posted on Thu 20 Feb 2020 9:12 PM
Arria-formula Meeting on Reprisals against Women Human Rights Defenders and Women Peacebuilders

Tomorrow morning (21 February), Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany and the UK are co-hosting an Arria-formula meeting entitled “Reprisals against women human rights defenders and women peacebuilders who engage with the Security Council and its subsidiary bodies”. The meeting is open to UN member states, observer missions and NGOs. It will start with opening remarks by the Dominican Republic and the UK. The hosts have invited Ilze Brands Kehris, Madeleine Rees and Shalini Eddens to brief. Ilze Brands Kehris is Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York. Madeleine Rees is the Secretary General of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Shalini Eddens is the Director of Programs of the “Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights”. The fund is engaged in supporting, including protecting, women and transgender human rights defenders. Following the briefers, Council members are expected to make interventions. If time permits, UN member states and observer missions are invited to make remarks as well.

Resolution 2242 of 13 October 2015 expresses the Council’s “intention to invite civil society, including women’s organizations, to brief the Council in country-specific considerations and relevant thematic areas”. Numbers of female civil society briefers at the Council have continued to increase since the adoption of that resolution. This practice is not without repercussions for the briefers, however. In a 2 May 2019 letter to the president of the Security Council, the chargé d’affaires of the Permanent Mission of Libya to the UN strongly criticising a briefing given by Inas Miloud, co-founder and director of the Tamazight Women’s Movement of Libya, during the Council’s annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence. In response, a letter was sent on 10 May 2019 to the president of the Security Council by the Ambassadors of Belgium, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Peru, Poland and the UK, stating that “notwithstanding the disagreement of the Government of National Accord with the content of Ms. Miloud’s briefing, we trust that she will be allowed to continue her work unhindered”. In his 2019 annual report on women, peace and security, the Secretary-General showed his extreme concern over reports of reprisals against women briefers.

According to the concept note, forms of reprisals include “intimidation, threats and harassment, smear campaigns, denying access to funding and travel visas, surveillance, and physical attacks”. Such reprisals hinder the Council’s ability to inform itself, the concept note argues.

The objective of the meeting, as reflected in the concept note, is to discuss ideas on how to continue having women human rights defenders and women peacebuilders brief the Council and its subsidiary bodies in a safe way. Specifically, it is meant to explore what measures the Council and the UN more broadly can take to prevent and react to reprisals against such actors. It also asks participants to consider questions related to root causes of those reprisals.

The issue of women human rights defenders in general is contentious in the Council, as shown by the negotiations on resolution 2493 on women, peace and security. At one point during the negotiations, it seemed that a majority of Council members threatened to abstain on the vote should draft language related to “women human rights defenders” be deleted. That language had encountered strong resistance from China and Russia. As a compromise, paragraph 6 of the resolution: “encourages Member States to create safe and enabling environments for civil society, including formal and informal community women leaders, women peacebuilders, political actors, and those who protect and promote human rights, to carry out their work independently and without undue interference, including in situations of armed conflict, and to address threats, harassment, violence and hate speech against them”. Russia, in its statement after the vote, said: “we feel obliged to point out that the resolution contains a number of provisions that go beyond the Security Council’s mandate. It is overloaded with issues relating to the protection and promotion of human rights, which the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council already deal with successfully and effectively. We urge the Security Council to adhere strictly to its mandate, and we do not support attempts to justify its interference in matters that are part of the remit of other organs”.

China said: “Non-governmental organisations are expected to play a constructive role by observing the laws of the countries concerned, respecting the ownership of the host Government and fully consulting with them”. China went on to say that it “therefore reserves its position vis-à-vis paragraph 6 of resolution 2493 (2019), which we have just adopted”. The UK, on the other hand, deplored the lack of an explicit mention of women human rights defenders.