It is now widely acknowledged that armed conflict particularly and uniquely impacts women, and there is political commitment to address this, notably in the Women, Peace and Security agenda. In this expert blog, Andrea Huber of PRI and Therese Rytter of DIGNITY, the Danish Institute Against Torture, examine how international law on the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment (UN Convention against Torture) and gender-specific forms of abuse have been reflected in instruments mandating and guiding peacekeeping efforts. The authors specifically analyse UN Security Council Resolutions on peacekeeping operations and in the Gender Strategy and Policy of the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO)1.
Even though the international anti-torture framework dates back to the 1970s,2 human rights bodies with a mandate to protect from torture did not give gender-specific violations much consideration until quite recently. The same flaw haunted the international peace and security agenda, which failed to recognise the specific impact of armed conflict on women and girls.
Security Council Resolution 13253 – adopted in 2000 – therefore constituted a milestone. This landmark resolution effectively established an international agenda on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), which has since been further developed in a number of subsequent resolutions on WPS. Most notably, this framework introduced a commitment to take into account the particular impact of armed conflict on women, to protect them against specific dangers and to incorporate gender equality in peace-building and peacekeeping initiatives.4 In order to reach these goals, a four pillar mandate was formulated as the WPS agenda: protection from violence, prevention of conflict and violence, participation in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction, and relief and recovery.
Although the terminology differs – the WPS framework refers to ‘sexual and gender-based violence’ while the human rights framework uses the term ‘torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment’, there is a degree of congruency regarding the abuse addressed by both frameworks. But how does the WPS framework harmonise with obligations under international human rights law on the prevention and protection from torture and other forms of ill-treatment? And does the WPS agenda ensure that gender-specific violations of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment are taken into account in peacekeeping operations?
A review of Security Council resolutions mandating United Nations peacekeeping operations5 and of the Gender Strategy and Gender Policy of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations gives a valuable insight.
Security Council resolutions on peacekeeping operations
An analysis of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions establishing peacekeeping operations (hereinafter referred to as ‘PKO resolutions’) reveals that they do not refer to any specific treaties such as the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), but rather use general terminology such as ‘relevant obligations under international law’.6
While regularly deploring human rights violations, references are usually general rather than listing specific violations,7 with only a few exceptions.8 Mention of ‘torture’9 or of concerns relating to conditions of detention are even more rare. UNSC Resolution 2296 (2016), for example, expresses ‘deep concern about the situation of all those detained’,10 although not specifically for women detainees. UNSC Resolution 2313 (2016) stands out as a rare exception, encouraging the authorities ‘to address the issue of prolonged pre-trial detentions and prison conditions and overcrowding, with special regard to women and children held in detention’.11
Most PKO resolutions incorporate a general reference to the WPS resolutions in a preambular paragraph.12
Looking at the intersection between the WPS agenda and concerns relating to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, three of the four WPS pillars are to varying degrees incorporated into the PKO resolutions – notably the protection pillar, the prevention pillar and the participation pillar – and perhaps unsurprisingly, the ‘protection pillar’ is the one best reflected.
The protection pillar
While language is often formulated in general terms (‘protection of civilians’), women are regularly highlighted as particular beneficiaries, alongside children.13 Some resolutions include more specific language relating to the protection of women.14 In the case of MINUSCA (Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation de la République centrafricaine), the ‘specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict’ featured as one of the priority tasks of the mission.15
[T]he majority of [UN Security Council] resolutions analysed fail to address any specific challenges in ensuring protection of women or accountability for their abuse, nor are they specific in terms of measures required for protection.
