Lakshmi Puri speech on Women Peace and Security


Speech on “Justice, Security, and Women’s Leadership – UN Women’s Priorities in Combatting Violence against Women in Conflict” by Acting Head of UN Women and UN Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, as part of a lecture series for the Liechtenstein Center for Self-Determination, Princeton University, organized by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein and PeaceWomen. 7 June 2013, New York.

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Thank you, Ambassador, for the kind invitation, for this fantastic panel series, and for your championing of the Women, Peace and Security agenda since the early days. Many thanks also for the support for this series from PeaceWomen, an initiative of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

In my presentation today I will talk about some of the recent changes in the ways in which the international security community – most notably the Security Council and the UN’s presence in conflict-affected countries – have approached the serious challenge of protecting women from violence during and after armed conflict. I will discuss the significance of the three existing resolutions on sexual violence, and I will explain why efforts to build security for women and to advance gender justice cannot be effective in the long run without a committed investment in women’s empowerment.

I frame all of this by saying that there is a growing and very important emphasis on addressing sexual violence in conflict in a more proactive way. Contrary to popular belief, women are subjected to all forms of violence, and the reasons for this violence arise from deep rooted socio-cultural perceptions of the role of women in society, and using that status as a weapon of war to demoralize and cripple morale. I witnessed this firsthand in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sri Lanka. I want to make the connection of peace and security with gender equality and women’s empowerment – we need to address these issues as a continuum.

All five Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security aim to ensure that women and girls are better protected from human rights abuses during and after conflict. All five make the case that the impact of conflict on women is a matter of international peace and security. The foundational and most comprehensive one, resolution 1325, passed in 2000, and the fourth one, resolution 1889 passed in 2009, assert that women’s security, well-being, and public leadership are central to conflict prevention and resolution.

This has had an impact in the way policymakers, Governments and stakeholders at the national and global level look at peacemaking and peacebuilding. We now have more than 40 national action plans, and acceleration in adopting these plans is not limited to countries in conflict but those working to support countries in conflict. This normative paradigm shift has given rise to greater awareness of the integrity of women’s empowerment, women’s protection, and women’s participation and recovery role in peacebuilding.

The three resolutions on sexual violence (1820, 1888, and 1960) establish that conflict-related sexual violence is not ancillary to war, but can be a central military tactic, organized to advance political goals and military objectives. These three resolutions aim to prevent and address conflict-related sexual violence, improve assistance to survivors, and generate data on incidents, patterns, and perpetrators of sexual violence to be reported to the Security Council. As many of you already know, we anticipate that there will be discussions about a new resolution later this month on women and peace and security, seeking to end the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of serious gender crimes.

The attention given to sexual violence in conflict since 2008 in the Security Council is much more than lip service and rhetoric. It has resulted in tangible changes in patterns of military and civilian peacekeeper patrolling, force generation, training, civil-military liasion and intelligence gathering, and even equipment, as well as human rights monitoring, security sector reform, and transitional justice responses. Here I would like to highlight the initative of the G8 and UK Foreign Secretary on preventing sexual violence, to put it at the front and centre of the global agenda for action.

These are significant developments. Only 20 years ago, when women’s organizations were insisting, against the backdrop of systematic rape in the Balkan conflicts, that this was a matter of international peace and security, the general reaction from international and regional security institutions was still that this was a regettable but unavoidable feature of fighting. I remember this very well because I was India’s ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina and witnessed firsthand that there were no women’s voices. Even earlier in the 1980s when I was a human rights officer in Sri Lanka, women’s voices were muffled. In 2002, UNIFEM, one of our preceding organizations, produced one of the first and still perhaps most comprehensive report on women’s experiences of conflict titled ‘Women War Peace’. It made the same argument regarding the use of sexual violence in conflict as women had been making in the Balkans and Sri Lanka, but equally in Rwanda, Uganda, and countless other sites of conflict.

What an extraordinary leap in 2008 when the Security Council passed resolution 1820 that identified widespread and systematic sexual violence as a tactic of warfare; then a second resolution in 2009 requiring the Secretary General to appoint a special representative on sexual violence in conflict – SRSG Bangura, who is a real advocate driving action – to address this matter and create a team of experts to support countries in tackling impunity; and finally another resolution a year later requesting the UN to monitor incidents of sexual violence, and name, list, and sanction perpetrators, with provisions for delisting.

What has happened in these last years did not come from a legislative and normative vacuum. Sexual violence in conflict has been a violation of the laws of war for very long. The Geneva Conventions protect against rape since 1949; sexual violence was clearly defined as a war crime, crime against humanity, or constituent element of genocide in the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute in 1998; and by 2008 there had been more than a few indictments, prosecutions, and convictions for such crimes in international criminal tribunals. But these resolutions brought about a radical paradigm shift in the way the UN and many other international institutions, including non-governmental humanitarian and human rights institutions, have addressed this issue. This meant a shift away from seeing this violence only as a humanitarian problem, to seeing it as a threat to peace and security requiring a security and political response.

