Securing Justice for Women in Post-Conflict States


Opening remarks by Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director, UN Women, at the panel discussion titled “Securing Justice for Women in Post-Conflict States", held at UN Headquarters in New York, 2 May 2011.

[Check against delivery.]

Thank you very much to my dear colleague from OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] for first of all co-hosting this event and also for introducing and providing the background and the raison d'etre for holding this meeting.

May I also add a few words to what you have said in terms of why we are holding this meeting today. In addition to what has already been mentioned, I would like to point out that the 2004 report [Report of the Secretary-General on the Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies] that was mentioned by Mr. Simonovic also had a reference to women as one of the categories that needed specific attention, along with a number of other categories, including children, minorities, etc. But there wasn't a deepened focus on women or on the need for gender responsiveness in justice systems and the rule of law.

Since then, and particularly in the context of the 2010 report of the UN Secretary-General on Women's Participation in Peacebuilding, we have a 7-point action plan on gender responsiveness in peacebuilding. We now need to build on that and bring about a convergence between the evolution of transitional justice systems from a human rights perspective, a peacebuilding perspective, a justice perspective, and specifically a gender-justice perspective. So this is what this meeting is about — how to take this agenda forward. And I would like to recall from that report some principles that can guide us as we move forward.

One core principle is that you need to have post-conflict processes and peacebuilding processes that are gender-responsive — for both equity reasons as well as effectiveness and sustainability reasons. If we are not gender-responsive, we are not only doing an injustice to women, who constitute in any society half or more than half of that society. But also we are not ensuring the sustainability of the peace process and all of its dimensions.

The second principle that we have to recognize is that the three pillars of peacebuilding, which are social coherence, economic recovery and political legitimacy, all require gender inclusion. If gender inclusion is not reflected in these three, then we don't have the three pillars in place.

And then there is this very important factor. Recently, we held a workshop on post-conflict needs assessment in which we had Resident Coordinators from a number of countries. And one of the key points made was that often the situation with regards to gender equality and justice was not very conducive before the conflict took place — but this is an opportunity to “build back better. So that is the principle that we need to pursue — build back better. It is also an occasion for transformation, and we must guard against a return to the impunity and the harm that may have been caused to women previously and during the conflict. And women must be beneficiaries and participants. We have already mentioned women as victims and advocates in transitional justice processes, but in the positive sense, it is also that women must be beneficiaries and participants of any peacebuilding process.

There have been some positive developments since 2004 when we began this process of deepening and refining and evolving the UN's work on transitional justice and also giving it a gender-responsive dimension. But there have also been challenges. Today we would like to highlight the specific challenges of women's access to justice post-conflict, and gather from distinguished experts and through dialogue with participants, concrete recommendations for both strategic entry points for securing access to justice as well as reforms required to existing approaches.

The past decade has seen substantial gains in efforts to secure justice for violations women experience during conflict. Today, we have an architecture of international justice that recognizes sexual violence as a war crime, a crime against humanity, and a possible constituent act of genocide. There have been ground-breaking cases before international and domestic courts that have established precedent in this regard. Truth commissions have evolved to mandate minimal protections for gender-based crimes, representation of women, specific mention of sexual violence crimes in their mandate and dedicated gender units and women's hearings. Reparations programmes in some countries are specifically identifying sexual violence survivors as prioritized beneficiaries. We now have UN Security Council resolutions dedicated to issues of women, peace and security.

Despite these important gains, the experience of women during and after conflict continues to be one of insecurity, violence and impunity.

For many women, peace ushers in neither security nor justice. It simply means the continuance of violence by other means. Changing this reality will require identifying and seizing strategic entry points for securing women's access to justice. These include in peace agreements, in national human rights institutions, and through institutional reforms which address the structural underpinnings of conflict and gender inequality. It also requires some rethinking of the basic assumptions on which we have built transitional justice, including the meaning of justice, the tools we use to secure justice post-conflict, and the violations for which we seek redress.

The focus, for example, on state level processes, such as truth commissions and courts, neglects that, for the vast majority of women, accountability starts in the community, where former perpetrators, combatants, victims and the displaced must live together and find a new modus vivendi. But it is here where insecurity generally prevails, threatening women and those most vulnerable.

Third, transforming transitional justice processes may require rethinking of the time frame for which we are taking action. For example, a woman raped by a soldier a day before a peace agreement is signed may be covered by a truth commission and reparations programme. However those women who continue to be violated as a result of the legacy of the conflict — the easy access to weapons, lack of accountability or vetting in demobilization processes, amongst other factors — may be excluded from access to any form of justice.

Then, there is a need for a rethinking of the violations for which we seek justice. Only in the recent past has sexual violence been prosecuted as a serious crime of international law. This is critical. But gender-based crimes experienced by women are broader than just sexual violence. Violations of social and economic and cultural rights are disproportionately experienced by women. The destruction of civilian infrastructure places increased burdens on those who traditionally care for the family, and forced displacement, in addition to being a crime in itself, increases women's vulnerability to sexual violence.

Next we must look at the mechanisms of justice which we prioritize. Millions of dollars are spent on supporting international prosecution processes each year. Criminal justice and prosecution of individual perpetrators is critical. A new country cannot be built on a foundation of impunity. But the focus on prosecutorial justice must be matched by an equal prioritization of reparative justice, as the most victim-centred transitional justice measures. The balance must be there, as mentioned, between punishing those guilty and repairing the harm done to the victims.

For women in particular, reparations programmes can provide acknowledgement of their rights as equal citizens, a measure of justice, as well as crucial resources of recovery. It is insufficient to only prosecute a handful of perpetrators or to ask women to share their stories before a commission or even to hand out individual compensation in the form of reparations to achieve the goals of sustainability and a culture of human rights.

Lastly, transitional justice processes need to be able to fulfil a key objective, which is the guarantee of non-repetition. In order for this to happen, justice must encompass gender justice as a central feature, and reforms must address inequality and the overall context of injustice to ensure that violence does not simply continue for the majority of the population in new forms.

Now, just a word on what UN Women is doing to further women's access to justice post-conflict. We are working with OHCHR — the lead on transitional justice in the UN system — to establish minimal standards of gender responsiveness in truth commissions, reparations programmes and related bodies. And we are also supporting the UN to establish markers and mainstream good practice through its own technical support to these institutions.

With OHCHR, we are also creating guidance for the UN system for strengthening reparations for sexual violence crimes.

With UNDP [UN Development Programme], we are exploring the gendered relations between reparations and development, to further justice and economic recovery as part of the three pillars of peacebuilding already mentioned.

Whilst reparations and development are two distinct rights, all efforts must be made to strengthen reparations programmes and ensure that they have both a sustainable and transformative impact in women's lives. By involving development practitioners, building state capacity to carry out effective national consultations, and strengthening the institutions needed to deliver reparations, as well as linking these programmes to target development programmes, reparations programmes can achieve these goals.

With the DPA [UN Department of Political Affairs], we have been developing guidance for mediators to ensure that sexual violence crimes are integrated into peace talks and all aspects of peace agreements, from cease-fire monitoring to justice, demobilization programmes and reparations programmes.

We are supporting women's groups to be part of peace processes, and ensuring their demands, including those for justice, are heard. In particular, we are supporting an increase in the number of women on the peace table so the final agreement reflects women's experience and the need for justice and recovery.

I would now like to introduce our panellists.