Women, Peace and Security: How committed is New Zealand?

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Report by NewsroomPlus.com

It should never be forgotten that in contemporary conflicts the vast majority of casualties are civilians, and most of these are women and children. 

A timely reminder of that fact should have arrived loud and clear with the publication and release last week of the New Zealand National Action Plan for the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, including 1325, on Women, Peace & Security 2015–2019 – see a précis below this article.

It is now 15 years since the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (“UNSCR 1325”) was adopted in 2000 in recognition of the specific protection needs of women in situations of conflict. It set out to affirm the importance of the full participation of women in conflict resolution, at decision-making levels of durable peace processes and the build-up of gender response capability in peacekeeping missions.

With National Action Plans (“NAP”) having emerged some time ago as a best way to implement actions , it is a bit sad that New Zealand has just got its NAP on to the table. Better late, than never.

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Australia adopted their first NAP in 2012, have issued a vigorous progress report on it in July 2014, and are well regarded for taking the field of Women, Peace and Security (“WPS”) seriously.

This was further evidenced last week when Australia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations H.E. Gillian Bird, announced a number of funding contributions at an historic High-Level Open Debate reviewing WPS progress in the last 15 years at the UN Security Council. Those commitments included a further AUD $4million over three years to the new Global Acceleration Instrument on women’s engagement in peace and security and humanitarian affairs, a pledge of an additional $7 million in specific funding to address sexual and gender-based violence in response to the Syria crisis (as part of $59 million in humanitarian support to Syria over the past 12 months) and funding to support new research by Monash University (reference Professor Jacqui True) on ‘Women’s empowerment and civil society mobilization in preventing conflict and countering extremism’.

As reported on by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, this financing – “compared with the UK’s additional US$1 million and Spain’s 1 million Euro” – does indeed represent concrete backing by Australia. New Zealand, as a further comparison, isn’t putting any money where its mouth is.

Certainly New Zealand’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Gerard van Bohemen, made some telling points in the New Zealand statement to the Open Debate.

Gerard van Bohemen: “(T)he landscape continues to change and, sadly, to get much worse.  Rising violent extremism, increased numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, and combatants who take no account of the civilians in their midst, all affect women and girls disproportionately”.

Mr van Bohemen referred to the targeted use of sexual and gender-based violence by terrorist groups such as ISIL and Boko Haram, calling it “part of a deliberate strategy (and) horrendous new development”. He also gave over a key part of his speech to the issue of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers, calling any such behaviour “a stain on the work of the United Nations and of this (Security) Council”.

He also made the point that:

… words in resolutions and other documents, even in mandate formulations, only take us so far.  As we have heard today, we need to focus on practical steps to improve the situation for women and girls on the ground, rather than just the rhetoric.

This week Amnesty International released a media release that welcomed actions in the NAP that would see New Zealand troops and police trained, prior to deployment, on human rights and the protection needs of women and girls, such as in the deployment of troops to Iraq. In Amnesty’s view promoting greater respect for women’s rights is absolutely crucial in the context of the Iraq deployment. While WPS is still completely new to most military leaders there is some confidence that a realisation of just how important and useful it is, will continue to gain traction.

At the same time as welcoming aspects of the NAP, Amnesty’s Advocacy & Research Coordinator, Carsten Bockemuehl, expressed major reservations about its ability to help accelerate that traction, given its lack of “clear and specific targets, commitments and resources to support women in fragile and conflict-affected countries”.

Against the emphasis on ‘internal’ efforts to increase the number of New Zealand women participating at the frontline in international peace efforts and senior levels of decision-making, there was an absence of balancing effort to more directly support women “outside of New Zealand, in countries affected by conflict”.

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Carsten Bockemuehl: “Women civil society leaders and human rights defenders across the Pacific conduct crucial work in the struggle for peace. However, it’s a sad reality that they remain largely excluded from formal decision-making and processes to prevent conflict. The Pacific also continues to suffer from the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world. Let’s use this National Action Plan as a tool to change that.”

In quizzing Carsten about this response he commented that New Zealand is only just starting to systematically address its obligations under UNSCR 1325, and that it remains “still very new to everyone”.

“As outlined in the NAP, there have been initiatives in the past few years that were aimed at advancing women’s rights in conflict-affected countries – such as the community-policing projects in the Pacific – but without specifically referring to them as measures to implement UNSCR 1325”.

It’s fair enough that Amnesty don’t consider making statements at the UN real action. “We’ve had enough rhetoric over the last 15 years – what is needed now is concrete, specific, well-funded and robustly monitored actions to ensure that women are able to have their voices heard and to be protected from serious human rights violations,” said Carsten.

WHAT NEXT?

The NAP now enters an implementation period of five years, with governmental monitoring responsibility again falling to an interagency working group – endorsed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Police, Defence and Women’s Affairs. The working group will review progress on an annual basis – supplemented by consultations such as a parallel caucus with “civil society, including NGOs, intergovernmental organisations such as ICRC and others”.

Given Amnesty International had a key role in the NAP’s public consultation process earlier in the year, along with Women in International Security, and as it successfully recommended there be a parallel consultative caucus it will be keenly awaiting just what that will look like and to ensure a greater public visibility of WPS.