So what has UN Women being doing? UN Women and the agencies that preceded it have been at the centre of this collective effort. Since 2007, we have been among the leading and most active members of UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, which SRSG Bangura chairs, a network of UN entities that brings together our peacekeeping and political missions, our mediation efforts, our fight to protect human rights and deliver humanitarian assistance, and the work of all those involved in building peace in the aftermath of conflict, facilitating early recovery and longer-term development, restoring the rule of law, and advancing gender equality. No single agency or country can address this problem adequately. It will take all of us.

Within this network, UN Women has worked both to protect women and girls and prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place, and to provide services and justice to survivors as part of a multisectoral response. We do this by investing in normative changes –such as the ground-breaking outcome of this year’s CSW, a collective effort like no other– supporting programmes, creating knowledge, and empowering our partners. We have spearheaded innovative initiatives to address sexual violence in mediation and peace negotiations, in reparations programmes in the context of transitional justice, in early warning systems in the context of monitoring and prevention, and in the actions of blue helmets in our peace operations, through targeted, practical, scenario-based training for our military peacekeepers prior to their deployment, which is the first of its kind devoted only to this particular type of violence.

Much of the information received by the Human Rights Council or the Security Council on sexual violence in conflict settings comes from experts trained and deployed by UN Women to Commissions of Inquiry. This is something that we have been doing systematically since the horrific mass rape of pro-democracy protesters in Conakry in 2009, and that the Secretary-General has asked us to do for every single Commission of Inquiry and UN-supported truth commission established. And we are committed to make good on this mandate.

With our partners, we select and train experts in investigation and prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence as international crimes, and include them in a roster of rapidly-deployable investigators available to the international community. These are highly skilled experts who know how to interview victims and witnesses of sexual violence without detriment to their safety and dignity, know how to appropriately document and store this evidence, and have an eye towards potential accountability for these atrocities as international crimes.

I can share similar initiatives from our country offices. For example, in Mali, against all odds, with few resources and a partly evacuated office, we sponsored the earliest surveys and studies documenting the use of sexual violence in the conflict in the north, and supported women to raise this issue in the first rounds of talks in Ouagadougou over a year ago. In Colombia, we supported the development of the ground-breaking Victims Law on reparations, and ensured that the specific rights of sexual violence survivors as well as children born of rape were adequately integrated into the law.

But one of UN Women’s most important roles is that of turning the myriad voices within women’s organizations worldwide into global advocacy messages that are listened to and taken into account by decision-makers and the general public. And in this role I must bring attention to two particular concerns that should be at the forefront of all our efforts. One, that our necessary focus on sexual violence cannot and should not distract us from paying due attention to all other forms of violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings. And two, that our increased efforts to combat impunity and punish and deter perpetrators can only be effective if we also increase our investment in the leadership and empowerment of women as the only viable, long-term strategy to get to the structural, social, and material roots of sexual violence. And this means that all five resolutions on Women, Peace and Security must be implemented together. It is no coincidence that just as resolutions 1325 and 1889 speak about protecting women and girls from violence, the three resolutions on sexual violence speak about the importance of women’s leadership and agency.

The first point is very clear. As a result of pre-existing gender inequality, increased access to small arms, the destruction of justice systems, the breakdown of social mores and community protection systems, and the general impunity and deprivation which accompanies conflict, women and girls are often both targeted for specific forms of violence as part of military strategy, and suffer from an exacerbation of forms of violence that they have endured in peacetime. This violence entails more than the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war. It encompasses increased domestic violence, trafficking, survival sex and greater exposure to sexual exploitation by humanitarians and peacekeepers, forced early marriage and other harmful traditional practices, attacks on women’s human rights defenders and journalists, and other violations of rights that have gender-specific impacts, such as forced displacement, family separation, withholding of humanitarian assistance, and loss of property, livelihood and land.

These violations often continue after a conflict ends. A peace agreement signed by the lords of war does not often translate into lasting or meaningful peace for the majority of the population. The legacy and consequences of violent conflict have a direct bearing on intra-family violence, for example, due to individual and social trauma, changes in gender roles, the return of former combatants and greater availability of weapons in the community, and increased tensions caused by economic stress, challenging living conditions, and the lack of opportunities.

I will give you two examples of what this means in practical terms. With regards to the situation in Syria, UN Women has just finished conducting an assessment of Syrian refugees in Jordan, and found that more than a third are married off while they are still children. This rate is likely to increase exponentially as the situation of displacement is prolonged and families continue to rely on dwindling family savings and humanitarian aid that struggles to match the ever-growing demand. This is not just a barrier for education, economic opportunity, and autonomy for girls, but can also have life-and-death consequences. Child marriage is associated with early age at first childbirth, and complications related to pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls in the developing world. This needs to be factored in and prioritized in our humanitarian, security and political response.

As another example, it is important to address the issue of rape by rebels or soldiers in Somalia, but we cannot do so without combating other harms that affect Somali women and girls, such as intimate partner violence, sex trafficking, and female genital mutilation. They are forms of violence that are more prevalent, and are often related to the conflict and the conditions brought about by conflict.

