Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security

18 October 2013

Distinguished Panelists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to address the open debate on women, peace and security. In my remarks, I would like to briefly address four main points: firstly, the situation of women’s human rights in conflict; secondly, ensuring gender considerations are taken into account during transitional justice processes, and making sure there is accountability for crimes suffered by women; thirdly, the value of comprehensive human rights-based approaches to transitional justice; and lastly, much-needed efforts to create closer links between the peace and security, human rights and development agendas to fully seize the opportunity offered by transitional justice processes for women.

The protection of women’s human rights in conflict remains a challenge. Let me provide just a couple of examples:

  • In September, the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria submitted its most recent report to the Human Rights Council which stressed the prominent role the use and threat of sexual violence are playing in the conflict. The report also showed how vulnerable the women and girls in refugee camps are to sexual exploitation, forced marriage and trafficking.
  • Also in September, I reported to the Human Rights Council on the OHCHR fact-finding mission to the Central African Republic which reported a high rate of sexual violence against women. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović visited CAR in August 2013 and confirmed these findings. The Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution establishing a Special Rapporteur on the Central African Republic. My Office will encourage close attention to the situation of women and girls in the work of this mandate.

The re-establishment of the rule of law and transitional justice processes are crucial to ensure accountability and to deliver justice, truth, and reparations for violations suffered by women. They are also crucial to deter the continuation of such violations in the future. Today we observe considerable progress in several areas:

  • The full, free and informed participation of women in national consultations is increasingly regarded as instrumental for the design and implementation of comprehensive, context-specific, gender-sensitive, transitional justice strategies. To give just one example, at the beginning of October, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Yemen and commended the authorities for conducting a National Dialogue in which 30 percent of the participants were women.
  • Increasingly, the mandates, compositions, and operations of truth and reconciliation commissions and similar bodies are designed to ensure that women’s and girls’ experiences are taken into account. In his recent report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence highlighted the increased attention being paid by truth commissions to women’s rights.
  • Similarly, there have been increasing efforts to systematically include gender considerations in the work of Commissions of Inquiry, including having experts on gender appointed to the Secretariats of the ongoing Commissions of Inquiry working on Syria and the DPRK. Given the role that these mechanisms can play in laying the ground for transitional justice processes, such expertise can make an important contribution to bringing about gender-sensitive justice and redress. We closely collaborate with UN Women in this area.
  • There is, now, much greater recognition of the need for, and potential of, gender-sensitive reparations. My Office has undertaken consultations with survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Kosovo (as per SC Resolution 1244), and produced reports with recommendations to inform reparation efforts there. In Eastern DRC, my Office is concluding a pilot project which consisted of grants to five local organizations to provide support and assistance for survivors of sexual violence. A guidance note on reparations for victims of conflict-related sexual violence is being prepared jointly by OHCHR and UN Women, and will be available shortly.
  • In several countries, there have been targeted efforts to encourage the prosecution of perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence. For example, in DRC, the Joint Human Rights Office of MONUSCO has supported legal clinics that represent victims of sexual violence. It has also trained police, prosecutors, and magistrates to better handle sexual violence investigations and trials. As a result of these and other efforts, an increasing number of convictions have been registered.

While this progress is encouraging, we must also be aware that there is still a long, hard road ahead before we can claim to be providing justice and accountability, and fully seizing the potential of transitional justice processes, for women.

As we continue to advance along this road, we must frame our efforts in international human rights norms and standards, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It is significant that this morning the CEDAW Committee adopted a general recommendation on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations. I support the Committee’s view that efforts to ensure judicial accountability and uncover the truth about past violations must take into account the whole range of violations, as well as the underlying structural sex and gender-based discrimination that enabled them. I also believe that according to the spirit and letter of CEDAW and other human rights instruments, efforts to halt violations must be framed in States’ obligations to address structural and systemic gender inequality and discrimination through comprehensive legislative, policy and institutional reforms.

Developments in the MENA region exemplify the need for transitional justice processes and institutional reforms that are mindful of the interdependence and interrelatedness of human rights. In some countries in this region, women parliamentarians face fierce opposition when they propose laws that address women’s rights, while in others women’s public space is shrinking due to threats and intimidation. It is crucial that while we look into quotas and other mechanisms to support women’s participation in political systems of countries emerging from conflict, we also consider how illiteracy, poverty, discrimination and violence conspire to prevent their effective participation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My Office will raise awareness about CEDAW’s new general recommendation and promote its implementation. OHCHR will also submit, to the September 2014 session of the Human Rights Council, an analytical study on gender-based and sexual violence in relation to transitional justice. There are ongoing efforts to ensure that the human rights reports and briefings that reach this Council fully integrate women’s rights, including through specialized capacity-building tools and activities for human rights officers. My Office, in cooperation with UN Women, is also undertaking an internal lessons-learned exercise on the provision of gender and SGBV expertise to Commissions of Inquiry in order to help further progress on ensuring their work is gender-sensitive.

I fully support the Secretary-General’s recommendation for closer links between the UN peace and security, human rights and development work. A human-rights-based approach is crucial to successfully address the root causes of conflict and threats to women’s security. It is also crucial to seize the opportunity offered by transitions: these include transforming gender relations, dismantling negative gender stereotypes, reforming legislation that discriminates against women, supporting women’s autonomy in private and public spaces and, eventually, building just and equal societies where peace and development can prosper.

Thank you.