Catherine O’Rourke, author of today’s post, and Aisling Swaine co-authored the UN Women (2015) Guidebook on CEDAW General Recommendation Number 30 and the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.
A key conclusion of the Global Study on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was the need for improved synergies between the treaty-based human rights system and the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda:
To fully realize the human rights obligations of the women, peace and security agenda, all intergovernmental bodies and human rights mechanisms must act in synergy to protect and promote women’s and girls’ rights at all times, including in conflict and post-conflict situations. (page 350)
The drive towards improved synergies between WPS and broader human rights obligations was given significant impetus in October 2013, when the monitoring Committee of CEDAW adopted General Recommendation Number 30 on the rights of women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations. The Committee called on CEDAW state parties to inter alia ensure that implementation of their WPS commitments was taking place within the broader equality and women’s rights obligations of CEDAW. Further, state parties are called to report on implementation of their WPS commitments in their periodic reports to CEDAW.
The recent Arria Formula meeting between the UN Security Council and representatives from civil society, UN Women and the CEDAW Committee was an important milestone in the continued pursuit of such synergies. Held in UN Headquarters in New York on December 5, 2016, the meeting was convened by Security Council non-permanent member Uruguay. It was formally addressed by Yannick Glemarec, UN Women; Pramila Patten, CEDAW Committee; and Maria Victoria Cabrera-Balleza, Global Network for Women Peacebuilders. The speakers emphasized the following three dividends to be gained:
Information: Improved information sharing between the CEDAW Committee and the Security Council was identified as an important benefit of improved synergies. For example, the Security Council’s assessment of country situations should be informed by the CEDAW Committee’s assessment of women’s rights in the same country, gleaned through state reporting, shadow reporting and the women’s rights issues prioritised in Committee’s Concluding Observations to states. Likewise, the CEDAW Committee could draw on the Security Council activities in situations on its agenda to identify issues for further exploration through state reporting.
Civil Society Participation: The CEDAW process of periodic state examination, as well as broad standing for individual communications and inquiry requests under the CEDAW Optional Protocol, were identified as offering particular opportunities for civil society participation without significant parallel in the WPS resolutions.
Feminist Framing: The clear emphasis of the CEDAW Convention, Committee and General Recommendation Number 30 on women’s human rights, conflict prevention per se (as distinct from the narrower question of women’s role in conflict prevention) and disarmament (for example, the role of the Arms Trade Treaty in advancing WPS) was repeatedly noted. This mooted feminist framing offered a worthy counterpoint to the security and sexual violence focused activities of the Security Council.
The Security Council’s Response
As one might expect from a Security Council riven by geo-political tensions, divisions also emerged in the response of Security Council member states to the proposed improved synergies. On the supportive side of the ledger, the UK was the permanent member most assertive in supporting the meeting and the recommendations of the expert speakers. The UK’s Ambassador to the UN even expressed an openness to bringing forward a Security Council resolution on the theme of synergies between CEDAW and WPS. Spain pointed to the potential of the CEDAW Committee’s capacity to conduct inquiries into ‘grave or systematic violation’ of CEDAW rights as potentially important for the enforcement of the WPS agenda in conflict-affected settings. Japan emphasized the potential of CEDAW as a way to capture non-state actors through the horizontal application of human rights obligations. Meanwhile, Switzerland noted the particular value of the CEDAW Committee as actors in implementing the WPS agenda, due to their unique status as independent experts on women’s rights.
On the more sceptical side of the debate lay inter alia Russia, Egypt and Venezuela. Relying on more formalistic interpretations of both the WPS resolutions and CEDAW, Russia emphasized the formal division of labour between the Security Council and the CEDAW Committee. Russia advocated economy in this respect, by avoiding the duplication of focus and efforts across multiple mechanisms. In particular, it was noted, the Security Council must by necessity have a limited role, as the WPS agenda cannot substitute the whole realm of gender equality commitments under international law. Venezuela also emphasized the division of labour, but attributed its key concerns to the question of differential membership of the relevant bodies. Given its status as a non-permanent member, Venezuela’s interest against empowering a selective sub-group of states, such as the Security Council, to develop obligations and commitments that have not involved all of the affected states in their negotiation is understandable. Egypt also emphasized differential state membership of the two bodies. Further, that state parties may have reservations to CEDAW, which is not feasible in respect of the WPS resolutions. Finally, Egypt noted the interpretative and non-binding status of the CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendations.
On the whole, therefore, advocates for greater synergies between the CEDAW and WPS agendas have, in a relatively short period of time, gathered significant institutional momentum behind their objective. Nevertheless, the obstacles that typically accompany gender equality norms in international law – namely weak legal status, insufficient and unclear accountability mechanisms, and lack of political commitment due to countervailing gender norms – will likely also impede those advocating for synergies across regimes. In practice, a continued focus and emphasis on the CEDAW Committee’s current and potential role in enhancing feminist-informed accountability for women’s rights in conflict seems like a promising way forward for the time-being.