UN Women strives to address all forms of sexual and gender-based violence in our programmes in conflict and post-conflict settings. These range from supporting improved referral systems, hotlines, police trainings, shelters, and legal aid and access to justice for survivors in over a dozen post-conflict countries; supporting international courts, national war crimes courts, truth commissions and the documentation of women’s experiences of conflict all over the world; to empowering community-led and women-led solutions to improving the safety and security of women and girls. These efforts can be seen from the local security committees in Haiti, to women’s peace huts in Liberia, to women’s situation rooms in Senegal and Sierra Leone that are monitoring and providing early warning on incidences of violence against women during electoral processes.

UN Women also manages the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, the only global, multilateral, grant-making mechanism specifically dedicated to addressing violence against women and girls, irrespective of the type of violence and context in which it takes place. In 2011, the Trust Fund opened a special window that currently supports 17 programmes in 24 conflict, post-conflict and transitional settings. Today I call on Governments and all partners to increase funding to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women in conflict-affected countries. This mechanism is worth a much greater injection of funds from all partners for three main reasons. First, it places emphasis on NGOs, including smaller NGOs that have a difficulty accessing resources but are locally effective. Second, it brings together UN partners to deliver as one to women survivors of violence. Third, it carries the benefits that investing in a global, already established mechanism brings to documenting good practice and achieving sustainability, scale, and impact.

The key message I want to leave you with today is that we cannot protect women and girls without empowering them. Women’s vulnerability to violence and the long term impact it has in their lives, such as social exclusion, entrenchment of poverty, and exposure to more violence- are all a consequence of gender inequality. That is well understood. But the real spirit of resolution 1325, its most innovative message, was reminding the Security Council that women’s leadership was an untapped resource for peace, and that the injustices and inequalities embedded in gender relations were in some cases a cause of conflict. Like poverty and environmental degradation, gender-based inequality and abuse are a long-term threat to development, and they are also a long-term threat to peace, security and stability.

And this understanding is important not only to address asymmetries in the rights and status of men and women, or to address violence against women in general, but also to our focus on sexual violence in particular. An exclusive focus on protection actors and protection measures, such as military peacekeepers and international tribunals, will only get us so far. A military or security response will not on its own bring the social transformations needed to undercut the effectiveness of sexual violence -including its use against men- in the first place. Justice responses aimed at high profile trials and prosecutions are necessary, but not sufficient to have the expected long-term deterrent effect or bring satisfaction to victims. This is because if prevalent social attitudes fail to condemn the crime and those who perpetrate it, if societies hold the victim in contempt instead, if women are not empowered to exercise their rights and access justice, health, education, or lead communities to peace and reconciliation, then naming and shaming perpetrators may not in the long run change the social behaviors and attitudes that give conflict-related sexual violence its power, or allow ongoing high levels of other forms of violence against women.

To name just a few examples, our innovative approaches to the protection of civilians in our peace operations will not have the desired effect while the participation of women in military or police contingents, or in leadership roles, is so low. We cannot pretend that we are serious about our commitment to justice for women when reparations, the one judicial tool that brings redress and the possibility of empowerment and non-repetition, the one measure of justice that women survivors most often demand themselves, is the one that has been used the least to address the plight of sexual violence survivors in transitional justice processes.

There are many things that need to be done, but the first one must always be to listen to women’s voices, to listen to their own truths about war and their needs and priorities. And UN Women’s approach is that of encouraging or amplifying such voices, and supporting women themselves to be agents of change.

This brings me back to resolution 1325, which insists on women’s inclusion in conflict resolution and recovery, and resolution 1889, which stresses the contribution that women can make to peacebuilding, provided that their basic needs are met and they are provided opportunities for participating in the economy and political decision-making.

UN Women is pleased to have collaborated with the Peacebuilding Support Office since this resolution was adopted, first in producing a report on women and peacebuilding and introducing the Secretary-General’s 7-point plan, and since then on implementing its pragmatic changes to approaches in mediation, post-conflict elections, post-conflict planning, financing for recovery, deployment of civilians providing technical support, justice and security sector reform, and economic recovery. They are all approaches that can only strengthen our prevention and response to violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings.

In conclusion, women cannot be a concern to international security institutions because of their violability alone. The five resolutions have to be implemented in a mutually supportive way in order to reconnect the goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment to protection measures. Women cannot contribute to peace without empowerment. Violations of women’s rights are not preventable without empowerment.

In the end, advancing gender justice is not a technocratic legalistic project. It is about politics and power. It is not about ‘going through the motions’. It is about ‘going the extra mile’. And time and again we see that women themselves, wounded and abused, are the ones going the extra mile, as we see for example with women from the Sahel. It is not acceptable that those who have the most to lose take the biggest risks in advancing women’s rights. Their efforts need to be supported, protected, and recognized. And our political and policy leaders, judges and prosecutors, peacekeepers and police, must go that extra mile with them.

Without a just peace there is no peace at all, and without gender justice there is no peace at all.