Australia in its term on the UN Security Council in 2013-2014 set a solid benchmark in its strong advocacy of Women, Peace and Security.

Whether New Zealand will come anywhere near to that same level in its UNSC term without having stated this as a priority, is a wide open question.

Recommended further reading: 


précis of THE NATIONAL ACTION PLAN

The opening text of the New Zealand National Action Plan for the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, including 1325, on Women, Peace & Security 2015–2019  contains two hard-to-ignore paragraphs worth quoting:

Even after conflict has ended the impacts of sexual and gender based violence against women and girls persist. Insecurity, impunity and social stigmatisation can then prevent women from accessing education, becoming financially independent and participating in governance and peace-building.

Moreover, women continue to be poorly represented in formal peace processes. In recent peace negotiations women have represented fewer than eight per cent of participants and fewer than three per cent of signatories. No woman has ever been appointed chief or lead mediator for the host-country side in United Nations sponsored peace talks.

This is where a National Action Plan (NAP) is needed to step up to the mark.

Within a UN rubric and alongside complementary strategies, each plan provides a framework based on “conceptualising actions and measuring progress in the women, peace and security agenda” around four thematic areas.

As outlined and initially addressed in the New Zealand NAP those four areas cover the following:

  • Prevention (of conflict and of violations of rights of women and girls): Incorporation of women’s perspectives into early warning systems, community awareness and prosecution of violators of women’s rights.
  • Participation: Creating and maintaining political pressure in international fora to ensure women’s involvement in decision making within fragile, conflict and post-conflict situations.
  • Protection: Increasing the number of New Zealand women deployed in police and military roles in UNSC mandated peacekeeping missions, international assistance missions and other peace keeping operations; improving the capability of peacekeeping and international assistance missions to respond to women’s needs; ensuring gender analysis informs New Zealand’s peace support responses and development assistance to countries affected by conflict; and promoting efforts to combat sexual violence, intimate partner violence and violence against women and girls in conflict affected countries, with special attention where New Zealand supports a development programme or post.
  • Peacebuilding, Relief and Recovery: Highlighting measures that engage women and address their needs in relief and recovery; redress for injustice; promoting New Zealand women as mediators and negotiators in international forums; and ensuring postconflict processes of national dialogue, transitional justice, reconciliation and post-conflict governance reforms are gender responsive.

The New Zealand NAP highlights a roll call of Selected Contributions that New Zealand is making to the agenda; some overtly gender-based, some not. The overriding emphasis is on New Zealand’s Pacific engagement, with short vignettes of actions taken across the region:

  • Bougainville, Papua New Guinea
  • Solomon Islands
  • Timor-Leste
  • The Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police (PICP) and PICP Women’s Advisory Network
  • The Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence Programme
  • The Partnership for Pacific Policing Programme

Additional references to activity in Afghanistan and the NZDF’s Regional Engagements are featured, with a number of activities noted as contributions to “the development and advancement of military women throughout the region” specific to 2015.

As a well-worn credential it almost goes without saying that a prominent mention is made in the NAP of New Zealand’s history as “the first self-governing country in the world to grant universal suffrage to women”. In a more contemporary context it was somewhat jarring then that two recent achievements by New Zealand women relevant to the United Nations were rightly lauded, but without either being actually named. One was the woman who served as the Deputy Special Representative and later Chief of Mission for the United Nations operation in Cyprus – namely Ann Hercus – and the “former New Zealand Prime Minister (who) took up the role of Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme” in 2009 – that would be Helen Clark.

A draft of the New Zealand NAP had been made available for public consultation in the first half of this year, with submissions closing on 20 May.

Since its consultation phase the NAP didn’t appear to change significantly but its total set of actions increased slightly from 17 to 20, with three additions for the thematic area of Prevention:

  • NZDF and NZ Police will include information on violations of women’s and girls’ human rights that occur during participation in UNSC mandated peacekeeping missions, international assistance missions and other peace keeping operations in their periodic reporting, according to mandate. (Action 4; NZDF and NZ Police)
  • NZDF and NZ Police will be responsive to and investigate any violations of the rights of women and girls that occur during participation in UNSCmandated peacekeeping missions, international assistance missions and other peace keeping operations, in line with relevant international standards. (Action 5; NZDF and NZ Police)
  • Where a credible allegation of the commission of a crime during a peace keeping operation is raised by the United Nations against a New Zealander, New Zealand will inform the United Nations of the progress of the investigation and prosecution process. (Action 6; NZDF, NZ Police and MFAT)

Finally some important modifiers, as displayed in bold, were added to these actions:

  • III Protection; 1: New Zealand will advocate at international fora to strengthen and amplify efforts to protect the human rights of women and girls, and ensure their physical and economic well-being, particularly their protection from sexual and gender-based violence in fragile, conflict and post conflict situations, their protection as civilians under international law and recognition of the impact on women and girls when family members go missing as a result of hostilities.
  • IV Peacebuilding, Relief and Recovery; 1: New Zealand will advocate at international fora for equality of access to resources, justice at the domestic and international level, and basic services for women and girls in peacebuilding, relief and recovery phases in conflicted affected countries. This may include access to gender specific medical, psychological and other assistance required by women and girls affected in armed conflict.

 

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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