Violent Extremism and Terrorism in the Scope of Women, Peace and Security: an Uncomfortable Relationship

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Credit: UN Photo/DN (http://www.un.org/en/sc/about/)

The most recent and very controversial resolution of the United Nations Security Council(UNSC) Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, Resolution 2242 of 2015, has started to be implemented by the member states: a very recent example is Bosnia and Herzegovina. To date, Bosnia and Herzegovina has adopted three National Action Plans (NAPs) to implement the WPS agenda in its legal, judicial and administrative bodies for the periods of 2010-2013, 2014-2017and 2018-2022. Although the first two NAPs have not engaged with counterterrorism (CT) or countering violent extremism (CVE), the third NAP has a specific section regarding the measures for CT and CVE. In the NAP of 2018-2022, greater involvement of women in the initiatives for CT/CVE is highly encouraged.

The engagement of women with the CT and CVE programmes has developed in a very problematic way. The international framework on CT and CVE was established by UNSC Resolution 1373 (2001), immediately after 9/11. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin’s review of 43 UNSC Resolutions regarding the CT/CVE agenda pointed out that the agenda made only a handful of references to women and/or sexual harms. Thus, the CT and CVE agendas were gender-blind. Whereas the WPS agenda, at least initially, was trying to bring a gender lens to the peace and security concepts, CT/CVE resolutions have remained detached from the UNSC WPS purposes and agenda.

Very recently, this detachment has been terminated, not through the application of a gender-sensitive lens to the CT/CVE, but through the engagement of the WPS agenda with the CT/CVE programmes. With the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2242, CT/CVE discourse has been introduced to the WPS agenda.

In Resolution 2242, the SC

“(…) expresses deep concern that acts of sexual and gender-based violence are known to be part of the strategic objectives and ideology of certain terrorist groups, used as a tactic of terrorism, and an instrument to increase their power through supporting financing, recruitment, and the destruction of communities (…)”

To tackle this, the SC

“(…) urges Member States and the United Nations system to ensure the participation and leadership of women and women’s organizations in developing strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism which can be conducive to terrorism(…)”

Integration of CT/CVE with the WPS agenda through “strategic essentialism” presented women as “an untapped resource for countering violent extremism” (page 31). Feminist scholars have been concerned with the language in the resolution which essentializes women “as wicked purveyors of extremist violence or virtuous saviours of sons, husbands and communities” (page 282).

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s latest NAP echoes this language of Resolution 2242. “Women and children” are depicted as the main victims of violent extremism and terrorism.  The NAP acknowledges the presence of “radical communities” in Bosnia and Herzegovina and encourages international partners, the non-governmental sector, academia and religious communities to cooperate in order to “protect” the main victims of violent extremism and terrorism: “women and children”.

A major problem with both Resolution 2242 and the Bosnian NAP of 2018-2022 is the “over-simplistic understanding of the causes of extremism, and the solutions”(page 108). Such an approach seems palliative; the reasons for the emergence of violent extremism and terrorism in societies are simply ignored and instead the aim is onlyto treat the symptoms.

In addition, Resolution 2242 leaves the meanings of “violent extremism” and “terrorism” open. Similarly, Bosnia and Herzegovina barely specifies the measures for tackling violent extremism and terrorism. This prevents us from gaining any insight into the meaning and scope of “violent extremism” and “terrorism” in the Bosnian context. Expansion of the WPS agenda and alignment of the CT/CVE  and WPS agendas “does not mean that women will be included in defining what constitutes terrorism” and violent extremism. This very point creates concerns for feminist scholarship since the ambiguous and “customizable” scope of violent extremism and terrorism might lead to the securitization and instrumentalization of the WPS agenda, and to the legitimization of the SC.

This is not the first time that international security has intervened in the WPS agenda. In an earlier resolution, Resolution 1960 of 2010, the SC brought forward “targeted sanctions” against perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict, which was a “counterproductive development in the contemporary collective security approach to women, peace and security”. Such security-oriented interventions sideline gender equality and aim to “empower” women with the only purpose of providing security in the affected societies.

As Diane Otto has pointed out, any so-called successes in the feminist theory and practice should always be weighed against their consequences. Integration of the CT/CVE into the WPS agenda is presented as a success by the UNSC since this integration could reduce the impacts of terrorism and violence extremism on women. However, as WILPF reminds us, “inclusive” strategies are more often than not used to justify the use of force.

