UN readies for another resolution while Australia stands in the way of ending impunity for wartime rape

The UN Security Council is in the process of developing a new resolution on Women, Peace and Security. The resolution has been anticipated for several months and is due to be passed as part of the Council’s annual open debate on conflict related sexual violence which is due to be held in New York on Tuesday. An Arria formula meeting was held earlier in the year to prepare council members for the debate, with a particular focus on ending impunity for conflict related sexual violence. Conflict related sexual violence is the focus of four of the existing eight resolutions on women, peace and security. But even the Council has bemoaned the lack of prosecutions for these crimes.

Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad will address the Council during the Open Debate. She has spoken out time and again for justice for survivors from her community who experienced sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide at the hands of Da’esh in Syria and Iraq. For all the times the international community has shone a spotlight on her tears, we have still failed to do what she asks.

Germany, the current President of the Security Council and chair of this week’s debate is the only country to put a member of Da’esh on trial for any of these gendered crimes. But tens of thousands of foreign fighters travelled from countries around the world and committed these crimes. Many of those foreign fighters come from countries that are States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and are therefore obliged to investigate and prosecute these crimes in their own court systems.

Both houses of Australia’s Federal Parliament passed multi-party motions calling for the investigation and prosecution of Australians who may have perpetrated sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Several federal ministers have reinforced this obligation. These ministers have included Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister, Peter Dutton as Minister for Home Affairs and Linda Reynolds as Assistant Minister for Home Affairs.

Despite this, the government has failed to implement the strategies required to make such investigations and prosecutions are reality and they have invested energy into policies and legislation which prevent such action. Chapter eight of the Commonwealth Criminal Code clearly articulates the crimes that are laid out in the Rome Statute and ensures that Australian authorities have jurisdiction over such offences even when they are perpetrated overseas, against victims from another country. But this legislation has never been tested in court. The Australian Federal Police require the funding and other resources to stand up unit dedicated to such investigations. No such funding was made available in the latest federal budget.

In order for these prosecutions to occur, the perpetrator must be in federal custody. But the government has pursued a range of legislative and policy processes removing this probability. Given the parliament passed legislation allowing the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone who travelled to Iraq or Syria to join Da’esh, the government was obliged to include an administrative step determining if such individuals perpetrated war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide before making a determination about citizenship revocation. The citizenship review board that advices the Minister for Home Affairs on such matters has apparently continued to fail to account for such obligations. Now, over a dozen individuals, some of whom are known to have perpetrated heinous crimes against women have had their citizenship revoked, further reducing the likelihood that their victims will see the justice they so rightly deserve.

There is a group of Yazidi women who are fighting for access to support services under Australia’s victims of human trafficking schemes. These women were purchased by an Australian man, for the purpose of sexual slavery, and repeatedly sexually and violently abused. Under Australia’s own criminal laws, those women count as victims of human trafficking, modern slavery, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But rather than allow them justice, the government revoked the citizenship of their abuser. If they so choose, they could bring a case against the Commonwealth for failure to uphold their obligations under the Rome Statute. Their country of residence, or any other country of interest could take Australia to the International Court of Justice for failing to fulfil our obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Early in the new year, the government tried to go even further, seeking legislative changes that would allow them to revoke the citizenship of even more people, and enforcing Temporary Exclusion Orders to delay Australians of counter-terrorism interest from re-entering Australia. This is yet another policy that would prevent the arrest or detention of individuals responsible for conflict related sexual violence.

At the Arria formula meeting earlier in the year, civil society presenter Akila Radhakrishnan from the Global Justice Centre said achieving accountability for conflict related sexual violence “requires more than just eloquent rhetoric; it will require Council members to take concrete action and display considerable political will. Sexual and gender-based violence is, at its core, an expression of discrimination, patriarchy and inequality.” Countries like Australia must stop getting in the way of justice and follow up the global rhetoric with the actual action required to end impunity for conflict related sexual violence. We must investigate and prosecute these crimes now!

Advertisements

Will one of these women be the next United Nations Secretary General?

Discussions have begun on who will be the next United Nations Secretary General. Ban Ki-Moon has done satisfactory job as Secretary General, with a notable exception. On the anniversary of the landmark Security Council Resolution 1325, the first of seven resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, he announced a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations which did not include gender concerns and was to be undertaken by a 14 member panel containing only three women.

The United Nations has a significant role in achieving gender equality around the world. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the declaration on equality, development and peace, made at the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing in September 1995. It was a landmark moment for women’s rights that has not yet been surpassed.

Isn't it time a woman was on this wall?

Isn’t it time a woman was on this wall?

As competition for the top job at the United Nations starts to heat up, it seems poignant to reflect on the number of excellent, meritorious women who could be candidates for the top job.

