Mosul offensive mustn’t stop justice for war crimes

This post was kindly republished on the Huffington Post blog.

As the battle for Mosul rages, we need to remember that war crimes have driven this conflict.  Gendered war crimes have been the hallmark of Da’esh who have kidnapped women, published entire doctrines on the use of sex slaves, and thrown LGBTQI people off rooftops for their sexuality. There needs to be justice for those crimes. Their evidence needs to not be destroyed by the current offensive.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war; a war crime. It has been so widespread that it constitutes a crime against humanity. Furthermore, sexual violence has been used as constituent of genocide against the Yazidis. These crimes have been reported by the United Nations and many local and international activists.

The international nature of this conflict means there is the greatest scope for international justice for victims of these crimes. It has been reported that France is going to take Russia to the International Court of Justice for war crimes in the siege of Aleppo and the French prosecutor has been investigating Assad for war crimes since last September.

There have been repeated calls for the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute. However, neither Iraq nor Syria is signatory to the Rome Statute. The ICC may still be able to prosecute if it was referred by the Security Council, but both Russia and China have so far vetoed any efforts to pass such a resolution. As such, the ICC does not have the jurisdiction.

Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria (Credit: Radio Free Europe)

Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria (Credit: Radio Free Europe)

At the peak of Da’esh’s power some 30 000 foreign fighters filled their ranks. Many of these fighters came from places where war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are outlawed in domestic legislation. The principle of complementarity of the International Criminal Court means that countries who have signed the Rome Statue and have the willingness and ability, must investigate and prosecute these crimes. Finland and Sweden have already bought cases against their nationals. It is time countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and Belgium do so too.

However, investigation and prosecution of international crimes is incredibly difficult. Even when a competent authority has jurisdiction, gathering of evidence is problematic in a war zone, thousands of miles from home.

In 2014, Angelina Jolie and William Hague launched the International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Since then, the Foreign Office has developed training for the implementation of best practice for documenting sexual violence as a crime in conflict.

Yazidi activist, Ameena Saeed Hasan has called on planners of the Mosul offensive to consider Da’esh’s 1400 captives in their operational planning. US Ambassador to the United Nations, Sarah Mendelson has said the announcement of the Mosul offensive ahead of time allowed Da’esh to hide its captives. As such, it is all the more important to ensure considerations of investigation and evidence are integrated into the planning and conduct of military operations currently underway in Iraq.

Australia, the US and other nations supporting the Iraqi military have national action plans on women, peace and security. These action plans are based on the suite of UN Security Council resolutions that oblige member states to protect women from the effects of armed conflict (particularly sexual violence) and ensure their participation in conflict prevention, mitigation and recovery.

These resolutions identify sexual violence not only as a crime against humanity or constituent of genocide, but also a threat to international peace and security. Security Council Resolution 2106

affirms that sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a method or tactic of war or as part of a widespread or systemic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate and prolong situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security

This time last year, the Security Council passed resolution 2242, reiterating the need for “implementation of relevant obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law”. That resolution also

called for the greater integration by member states and the United Nations of their agendas on women, peace and security, counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism

As such, it is absolutely imperative that the documentation and investigation of international crimes be fully considered in the planning, conduct and transition activities undertaken by security forces in Mosul. It is necessary for us to meet our obligations under international law, within the Security Council resolutions and within our own policy documents.

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Beijing +20

In 1995, people from around the world gathered in Beijing for the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women. Over 17,000 delegates and 30,000 activists attended. By the end of the conference, 189 participating countries had developed the most progressive blue print for women’s rights ever. The Beijing Platform for Action remains the gold standard for implementing women’s rights around the world. It comprises commitments under 12 critical areas of concern:

A. Women and poverty
B. Education and training of women
C. Women and health
D. Violence against women
E. Women and armed conflict
F. Women and the economy
G. Women in power and decision-making
H. Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women
I.  Human rights of women
J.  Women and the media
K. Women and the environment
L. The girl child

This year, at the United Nations’ 59th Commission on the Status of Women, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. It was hoped that the Ministers in the General Assembly would release a Political Declaration on accelerated action on the Beijing Platform for Action, prioritising human rights and women’s empowerment, calling for irreversible progress on women’s rights by 2030. I would have liked to see references to violence against women and girls as a key issue for equality and development, and a reinforcement of the women peace and security agenda. Other important issues in the women’s movement include the protection of sexual and reproductive health rights, climate change, and indigenous rights.