Another aspect that is well-reflected are the obligations to investigate and prosecute cases of human rights violations. Resolutions regularly call upon the respective government to investigate and bring to justice all those responsible for violations of human rights and international law, including sexual and gender-based violence (including violence committed by non-state armed groups), and/or encompass a mandate of peacekeeping operations to support such efforts.16
However, the majority of resolutions analysed fail to address any specific challenges in ensuring protection of women or accountability for their abuse, nor are they specific in terms of measures required for protection – other than the ‘deployment of Women Protection Advisers’ (see below, DPKO Gender Strategy).17 It is also striking that most resolutions are silent about measures addressing assistance needs of victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
UNSC Resolution 2211 (2015) constitutes an exception to this gap, calling on States to generously contribute so that United Nations humanitarian agencies would be enabled to ‘address the assistance needs of […] survivors of sexual violence, and other vulnerable communities’.18 UNSC Resolution 2296 (2016) also stands out in that it demands the parties to the conflict to ‘make and implement specific and time-bound commitments to combat sexual violence’, to ‘develop a structured framework through which conflict related sexual violence will be comprehensively addressed, and to allow access for service provision for sexual violence survivors’.19
Following reports about sexual abuse and exploitation of women by personnel of peacekeeping missions,20 almost all recent resolutions incorporate a commitment to comply with the ‘UN zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse’.21 As a rule, resolutions urge troop-contributing countries ‘to take appropriate preventive action including pre-deployment awareness training, and other action to ensure full accountability in cases of such conduct involving their personnel’.22
The prevention pillar
Incorporation of the ‘preventive pillar’ of the WPS agenda in the resolutions, seen in connection with torture and other ill-treatment, is usually limited to the provision of training of security forces. Moreover, it is normally formulated in general terms (human rights training) and rarely explicitly requires the incorporation of gender-specific training.23 A more positive example is Resolution 2211 (2015) which welcomes, in its preamble, training efforts of MONUSCO (Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo) and international partners, including in human rights, gender mainstreaming and protection from sexual and gender-based violence for security institutions.24
Another interesting example is UNSC Resolution 2296 (2016), requesting the peacekeeping mission ‘to move to a more preventive and pre-emptive posture in pursuit of its priorities’, listing concrete measures to this end. These measures include ‘enhanced early warning; proactive military deployment and active and effective patrolling in areas at high risk of conflict […]; more prompt and effective responses to threats of violence against civilians, including through regular reviews of the geographic deployment of UNAMID’s [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur] force’.25
The participation pillar
In terms of links to UNCAT, it is notable that the ‘participation pillar’ of the WPS agenda is scarcely reflected in resolutions that establish and define peacekeeping missions.
Provisions dedicated to the recruitment of security forces at the national level (police, gendarmery and army) at times incorporate the call for ‘robust vetting, enhanced recruitment procedures and training’26 or for professional, ethnically representative and regionally balanced recruitment,27 but do not mention the objective of a gender balance within security forces.
UNSC Resolution 2100 (2013) and UNSC Resolution 2211 (2015) are rare exceptions in that they request the respective peacekeeping missions to ‘take fully into account gender considerations as a cross cutting issue’ throughout their mandate, and to assist the respective government in ‘ensuring the participation, involvement and representation of women at all levels’.28
With regard to peacekeeping personnel deployed on the ground, UN agencies have increased their efforts towards gender parity amongst police, military and civilian peacekeepers. […] However…progress remains modest.
With regard to peacekeeping personnel deployed on the ground, UN agencies have increased their efforts towards gender parity amongst police, military and civilian peacekeepers. While in 1993 only one per cent of uniformed personnel deployed in UN peacekeeping missions were women, by 2014 this figure has increased to three per cent for military personnel and 10 per cent for police personnel.29 However, as these figures indicate, progress remains modest.
Gender Strategy 2014-2018
As described in its foreword, the Gender Strategy of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations 2014-2018 (‘the Strategy’) seeks to outline ‘a strategic direction of the organisation’ and offers ‘tools to help us better support and protect women and girls where peacekeeping missions are deployed’. A closer look is therefore interesting to assess to what extent the Strategy reflects and complements respective Security Council resolutions, and how it interlinks with the WPS agenda and UNCAT.
Stressing that ‘women are highly disadvantaged and at heightened risk of violence in times of conflict’, the Strategy calls for measures to redress ‘sex-differentiated impacts’30 and lays out eight priority areas.31 Three of them are particularly relevant in the context of UNCAT and torture-related concerns: ‘Human rights protection and promotion’, ‘legal, judicial and correctional reforms’, and ‘prevention, protection and response to sexual and gender-based violence’.
The Strategy’s human rights priority aims at the establishment of ‘laws, policies, institutions and practices which safeguard the equal rights of women and girls’ and the ‘implementation of legally binding human rights treaties’. This is not elaborated in more detail, but should be understood as including the (ratification and) implementation of the core human rights treaties, including not only the UN Convention on the Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but also UNCAT.