No head of state or world leader has been elected Secretary General of the United Nations. In many ways, this makes sense. In the General Assembly, where the Secretary General shines, it is one country, one vote. The UN is just a collection of Member States who each value their own sovereignty above all else; it is their national leaders that matter. So I can see how it might be odd for them to choose one of their own ‘equals’ to elevate to the top job. It seems UN envoys and foreign ministers are more popular for the position.

This brings us to a key issue of gender and merit. Would a woman with this type of experience be considered sufficiently meritorious? As in any political process, selection is the result of a range of factional and geographic interests. Not knowing the answer to this question, I have compiled a list of highly meritorious women suitable to be the next United Nations Secretary General within the confines of the real political and geographic interests at play.

It is improbable that someone from one of the permanent five members of the Security Council would be elected Secretary General. The P-5 have too much power already, it is highly unlikely that remaining Member States would increase their influence so, counting out candidates like Valerie Amos, Susan Rice and Ségolène Royal.

Three of the past four terms of a Secretary General have been filled by an African. While Kofi Annan’s dual term as Secretary General is still fresh in many people’s mind, there are several highly qualified African women suitable for the role. Notwithstanding the questions of a former head of state becoming Secretary General, Liberia’s current President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would be an excellent candidate. With significant peace and security credentials, she is seeing her country of Liberia through an international health crisis of a magnitude that behooves the attention of Member States. Nigeria’s current Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Joy Uche Angela Ogwu, has incredibly good negotiation skills, good multilateral credentials and strong connections to South America.

The former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark has been a popular suggestion for the top job. Currently the head of the United Nations Development Program, Clark has overseen an important last push to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Which, though not without disappointments, have been incredibly successful. Clark is well liked internationally, with sound environmental and social credentials. She gained the latter from the policies and portfolios she pursued in the New Zealand Government, the former from action on climate change during her time at the United Nations. However, New Zealand falls into the Western European and Other regional group of the United Nations. Although it has been some time since the Secretary General was drawn from this group, the region has still had twice as many Secretary Generals as the next most represented region.

Kristalina Georgieva

On the other hand, the Eastern European regional group has not had a single Secretary General. From their ranks, Kristalina Georgieva would make an excellent candidate. From Bulgaria, she is a former Vice President of the World Bank. As European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Response she was responsible for coordinating all European Union aid to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, pushing the European Union to be the biggest donor to the disaster response. She also coordinated the European Union humanitarian response to the earthquake in Chile and floods in Pakistan and led ongoing responses to the food crisis in the Sahel, and conflict in South Sudan. She has been credited with improving co-ordination within the European Union (and within the Commission), and between humanitarian and military players in order to meet the dual challenge posed by expanding needs and shrinking budgets; skills that would be highly valuable at the United Nations. The European Voice newspaper awarded her the prestigious “Commissioner of the Year”. She is currently serving as European Commissioner of Budget and Human Resources.

Coming with significant multilateral experience, Estonian diplomat, Tiina Intelmann would also be a good choice. Educated in Russia, she served as Estonia’s Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe before becoming the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York in 2005. In 2011, she was elected as President of the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court, the first woman to hold the position. She is now head of the European Union Delegation in Liberia.

Tiina Intelmann

There are a large number of wonderful strong women from Latin America who would make great candidates. Academic and human rights expert María Perceval has served as Argentina’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations since 2012, during which time they were also on the Security Council. Brasil’s Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, has been in Foreign Service since the seventies with suitable multilateral experience. She served in the United Nations and across South America, and is now the Ambassador to Germany.

I think Michelle Bachelet would make an incredible Secretary General. A qualified paediatrician, she has excels at most things she puts her mind to. Bachelet contested a mayoral election before being appointed Minister of Health in 2000. She then served as Minister for Defence from 2002. In 2006 she was elected President of Chile, the first woman to have the role and the first woman who was not the wife of a previous head of state or political leader to reach the presidency of a Latin American nation in a direct election. In 2010, Ban Ki-Moon announced she would be the inaugural head of UN Women. She excelled in the position but resigned the role in 2013 to again contest the Chilean Presidential election. She was reelected, with her Presidential term due to end in 2018. Meritorious Bachelet may be, but the Chilean economy and influence far outweigh that of New Zealand but Bachelet would carry with her the weight of tensions with Argentina and Peru.

María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar

Currently serving as Colombia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar would be an excellent choice from Latin America. She certainly fits the more typical career type of a Secretary General. She served as Colombia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York from 2004-2006. As well as her multilateral experience, she has development and economic credentials from her time at the Development Bank of Latin America. She is credited with spearheading the renewal of diplomatic ties between her country and Venezuela, showing the negotiation skills required for peace building and good office of the Secretary General.

Only time will tell who gets the job next. But it will be interesting to see if one of these ladies is selected.