Released in the opening session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Political Declaration was none of these things. It was merely a bland statement of support for the Beijing Platform for Action. During negotiations, specific needs and issues were shut out for fear of creating an unwieldy and unhelpful list of specificities. So there is no mention of disability; intersectionality; or women, peace and security. The Holy See, Russia and Member States in the G77 including China and Iran pushed to remove all references to human rights. Only three such references remain. There has certainly been discussion among civil society of the men in frocks wanting to take away women’s control of their own bodies.

The final document did maintain a reference to the specific goal on gender equality expected from the new development framework, the Sustainable Development Goals, which will replace the soon to expire Millennium Development Goals. Some of our Pacific neighbours fought hard to maintain references to the valuable work of non-government organisations and civil society in attaining gender equality. The Political Declaration also outlined the important role of UN Women in this process, which did not exist when the Beijing Platform for Action was developed, but now has the mandate to lead and coordinate the UN system’s work on gender equality.

Many people have been disappointed by the Political Declaration, and there is much hope that the General Assembly resolution on the working methods of the Commission on the Status of Women will keep the space open for non-government organisations to participate and advocate on women’s issues. Governments and civil society both need to be proactive to ensure the voices of young women and indigenous women are heard in these fora. It all goes to show what can be done when political and social movements seize the moment, as was done in Beijing. Now, the women’s movement needs to coalesce around what we do have, the Beijing Platform for Action and continue to push for its implementation. Rather than necessarily seeking new commitments, we need to see the implementation of the existing ones.

For ongoing updates from #CSW59, follow me on Twitter @SusansOpine.

I am participating in CSW59 as a member of the delegation from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, of which I am a member of the Australian Section and convenor of the ACT Branch.

I have been able to travel to New York to participate in CSW59 thanks to a grant from the Australian National University Gender Institute as well as funding from my College of Arts and Social Science.

Australia Day awards

I could not be prouder to have Rosie Batty selected as the 2015 Australian of the Year. Last year, Rosie’s son, Luke Batty was playing in the cricket nets with his father. Without warning, his father smashed Luke on the back of the head with the cricket bat. When he fell to the ground, the father attacked him with a knife. Luke died in hospital the next day. Australia has watched Rosie Batty rise from this tragedy, at the press conference after Luke’s death, she said

Family violence happens to everybody. No matter how nice your house is, how intelligent you are. It can happen to anyone, and everyone.

She has tirelessly campaigned for greater awareness, and institutional responses to domestic violence. I’m certain I am not the only one who cries when she speaks about the issues; she has a profound voice. Now she is being recognised for her herculean efforts. I haven’t been this proud of our national awardees since Patrick McGorry was awarded the honour for his work on mental health.

Ben Roberts-Smith should be proud to have chaired a committee that selected, for the first time ever, four women for the Australian of the Year awards. It’s been a tough year for the recognition of women in Australia. We’ve seen cuts in funding to domestic violence and homelessness programs.We still have fewer women in federal cabinet than there are in Afghanistan. We’ve seen policies proposed that would lead to an increase in the real cost of a university degree for women. There’s been an increase in the gender pay gap and moves to force a reduction in the gender equity reporting requirements for employers. But Ben Roberts-Smith spoke a great truth at the awards ceremony

Rosie, Jackie, Drisana and Juliette remind us of the many ways in which women contribute to our nation — that women are a force for change, a voice for rights, influencers, educators and the heart of our communities.

It brings me great hope and joy that these four women have been recognised for their contribution to Australian society; their contribution and their leadership. Jackie French was awarded Senior Australian of the Year for her services to literacy; Drisana Levitzke-Gray was awarded Young Australian of the Year for campaigning for the rights of deaf people; and Juliette Wright was awarded Australia’s Local Hero for establishing a website that facilitates community members donating quality items to those in need, especially after a disaster.

Last year, the Prime Minister made the decision to revive part of the imperial honour system, appointing dames and knights, titles traditionally awarded for service to Queen and country. The first two awardees were the outgoing and incoming Governors General. Today he made an interesting announcement; awarding one of these knighthoods to none other than the Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband. There has been a great deal of discussion about the decision. Some people have protested based on personal attributes of the Prince, others have protested because he isn’t Australian. Today I read a very valid gender analysis of the decision. But I cannot think of a more bizarre choice merely on grounds of process. Giving Prince Philip an Australian knighthood seems to me to be a bit like choosing the principle as the pupil of the week, or perhaps the principle’s husband. It just doesn’t compute.

I was however heartened to read the list of OAM recipients from Far North Queensland recognised for their service to the indigenous community. The Medal of the Order of Australia is the category we see most people who have served the community, those who are recognised for voluntary service; not military service, or public service for which they have been otherwise recompensed, but the kind of service that truly comes from the heart, and gives in the best way possible. It is for this reason I love to see who has been awarded the OAM in communities around the nation. We hear so many dire stories from indigenous communities and so rarely hear of positive achievements, so it was especially good to hear indigenous people recognised for their service the community.

