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!

Where’s the Governor-General when you need him in a constitutional crisis?

Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC

The power of the Governor-General is prescribed in the constitution and detailed in constitutional practice.  While the Governor-General customarily acts on the advice of relevant ministers communicated through the Federal Executive Council, there are times when the Governor-General can act without, or contrary to that advice. Overall, the Governor-General has the responsibility of  ensuring the execution and maintenance of the constitution.

The Coalition currently holds 76 seats in the lower house, the minimum number required to form government. Barnaby Joyce MP and Senators Fiona Nash and Matt Canavan, all of the National Party, currently have cases before the High Court to determine if their dual citizenship precludes them from holding federal office.

Section 44 of the constitution is worded to ensure no federal member is beholden to a foreign power. There may be some room for interpretation for individuals who unwittingly held dual citizenship with another country whose head of state is also Queen Elizabeth II. Can one truly be considered beholden to a foreign power if said power has the same head of state as Australia? However, there is no room for such interpretation when the dual citizenship is held with a country outside the Commonwealth. For example, the meaning of the constitution would be quite clear if someone were a dual national of Italy, as is Matt Canavan.

On the face of it however, all three members appear to be in breach of Section 44 of the constitution. Their eligibility to sit in parliament could not be subject to more serious questioning. Remaining in cabinet under such conditions is phenomenally irregular. However, the High Court is unlikely to make a decision before October. Then, if Barnaby Joyce is ineligible to hold office, his seat would likely be re-decided in a by-election.

In the mean time, could the government itself be considered unconstitutional? If Barnaby Joyce is ineligible then the Coalition only holds 75 seats in the lower house. It has been reported that when parliament next sits, if Joyce doesn’t refrain from voting, Labor will seek to have all votes deferred. Is this a basis on which the Governor-General can be assured of the Coalition’s ability to maintain government?

More broadly, in section 64, the constitution also states that no minister can hold office for any longer than three months without being elected to parliament. While common law protects the decisions made by those who thought they were acting out the duties of their rightful office, neither Joyce nor Nash have resigned from cabinet since learning of their predicament. As such, the decisions they make moving forward cannot fairly be interpreted as made while thinking they were performing duties of rightful office.

Given such a constitutional crisis, where is the Governor-General and what is he saying on the issues at play? At present, it seems the Prime Minister, and the government more broadly are waiting for the High Court to decide the fate of the suite of parliamentarians who have discovered they are dual citizens.  The High Court is unlikely to make a decision before October. However, especially considering the number of individuals who have not resigned, but retained their office and in some cases, cabinet positions, the time has come for greater oversight and employment of the responsibilities of the Governor-General.

The trouble with Trump’s populism

Today, the United States has a new President. At the inauguration of President Donald Trump, he gave a speech drawing on the many populist lines he used during the election campaign. There is one common thread between the words spoken by Obama and by Trump. Both men talk about the presidency as the people.

Obama talks about his presidency as by the people, continuing to pay homage to the community organisers who worked to turn the democratic agenda we see in his campaigns, into reality. Key themes of the Obama presidency were change and hope. In his farewell address at Chicago, after reminding people of the key achievements of the administration he said “that’s what you did.  You were the change.  You answered people’s hopes.” He closed with another call of faith. “I am asking you to believe.  Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.”

Trump talks about his presidency as for the people. In his inauguration address, Trump said the day marked a “transferring power from Washington, D.C.” to “you, the people.” He said the recent victories of politicians “have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

But when Obama spoke about “the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss” there seems to be an honesty to his words. Despite having graduated from the best schools in America, Obama’s roots in community organising show he has an empathy that seems a stark contrast to Trump. It is his policies that have meant health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 20 years. It is his policies that bought America back from a great recession. It was under his government that unemployment was cut in half and the American economy saw the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s.

When Trump said “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world” there is a hollowness to his words. Trump, born a billionaire went on to say that “we will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.” However, he could not even manage to have his own campaign made in America. The ubiquitous red ‘Make America Great Again’ caps that dotted the crowd and were a hallmark of his campaign, were made in China, Viet Nam and Bangladesh.

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.” Who does he think he’s listening to? The 20 million Americans who will lose their health insurance when he revokes the Affordable Care Act? The majority of voters who cast their ballot for the policies and personality of Hillary Clinton? No doubt the line is actually an allusion to the so called ‘silent majority’ who surprised the pollsters by voting for Trump.

But when Trump went on to say that “that a nation exists to serve its citizens.” He also said “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.” Herein lies the ultimate conundrum of Trump’s populism. A nation that exists to serve its citizens is one that welcomes the tired, the poor and the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” When the majority runs the country, what happens to the tired, the poor and the oppressed? What happens to the disabled and others with disadvantage?

Trump has appointed a Secretary of Education with no experience in education or public policy. Businesswoman, heiress and billionaire Betsy DeVos is an advocate for privatisation in education. With no experience working for students with disadvantage or on education inclusion she shows little prospects of addressing the chronic debt problem restricting millions of Americans’ access to tertiary education and at her confirmation hearing she was unable to support federal protections for children with disabilities to access education.

Trumps policy and staff choices also show little sign of being suitable for addressing key public safety concerns. Reducing gun violence and the number of people of colour shot by police must be a priority for public safety. Every day four children and teens are murdered with a gun, thirty two are shot in assaults and eight are shot unintentionally. In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870. Sixty four shootings occurred in schools. According to data from 2013, incidents in schools and businesses represent seven out of ten active shootings. In 2015, young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers. Despite making up only two percent of the population, black men between 15-34 years old make up more than fifteen percent of all deaths from the use deadly force by police. Addressing this problem requires nuanced approach to policy and practice for race relations and law enforcement.

Thankfully, the market has shown signs of supporting Trumps efforts to create ‘good jobs.’ Hopefully, his efforts to regenerate national infrastructure and support a return of manufacturing will alleviate some of the poverty experienced in the rust belt, where a large portion of Trump supporters voted for him. How effectively Trump can achieve this, and what he does to ensure wealth is distributed across the country and reduce rising income inequality remains to be seen.

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Dear Hillary,

When I was 11, I told my father I wanted to be president of the United States. He told me, without hesitation, that I could be whatever I wanted to be if I worked hard. I never doubted that. Yet, life soon showed me just how hard women often have to fight to simply be whatever they want or feel led to be.

While we’ve certainly made strides, society still compels women to somehow justify our choices or actions in a way that men don’t have to. You’ve broken a lot of ceilings throughout your career, and I don’t need to tell you how intense, dirty, and thankless the world of politics can be; how washing your hands of the whole thing and hiding in a cave somewhere would be an easy and welcome respite.

But you didn’t hide. You never shied away from adversity. You’re not perfect, but no one is. You were brave enough to keep going, keep fighting, and keep putting yourself out there, because you believed in something bigger and better. And even though it means a lot to us women, you didn’t just do it for us: you did it for everyone.

So, thank you. Thank you for your stamina and grace. Thank you for giving our generation and all future generations an example of what is important and great in this already-great country. And thank you from an 11 year old girl, who 22 years later remains committed to the causes of justice and equality and will continue down this path you and others before you have lit for us.

We are indeed stronger together.

Onward,
Brittany Persinger

Brittany is an international security professional who lives in Arlington, VA. Follow her on Twitter at @BrittForPeace.

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.