It is done. There is a new UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR 2467), there was no veto. Two abstentions… and a lot of drama. As the dust settles and the noise from New York reduces we can take a long hard look at what can be done to make the best use of this newest resolution.
We need to analyse both the process and the substance – and keep them separate. Much of the noise and anger is about the former which enabled the perceived absence of vital elements in the latter.
The bad stuff first and briefly. Consultation has to have an impact on the outcome if there is to be any point to it. There was consensus amongst States and civil society that a new resolution was not needed and the politics of this Security Council not conducive to a positive outcome. But let us be honest, civil society cannot control what States do. If a State wants a resolution they can put one forward – regardless of what we want. When that happens, we all need to identify how we can work as allies to address challenges while also identifying how to make the most of how to further the Women, Peace and Security agenda. This is where we are now.
The issue of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights is the case in point: the words were not in the final text despite a reference to UN Security Council resolution 2106 where they are clearly stated and upon which we will now have to rely. Appalling that the US would seek to deny women who have been raped in war the health care vital to prevent further trauma of both a physical and psychological nature. It is inhuman, it is degrading. That said, no one should be the least surprised at this; the Trump administration is obstructive and retrogressive on gender and women’s reproductive rights in all places at all times. The US should be challenged on its stance on this (and many other issues) every day until it changes, and many others have rightfully done so. But focusing on this as the only issue takes too much energy from the room whilst there are other things to which we should direct our efforts.
All of this just shows what we knew: the Security Council is a divided bunch engaging with their domestic audience and their own interests. They, the Security Council, will not actually take the responsibility for addressing sexual violence in armed conflict and in any case, an opportune moment to recall that all of this is done under their Chapter VI powers. I would argue that maybe it is better that the Security Council, having stated that Women, Peace and Security is indeed an element of international peace and security, (and that in consequence, they have a responsibility in addressing it), then devolve to the other actors; States, the UN agencies and secretariat, and civil society in its various manifestations, the responsibility for making sure of its implementation. That way the context can be better understood, responses more specific and less militarised, and the political obfuscations in the Security Council do not prevent action.
Switch attention from the States who took issue with the resolution for a moment and note that nearly 90% of the statements at the debate referenced the need for accountability and justice. Many States called out the US on its opposition and threats against Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and gender in particular. Whilst we should never underestimate the forces ranged against us, way more interventions were progressive and positive than not. This shift in discourse is in itself a form of progress.
WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security Programme already analysed the resolution and debate, so I will make it short. Lots of negative press on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: missing language, not much that the Security Council is going to do that is new, and not enough on many of the things we would have wanted, for example, better accountability for peacekeepers and more direct language on women human rights defenders.
The frustration of Germany at the continued prevalence of Conflict-related Sexual Violence is palpable, as it should be for all members of the Security Council. The greatest test of the importance of the Resolution is if it will actually do anything useful for survivors of Conflict-related Sexual Violence, particularly women because of the gendered causes and consequences.
A brief consideration of what is actually needed: A demand made time and again is that when a new mandate or renewal for peacekeeping is made, then the Security Council members should consult with women’s organisations to ensure the mandate enables the stated objectives; access to rights, prevention, participation, and justice. To translate that into policy, there is a need for senior-level expertise on gender with access to decision makers – even better that the decision maker has the expertise! The response by the UN to women’s demands in the consultations, will not be appropriate unless the UN does better at documenting and reporting on sexual violence against all people, including against women and girls, men and boys, and LGBTI people. This would give much more opportunity to build effective systems to provide rights to access specific healthcare, education, justice, and reparation. Better still if all of those elements are woven into a transitional justice approach which survivors could play a central role designing.
Resolution 2467 provides for all of the above, (although with the inevitable caveats), and designates, the UN agencies and secretariat, civil society, and States to make it happen.
Looking deeper into the text with the boring lawyer wig on, there are gems (especially for member states and the wider international system).
A couple of general points and then the “for instances”. Predominantly, but not exclusively, in the preamble, the Resolution is replete with an understanding that violence against women is a continuum and that structural change is required, gender equality needed, and women’s participation an absolute necessity in just about everything! It recognises that there is a need to get a grip on illicit weapons trade and to do more with the Arms Trade Treaty, and there are references to the impact of resource extraction… in effect a description of the causes and context in which so much of conflict arises and hence how Conflict-related Sexual Violence becomes legion.
The most potentially revolutionary element is the Resolution’s language on criminal law, which is more progressive than I have yet seen. Its aim is to better protect witnesses and get to accountability: ending restrictive limitation periods for filing claims, ending corroboration requirements (though protecting fair trial rights), ending the exclusion or discrediting of victims’ testimony by law enforcement officials and within judicial and other proceedings, and stating the need to provide facilities for closed hearings. The things civil society can do with this are legion and potentially transformative!
But was it worth it? What about access to the rights that guarantee women’s bodily integrity, and the perceived regression here that has taken all of the headlines? A constructive read of the Resolution guides us to potential consequences: In the preamble, it says clearly that survivors must not be subjected to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or torture. The case law from the European Court of Human Rights has found that the denial of abortion in certain circumstances is just that. Then there is language on access to appropriate services and the conditioning that any response must be non-discriminatory and specific, and must respect the rights and prioritise needs of survivors, including groups that are particularly vulnerable or may be specifically targeted, notably in the context of their health. Cross reference this with the desire to address the rights of children born of rape which refers to “those who choose to become mothers, may have different and specific needs.”
If we look constructively at this language, we might have lost the express statement of protection, but we will not have lost the substance. And in any event, this resolution does not supercede the language of Security Council resolution 2016 where it is specific. Failure to reaffirm past precedent in the current political climate of attacks on gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights is a fair critique. But we need to recognise that we do still have the legal framework we need to support these rights.
Back to the concept of partnerships of power and how we must change our perceptions of structure and hierarchy so as to really create fundamental change. By accident or design, I think Resolution 2467 gives us the possibility to do just that, to rethink what we do and how we build movements for change that are inclusive: as WILPF’s Disarmament Programme, Reaching Critical Will, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons so brilliantly demonstrated, when you build the constituency across States, with the UN and civil society, you can even get a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons! We can do this, not easy, never easy, but WILPF’s own manifesto references organising intelligently. Now is just one of those occasions.