#thisgirlcan

A friend of mine recently posted this youtube clip.

I jiggle therefore I am.

Feeling like a fox,

I kick balls,

Deal with it.

Damn right I look hot.

 

I was stoked. He does such great work (for his take on ethical fashion check out ishivest). He’s a great guy, working on community engagement and participatory democracy in Chicago. He’s also pretty good looking. It made me happy that someone of such calibre was posting a clip about women’s body image. It’s not just any clip mind you; it’s great.

This Girl Can is a women’s health campaign from the UK and I can’t think of a healthier message. It taps into one of the issues described in Emma Watson’s He for She speech at the UN: women and girls opting out of sport because they don’t want to look muscly, are embarrassed about sweat, or the other things that go with being active. But it’s not just that. It’s not about being thin, being good, or winning. It’s about moving and relishing what that does to your body.

I’ve never really felt the fear of sweat or muscle that I hear those women talk about. I’ve never been thin, but I’ve always liked working up a sweat. I jiggle. I sweat. When I’m rocking on the dance floor I feel like a fox. I love to kick a soccer ball; I do it with attitude, even if I’m not very good at it. I enjoy it. Damn right I look hot, I am hot; that’s kind of the point isn’t it, to get the heart pumping?

I’ve never been sporty, but I’ve been a relatively active person most of my life. I loved swimming from an early age: it was my thing, the sport I did as a kid. I didn’t learn to ride a bike till late in primary school, but when I bought my own, I loved to ride it to school. I was a Girl Guide and loved to hike. I loved orienteering. I joined the Army, and served for many years. I used to love running. I tried combatting my fear of heights by taking up rock climbing in the Grampians. I travelled to Africa and climbed a live volcanothat was hard work.

I climbed an active volcano and camped the night on the rim of the crater.

I climbed an active volcano and camped the night on the rim of the crater.

But what I really love about the This Girl Can video is the diversity of subjects. There are women of colour, women with disabilities, skinny women, bigger women, young women, old women. The campaign isn’t about a goal, or a competition, it’s just about moving what you have as best you can. For me, that’s a very empowering message.

A couple of years ago, I had a minor surgery and got a major infection which left me with a chronic, disabling illness. Now, I get auditory overload. I get cognitive fatigue, and physical fatigue. When I fatigue, I have trouble walking, talking and even thinking.

I can’t be around loud noises. So there’s no more dancing in clubs for me. Oh how I miss dancing. I can’t be in a place where lots of people are talking at once, so even backyard parties are a problem. Soccer is out of the question. If I go swimming, I need to be careful that I have enough energy left to climb the three flights of stairs to my apartment. I live alone so I need to leave myself enough energy to be safe and self sufficient. Yes, sex is a problem.

It’s been hard not to resent my body; not to be angry at being trapped in such an unhelpful place. It’s scary. It’s disempowering. It’s upsetting. It’s frustrating.

Sometimes people say, ‘you should keep positive.’ But as our beloved Stella Young used to say “no amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp.”

 

Part of maintaining my quality of life and good mental health is re-imagining a positive future for myself, within the confines of my current condition. It’s not healthy to go on falsely expecting everything to go back to the way it was before, if it won’t. No amount of smiling at the Hip Hop club will make me able to go in and dance the night away; or even have one dance without collapsing in the corner, a spastic bundle unable to control my limbs. So I am on a journey; learning to love my body for what this girl, and this body, can do.

There are a whole range of bonus This Girl Can clips. There’s one about a busy mum, one about losing inhibitions. But I really like the one called Grace Vs Pace. Grace rides a bike. She doesn’t wear lycra and she doesn’t go fast, but she goes and I think that’s great.

 

These days, I’m managing my health well enough that I can ride my bike from home to my office at uni. I ride my bike, and I do yoga.  I can’t afford lessons or anything; I have an app on my phone. I just have a little town bike, with three gears. I dawdle my way down the bike path, letting the men in lycra zoom past me. I love it. I love the physical act of cycling, I love the quiet bike path, I love that I’m doing something active, and I love that I don’t need to take the bus. When I get to uni, I open my window onto the oak filled courtyard and do a simple yoga routine. It calms me, it gives me the time to be mindful of my body, and to work it gently, kindly, beneficially.

There is no inspiration porn here, but someone trying to figure out what #thisgirlcan and I love that I’m able to do something good for, and with, my body.

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.