Although Resolution 2242 has already been adopted in Bosnia and Herzegovina and many other countries through NAPs, legal, judicial, and administrative bodies and women’s rights NGOs should cautiously put the NAPs into practice by constantly examining the potential impacts of CT and CVE programmes on women.

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The Role of Mercy in India

There has been such a sustained focus on the right to impose death that it sometimes eclipses its essential corollary, namely the sovereign right to spare life. In India’s modern political system, this power to spare life remains in the form of executive clemency. Executive clemency, enumerated in Article 72 of the Indian Constitution, represents an escape valve where officials unaffiliated with the judiciary can survey the landscape and make decisions on factors beyond the law. Thus, the most logical use of clemency powers is when an individual wrongly convicted, can demonstrate that the system failed or that they are innocent. Critics, however, have argued that this conflicts with the demands of justice and equality, demands a liberal state presumably must heed. Due to mercy’s arbitrary and capricious nature, the state, they argue, should be lawful, not merciful. A study of the mercy petitions rejected by various Presidents in recent history lends some merit to their argument since it reveals a trend of politicization of mercy.

For example, the rejection of Saibanna’s mercy petition came right after the December 16 gang rape; a time when the government needed a facile gesture to show that it was tough on crime against women. He had been sentenced to death for murdering his second wife and daughter after having been convicted for murdering his first wife, however his case was riddled with glaring judicial blunders from start to end. Both the trial court and the High Court convicted and sentenced Saibanna under s. 303 of the Indian Penal Code which provided for mandatory death sentence but had been struck down as unconstitutional some twenty years earlier. The Supreme Court took full notice of the s. 303 issue but then noted that the session’s court faulty finding did not prejudice the cause of the accused since there was no record of any mitigating circumstances.

However what the Court failed to consider was that in cases under s. 303 there is no sentencing hearing, and hence no opportunity to bring on record mitigating circumstances. Moreover, the Court squarely based its death sentence verdict on the erroneous view that Saibanna, already undergoing a life sentence, could not be sentenced to life imprisonment again, and therefore the death sentence was the only available punishment. Thus in effect, the Supreme Court revived mandatory death sentencing. So glaring were these errors that a campaign had been launched pursuant to which fourteen eminent retired judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court
wrote to the President asking him to commute these death sentences. They said that it would be unconscionable and a blot on the administration of justice to execute Saibanna whose petition had been pending for 25 years. These factors should have necessitated the commutation of the death sentence by a government with even an iota of respect for the rule of law. Continue reading

U.N. Sanctions Can Help Stop Rape in War

Sexual violence is clearly prohibited in peacetime and wartime, both by international human rights law and the lex specialis international humanitarian law. Despite these prohibitions, sexual violence remains prevalent in many modern conflicts. Furthermore, it continues to be used intentionally by government forces and militias as a weapon in order to achieve military or political objectives. As seen in Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria and the DCR, sexual violence is used effectively to terrorize, forcibly displace, ethnically cleanse, and control civilian populations seen as the “enemy”- at the cost of women and girls.

In 2008 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued a groundbreaking resolution (1820) that threatened the use of targeted sanctions against individuals ordering, tolerating or engaging in sexual violence as a weapon of war. Sanctions, foreseen in article 41 of the UN Charter, are one of two coercive powers that the Security Council holds under Chapter VII. Through the threat of coercive measures, the UNSC thus affirmed its ability and willingness to place meaningful restraints on sexual violence in conflict.

This was a groundbreaking and welcomed move. Designation criteria relying on international human rights and humanitarian norms have the potential to reinforce legal frameworks on prevention and accountability. Indeed, targeting political and military commanders with sanctions can create an incentive to stop deliberately ordering or implicitly tolerating sexual violence committed by their soldiers. Sanctions can compel commanders to change behavior and exercise better control over troops.

But ten years after the UNSC first threatened sanctions, where are we in practice? This question drove Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security to investigate whether the Security Council actually translated its threat of sanctions into concrete action.

We studied 8 sanctions regimes in countries characterized by continuing armed conflict and massive human-rights violations, including the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war: Central African Republic, the Congo, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen. Our report finds that sanctions have great potential, but are largely underutilized and implemented ineffectively.

