th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1888, which created the mandate of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. The basis for the open debate is the Secretary-General’s annual report on conflict-related sexual violence (S/2019/280), which was released on 29 March. The report notes that during the past decade there has been a “paradigm shift” in understanding this issue and its relationship to international peace and security. “While the United Nations increasingly addresses the problem of sexual violence in conflict from an operational or technical perspective through the strengthening of security and justice institutions, it remains essential to recognize and tackle gender inequality as the root cause and driver of sexual violence,” according to the report.

The concept note that Germany prepared in advance of the debate states that one of the aims of tomorrow’s discussion is to explore the root causes of sexual violence in conflict, including “deeply entrenched gender inequality and discriminatory perceptions of gender roles.” It also notes that another goal of the debate is to “identify gaps and discuss opportunities at the national, regional, and international levels for improving efforts to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence.”

The concept note poses a series of questions that it encourages participants to address during the debate, including:

  • How can judicial mechanisms with respect to sexual violence be strengthened to promote accountability and end impunity?
  • How can the Security Council enhance its monitoring of compliance by conflict parties, including persistent perpetrators of sexual violence listed in the Secretary-General’s report on the matter?
  • How can efforts be made to try to ensure that a “survivor-centered” approach is at the core of programmes and investments to counteract sexual violence in conflict?
  • What are the challenges to the effective participation and adequate resourcing of organisations and human rights defenders working to prevent sexual violence through the protection and empowerment of women and girls in conflict?
  • What efforts can member states pursue to enable civil society and local women’s rights organisations to operate in safe and enabling environments?

Discussion of the Secretary-General’s report on conflict-related sexual violence has been a regular feature on the Council’s agenda since 2009. In their briefings tomorrow, Guterres and Patten may emphasise the importance of enforcing parties’ compliance with international law pertaining to sexual violence in conflict. Patten, in particular, may highlight the importance of sexual and reproductive health. In the face of threats by the US to veto the draft resolution over language on this issue, Patten was quoted in a Guardian article earlier today as saying: “It will be a huge contradiction that you are talking about a survivor-centered approach and you do not have language on sexual and reproductive healthcare services, which for me is most critical.” Patten may further note the needs of men and boys, and of children born of rape, as areas to be addressed more effectively. Mukwege and Murad may focus their remarks on the “survivor-centered” approach to this issue, perhaps mentioning a variety of medical, legal and psychosocial needs of survivors that should be addressed. They may note that survivors should be included in efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict. Clooney may emphasise the importance of accountability for the perpetrators of sexual violence. Miloud may highlight the need to address the root causes of sexual and gender-based violence. She might emphasise the work of female human rights defenders, the need for women’s representation in political processes, and the importance of upholding sexual and reproductive rights.

Council members continue to have divergent views, but it seems that widening divisions on this issue have been especially evident in recent years, as reflected by the difficult negotiations on the draft resolution proposed by Germany. Some members are keen to consider ways to advance and deepen efforts to integrate the women, peace and security agenda across all areas of the Council’s work. Other Council members resist what they interpret as an expansion of the women, peace and security agenda or perceive as an infringement on state sovereignty or the competencies of other parts of the UN system. In the negotiations on the German draft, the US rejected the inclusion of previously agreed language on sexual violence and reproductive health. The differing perspectives among Council members are likely to be evident in tomorrow’s discussion.

Several member states both on the Council and among the wider membership, who have consistently championed the Council’s engagement on this issue, may express the view that conflict-related sexual violence occurs in situations where there is systemic gender-based discrimination, such as the exclusion of women from political life, economic marginalisation, and discriminatory systems in both formal and traditional justice systems. Member states may also highlight the need for accountability for acts of sexual violence. In this regard, some member states may note the importance of effective criminal prosecution and the use of sanctions regimes as tools to hold accountable those who commit sexual violence and as a deterrent for other potential violators. The importance of sexual and reproductive health in conflict, especially for victims of sexual violence, may be highlighted in the discussion by a number of the briefers and some member states, especially given the challenges to the German draft resolution.

Other member states, such as China and Russia, which express concern about the impact of sexual violence in conflict, may nonetheless maintain that this agenda item should not be expanded to post-conflict situations. In addition, these members may note that it is important to distinguish between sexual violence in conflict that is within the Council’s remit and broader issues of gender equality that they maintain should not be. They may further take the view that sanctions should be used cautiously as a tool to address sexual violence.