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New OHCHR Report on Arms Transfers Highlights Need to Address Gendered Root Causes of Violence

A new report on the impact of arms transfers on human rights from the OHCHR considers the gendered impact of diverted and illicitly trafficked arms on the human rights of women and girls and calls for states to tackle these harms by addressing the “root causes of gender-based discrimination and violence.”

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WILPF International Secretariat
13 July 2020

A new report on the impact of arms transfers on human rights from the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) considers the gendered impact of diverted and illicitly trafficked arms on the human rights of women and girls and calls for states to tackle these harms by addressing the “root causes of gender-based discrimination and violence.”

The report (A/HRC/44/29) was released in early July as part of the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 44th Session, following on a mandate issued by the Council through its biennial resolution on arms transfers, last adopted in 2019. While there have been various HRC resolutions on the human rights impacts of weapons, and three focusing on arms transfers in particular, this is the first to explore the specific impacts of the international arms trade on women and girls.

In many ways, this focus correlates with the growth of interest and political support to both acknowledge and address the gender dimensions of armed violence, arms transfers, and the use of weapons that is occurring in many disarmament and arms control forums. For example, gender and gender-based violence was a topic of focus for Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) states parties throughout their 2019 meeting cycle, culminating in a series of recommendations adopted at the Fifth Conference of States Parties to the ATT. The OHCHR report provides an important reinforcement from the human rights community to those and other commitments made by states in the context of disarmament and arms control forums.

In our submission to the OHCHR towards the development of its report, WILPF highlighted that despite the focus on women and girls in OHCHR’s call for submission, it is essential to look at the specific gendered impacts on men and boys, and persons of diverse and marginalised sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics, and also the role of violent masculinities in facilitating violence and militarism. The report picks up on these points in several paragraphs, as well as in the context of one of its recommendations, which is significant and a first in OHCHR reports on this topic.

Also significant is the recommendation that, while creating national control systems, states should account for “principles of due diligence and the responsibility for aiding or assisting in the commission of an internationally wrongful act, while also taking into account international standards of corporate responsibility, in particular the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” This is significant as the nexus between the arms industry and business and human rights frameworks remains a significant gap, which deserves further attention by the Human Rights Council.

WILPF also welcomes that the report illustrates the multiple forms of gender-based violence; that the report takes note of research on the gendered impacts of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). We also positively note that the report recalls relevant decisions and recommendations of key human rights mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Special Procedures (e.g. Special Rapporteurs) as well as outlines clearly how specific human rights are impacted by illicit and diverted arms, including inadvertently and through “ripple effects.” However, the report should have given greater prominence to the analysis carried out by investigative mechanisms of the HRC (e.g. Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar).

Where the report could have gone further, in WILPF’s view, would have been to stress that a focus on illicit or diverted weapons should not be used to distract from the irresponsible legal arms transfers and to emphasise the importance of ammunition control. Moreover, the attention given in the report to the need for better disaggregated data in order to understand, and address, the gendered impacts of arms transfers, is important but could have been made clearer by specifying sex or gender-disaggregated data. These are areas for further research or action.

WILPF is one of six non-governmental organisations that made written submissions to the OHCHR to inform the report, alongside the governments of Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Qatar, Sweden and Switzerland, and the UN Offices for Disarmament Affairs and on Drugs and Crime, the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNDIR), and the Arms Trade Treaty Secretariat. Other non-governmental organisations include Airwars, Control Arms, Project Ploughshares, and the Somali Human Rights Association.

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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