Unfortunately, the inclusion of sexual violence in sanctions regimes is not consistent, nor is it timely. Some sanctions regimes do not once mention sexual violence as part of the designation criteria – despite evidence of widespread use (such as in Sudan). Some regimes include references to sexual violence, but only decades after the first violations were reported (such as in Somalia). Moreover, follow-up of the threat of sanctions with concrete designations of individuals is often neither timely nor reflective of the main perpetrators. Failure to act on the threat of sanctions actually gives perpetrators permission and incentive for brutality, because it gives them confidence that no meaningful rebuke will follow. Continue reading

Safeguarding ‘distinction’ inside the wire: Humanitarian-peacekeeper interactions in South Sudan’s Protection of Civilians sites

Following the outbreak of violence in December 2013, tens of thousands—and eventually hundreds of thousands—of internally displaced persons (IDPs) sought refuge at UN bases in South Sudan. These sites came to be referred to as Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites, guarded by forces from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) under a robust PoC mandate. In response, many international humanitarian actors, ranging from UN agencies to NGOs, sought to live and work ‘inside the wire’ of the PoC sites as well. They wanted to be close to the war-affected populations they serve, and were also seeking to protect their own staff from violent attacks. As a general rule, global civil-military guidance dissuades humanitarian actors from co-locating with military actors in conflict settings. In recognition of the exceptional circumstances, however, the UN Humanitarian Country Team in South Sudan approved the temporary use of military force protection by humanitarian actors; this has enabled them to reside in the sites.

South Sudan’s PoC sites have generated considerable interest from policymakers and scholars alike, some of whom have drawn attention (pp. 39-40) to the complex relationships of diverse international actors operating in the sites. What is missing at this juncture, from a legal perspective, is a robust account of the challenges that co-location in the sites poses for the civilian-combatant distinction in international humanitarian law (IHL). Drawing on field research[1] conducted in South Sudan in 2015, this article highlights one slice of the international community where interactions are shaped by struggles over ‘distinction’: the humanitarian-peacekeeper relationship.

As one UN civilian actor notes, the PoC sites in South Sudan are spaces where the UN mission ‘comes closest’ to humanitarian actors. Another civilian member of UNMISS surmises, ‘I’ve never seen another example where humanitarians and UNMISS work so closely’. This issue of physical proximity is also flagged by a humanitarian NGO actor living in one of the PoC sites. He is concerned that the mere fact of his presence in the site undermines any efforts his organization might make with regard to distinction from UNMISS. An individual working for a different humanitarian NGO picks up this thread. He explains that co-locating with UN military forces leads ‘fiercely independent’ humanitarian NGOs to fear that they are compromising the humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence, and impartiality. It is adhering to these principles, he explains, that helps humanitarian actors to demonstrate they are distinct.

It is apparent that the attempt to safeguard distinction from UN military actors is not always, or only, about compliance with international law. Much of the time, humanitarian NGOs are also hoping to influence local perceptions. One component of this perceptions work involves the attempt to secure the trust and acceptance of the war-affected populations they seek to serve. As one humanitarian actor explains, it is local beneficiaries who matter most; the ‘element of distinction is purely from their perspective’. Continue reading

Dubious negotiations in New York: Did France and the UK come to blow it up?

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From 4 to 14 December 2017, the States Parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC) met in New York City to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. This marks a crucial step for international criminal justice. Since Nuremberg, no international criminal tribunal has been empowered to prosecute aggressive war-making. The activation was expected to be comparable to a mere turning on of lights, as the most controversial issues, such as the definition of the crime, were already settled at the 2010 Kampala Conference. Seven years later, however, this expectation turned out to be a naïve dream. It is regrettable that especially those states that sat in judgment in Nuremberg were the fiercest opponents to the activation of the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. This article aims to reveal the dubious attempts by France and the UK to hamper the decision-making process at the 16th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) in New York.

Negotiating position in conflict with the genesis of the Kampala compromise

States Parties, including France, emphasized in their opening statements that they did not want to reopen negotiations. In the end, they failed to keep that promise. France and the UK brought back to the negotiating table what had been rejected in Kampala. Both states pushed for the adoption of a jurisdictional opt-in system for state referrals or proprio motu investigations. Hence, the ICC shall exercise jurisdiction over nationals of a State Party or on its territory only if that state opts in by accepting or ratifying the aggression amendments. Seven years ago, the final compromise between the opt-in supporters and defenders of the existing no-consent regime of Article 12(2)(a) ICC Statute was reached by establishing an opt-out system in Article 15bis(4). Accordingly, the ICC may exercise jurisdiction over a crime of aggression, arising from an act of aggression of a State Party, unless that state has made an opt-out declaration. Nothing in Article 15bis(4) suggests, however, that a prior ratification by the aggressor state is required. Such an interpretation rather conflicts with the described genesis of the Kampala compromise. Unfortunately, historical interpretation is a strong argument only as long as people can remember the genesis of a norm. The time lapse was a key advantage for strengthening the France/UK position. They could make a second attempt to push the compromise toward their preferred jurisdictional regime. This time, the opt-in regime finally found its way into the adopted resolution. Except for Security Council referrals, the ICC can prosecute crimes of aggression only where committed in conflicts between ratifying States Parties.