Objectives stipulated in the context of judiciary and corrections capture concerns outlined by the Special Rapporteur on Torture in his report on gender and torture.32 The Strategy refers to the ‘differentiated needs and priorities of women, girls, boys and men’ and the promotion of ‘adequate standards of detention for women’. However, the typical mission programme is described in a more limited fashion – as delivering ‘justice in gender-related cases’, improving ‘access to justice’ and promoting ‘women’s participation in the judiciary and corrections services’.33
As for the area of sexual and gender-based violence, the Strategy reflects a slightly confusing distinction between ‘Prevention, Protection and Response to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence’ on the one hand, and ‘Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and Protection of Civilians’ on the other. Both, one way or another, are dedicated to the prevention of and protection from sexual and gender-based violence, the prosecution of perpetrators and the provision of ‘justice and compensation’.34 However no detail is provided on measures or tools to assist in achieving this stated goal, other than a boxed short list of practical examples. These include the provision of armed patrols to accompany women and girls collecting water or firewood and awareness-raising about sexual violence.35
In order to achieve the goals outlined, the Strategy refers to the functions of Women Protection Advisers and Gender Advisers. Yet, the Strategy’s description of their roles and responsibilities suggests a rather limited mandate in comparison to the objectives of the WPS agenda. While the mandate described for the former is limited to ‘conflict-related sexual violence’, the latter are mandated to develop and oversee the delivery of training on ‘gender mainstreaming and sexual and gender-based violence’.36
A dimension patently missing in the DPKO’s Gender Strategy relates to the risk of involvement of peacekeeping personnel in sexual abuse and exploitation of women in countries they are deployed to.37
DPKO Gender Policy
Compared to the rather commonplace commitments in the Gender Strategy, the DPKO Policy on ‘Gender Equality in UN Peacekeeping Operations’ (‘the Policy’)38 provides a number of more comprehensive objectives (‘enjoying their full and equal rights’) and concrete measures of relevance for the WPS agenda and its intersection with UNCAT.39
A more comprehensive list of possible measures in order to deliver the gender-related mandate encompasses the following measures:40
- Effective security presence that incorporates protection of women, including from sexual and gender-based violence
- Protection of civilians that ‘takes into account the fact that women and girls are the main target of sexual violence by combatants’ and which ‘factor in the important role that women can play in assessing their vulnerabilities’
- Law enforcement that facilitates full application of women’s equality before the law, promotes the equal rights of women in all areas of law enforcement activities, and supports measures to address sexual and other forms of gender-based violence
- Security Sector Reform (…) ‘with appropriate gender policies and gender mainstreaming components in place’
- Human rights protection that ensures ‘remedies for past violations of women’s and girls’ human rights, including sexual and gender-based violence’
- Rule of law and reform of state security services that support ‘the amendment of laws which impede protection of women and girls’ rights; (…) the prevention of all forms of violence against women; the incorporation of mechanisms to ensure an end to impunity for all forms of gender-based violence; (…) the recruitment of a critical mass of women to the justice and security sectors; the promotion of gender sensitive reforms of Correctional Systems, including the provision of separate facilities for male and female prisoners, and the adoption of measures that respond to the specific needs of female prisoners, including pregnant and lactating mothers’
- Incorporation of ‘appropriate gender concerns’ in training and capacity building for peacekeeping personnel.41
Describing the implementation of peacekeeping mandates, the Policy envisages support of ‘specific actions to eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices that prevent women and girls from enjoying their full and equal rights in post-conflict societies’, however only ‘where mandated’ to do so.42
Yet, as outlined above, mandates, tasks and priorities formulated in resolutions on the ongoing peacekeeping operations do not incorporate such comprehensive mandates.
Looking at the intersection between the WPS agenda and UNCAT, UN peacekeeping operations emphasise the element of protection to the detriment of prevention and participation, which are rarely and only rudimentarily addressed. Most resolutions remain silent on victims’ assistance needs and reflect a clear focus on the prosecution of past violations – during the conflict, to the detriment of addressing the ongoing and future exposure to gender-specific violence.
In terms of the prevention and participation pillar, the peacekeeping framework lacks an explicit commitment to gender-sensitive training of security forces and to achieving a gender-balance when recruiting security forces.
It is noteworthy that the peacekeeping resolutions reflect the equally restricted focus of the WPS agenda, which ‘does not recognise the “continuum of violence”43 that characterises the experience of women whose lives are not only marked by the “extraordinary” violence of “rape as a weapon of war”, but everyday forms of violence that occur in all contexts’.44
On the positive side, resolutions adopted in the last decade have become more attentive and detailed with regard to human rights violations targeting women in conflict. They incorporate a specific commitment to their protection more often than previously, including through the establishment of the specific functions of Women Protection Advisers. In the last couple of years, concerns relating to misconduct by peacekeeping forces has also been taken on board, and resolutions typically include reference to the UN’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuses.
Download the endnotes here (PDF).
Photo: UN DKPO Training in Rwanda on the Bangkok Rules, September 2014