No intention to compromise until the very end

The opt-in regime was adopted because France and the UK had no intention to compromise while States Parties overall were committed to reach consensus. Consensus is the way to strengthen the Court, they said. In the end, consensus was the way to give the minority, France and the UK, a de facto veto right. Due to the constant resistance by France and the UK, supporters of the opt-out camp even offered a pragmatic proposal that undermined the rationale of the opt-out system. In Kampala, the idea behind forcing states to formally opt out was to raise the political barrier. In contrast, the pragmatic proposal would have established a softer opt-out regime with various ways to avoid prosecutions without losing face. To illustrate that point, the proposal exempted from declaring an opt-out those states that had previously expressed their position of non-acceptance in the Report on the Facilitation. Thus, there was no need for the firm defenders of the opt-in regime (France, UK, Canada, Colombia, Norway) to make any embarrassing statement in the future. Moreover, the proposal allowed simple statements of non-acceptance upon adoption or after one year of consideration without the moderating spirit (or peer pressure) of these international get-togethers. Despite these concessions, France and the UK struck out all pragmatic provisions from the draft resolution and replaced them with their opt-in regime on the very last day of the ASP. Criticizing other proposals for being one-sided is one thing. Bringing up a proposal based on one’s initial position after nine days of intensive negotiations is simply hypocritical. But France and the UK were probably aware of their stronger negotiating position. As long as others strived for consensual activation, they could come up with exaggerated claims.

Against the reaffirmation of judicial independence

Although both proposals, the pragmatic proposal as well as the pure France/UK one, eventually failed to reach consensus, France and the UK continued to play the game. When the Vice-President of the ASP made one last attempt and presented a draft resolution that was supposed to be acceptable for all sides, France and the UK were presumptuous enough to request “minor changes”. Why? Even though the draft was based on their preferred opt-in system, it contained a shocking operative paragraph: A paragraph that reaffirmed the judicial independence of the Court. Montesquieu would have been proud of his home country. To highlight the absurd discussions on removing this paragraph, even South Africa, a state that had previously reiterated its intention to leave the Court, spoke up for the judicial independence of the ICC. In the face of strong opposition from other states, France and the UK had to cave in on that point.  Yet given that this draft resolution was not open to negotiations, merely suggesting any modifications could have jeopardized the activation. Hence, one may wonder whether France and the UK were truly committed to activating the jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.  Throughout the ASP, they ignored what had been agreed on in Kampala, they were unwilling to compromise and pushed the limits of their de facto veto right. Fortunately, states still managed to achieve activation, but it came at a price. The ICC will be limited to prosecuting crimes of aggression committed in conflicts between the 35 ratifying states. None of them is known for its current interest in perpetrating acts of aggression towards other states.

 

Law of Peace(making) and Transforming Children’s Invisibility

Courtesy of the Blog of the Groningen Journal of International Law (August 22, 2017).

The law of international human rights came into being through an international peacemaking process, in particular the successive processes that gave birth to the Charter of the United Nations. The law as developed affirms children’s legal standing and agency as subjects of human rights. There is a concomitant international obligation to affirm the same in relation to the successive processes of peacemaking and give effect to those rights through the resultant agreements, as recalled by treaty and Charter bodies. Yet children are mostly invisible in such processes. Its extent is laid bare by a cursory review of collections of peace agreements. Of the close to eight hundred peace agreements in the United Nations database, for example, approximately ninety-five include a reference to children. The extremity of their invisibility raises a multiplicity of questions. Is it justified from the perspective of the law of peace(making)? May children’s human rights yield to the pursuance of peace?  And if not, why are children (mostly) invisible in peacemaking? These questions sparked and structured a probe of peace processes from a juristic, human rights and child rights perspective. Continue reading

Pursuing Synergies to Guarantee Women’s Rights in Conflict: The UN Security Council Arria Formula Meeting on CEDAW and the Women, Peace and Security Resolutions

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.

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