Women, peace and security: the theme of Australia’s Security Council presidency

Women in Côte d'Ivoire gather to celebrate International Women's Day in Abidjan. UN Photo/Ky Chung
Women inCôte d’Ivoire gather to celebrate International Women’s Day in Abidjan. UN Photo/Ky Chung

A priority mentioned in Australian speeches and statements to the United Nations this year – Women, Peace and Security (WPS) – is likely to feature as the key “theme” of Australia’s presidency of the Security Council. 

But what is the WPS agenda? What progress has been made so far, and – given our support has been stronger in rhetoric than practice – what can Australia do better?

First published by The Conversation, 30 August 2013

Susan Harris-Rimmer and Hilary Charlesworth

Just before the election was called, foreign minister Bob Carr confirmed that:

…[a] key priority for Australia on the council — particularly during our presidency in September — will be to highlight the important leadership role women can play in ensuring long-lasting peace in fragile post‑conflict societies.

The presidency carries great responsibility for holding the crisis management powers of the Security Council bestowed under the UN Charter. It also offers the opportunity to frame an agenda that carries forward the broader themes of the Security Council, which includes the WPS agenda since 2000.

About the WPS agenda

The Women, Peace and Security agenda appears in a cluster of UN Security Council Resolutions. The groundbreakingResolution 1325 was adopted in 2000 with an agenda framed on the premise that women and girls experience conflict differently from men and boys. It affirmed that women have an essential role in conflict prevention, peace building and post-conflict reconstruction and that governments are required to ensure women are represented in all levels of decision-making.

Later resolutions reaffirmed the first. The most recent isResolution 2106, adopted in July this year, which focused on prevention of sexual violence in conflict and increasing the participation of more women in the UN’s own “good offices” roles in mediating conflict and negotiating peace.

The UN Secretary-General has also appointed a Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, whose mandate includes empowering women to seek redress,ending impunity for conflict-related sexual violence and increasing recognition of rape.

One key action in terms of WPS is for states to design and implement National Action Plans. Australia launched aNational Action Plan in 2012. So far, only around 40 countries have implemented National Action Plans. However, few are funded, and there is little or no baseline data for many of the actions. It seems that institutional commitment to WPS is more rhetorical than real.

In some cases, even the rhetoric has proven controversial. In the last two years, debates on the thematic agendas have been criticised as extending beyond the Security Council’s mandate, such as the focus on sexual violence during election turmoil. But there is some evidence that WPS issues are being considered more routinely in debates.

What will Australia do?

Australia will host a “side event” on September 6 focused on women’s leadership in peace-building. The event is intended to be an interactive meeting between civil society, field practitioners and peace-building and gender experts of Security Council delegations, with an Asia-Pacific focus. Australia will also launch a publication by London-based NGOConciliation Resources entitled Women building peace. There are essays from women in strife-torn places such Somalia, West Africa, Aceh and Cambodia.

As chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), Croatia, together with UN Women, will hold a high-level meeting on women’s economic empowerment in post-conflict peace-building during leaders’ week in late September.

Australia is working closely with Croatia on planning for this event to highlight the close links between the work of the PBC and the UNSC on women’s leadership in post-conflict peace-building.

There are a number of other opportunities for Australia to focus on WPS in September. For example, the UK is planning a high-level event on its Champions Initiative as part of its program to prevent sexual violence.

What more should Australia do?

A positive aspect of the government’s current plans is a clear focus on the participation of women, which is at the heart of the WPS agenda. This differentiates Australia’s focus from the theme so far this year on the protection of women against sexual violence during conflict.

Bringing peace-building experts to talk to gender experts is important, as these experts are often operating within UN silos. So too is presenting the evidence for why these issues deserve to be at the centre of the agenda and not at the margins.

To do this using the direct voice of women involved – such asSister Lorraine in Papua New Guinea – is crucial.

Another positive aspect of Australia’s plans is to strengthen some of the Security Council architecture such as thePeacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Support Office. It is also important to bring an Asia-Pacific perspective to the debates of the Security Council, which is often heavily focused on Africa. There has been significant civil society consultation, both here and in New York, and civil society actors from the field will be involved.

However, there are also disappointing aspects of the current plans. For example, why is Australia planning simply side events on WPS? There is an array of other mechanisms within the Security Council processes, including a presidential statement and open debate that are recorded in the official proceedings.

Of course, Australia has the opportunity to raise WPS during the business of the Security Council as it plays out in crisis mode. This could be in the sanctions committees and the drafting of mandates, country-based debates and budget decisions – not just in September but for our whole term on the council. Civil society should keep on Australia’s case about this. For example, Australia could draw attention to theevidence that the major cause of flight for Syrian refugees was sexual violence.

The timing of the election has clearly cast a pall over Australia’s first presidency. Let’s hope that Australia starts planning now for a more impressive presidency stint next November.


Security Council sanctions: can Australia make a difference?

Gary Quinlan (second from left), Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN and President of the Security Council for the month of September, briefs members in his capacity as Chairman of the Council’s 1737 Sanctions Committee on Iran. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
Gary Quinlan (second from left), Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN and President of the Security Council for the month of September, briefs members in his capacity as Chairman of the Council’s 1737 Sanctions Committee on Iran. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

For the United Nations Security Council, sanctions are an important instrument in addressing threats to international peace and security. They usually take the form of controls and bans on travel, trade in specified goods and services, and on financial dealings with designated persons and entities.

first published by The Conversation 29 August 2013

Christopher Michaelsen and Maire-Eve Loiselle

Since it assumed its role as a non-permanent member of the Security Council in January this year, Australia has been playing a leadership role in chairing three subsidiary bodies of the council mandated to implement UN sanctions: the 1267 Committee on Al-Qaida, the 1988 Committee on the Taliban, and the 1737 Committee on Iran.

It would be foolish to expect that we could instigate widespread reform, in particular if permanent council members like the United States, Russia or China remain sceptical or indeed opposed to further changes. We should nonetheless consider options and opportunities to strengthen the mandate of the Ombudsperson when the 1267 regime comes before the Security Council for extension in June 2014.

The first UN sanctions regimes were comprehensive in that they were directed at states as a whole. But in the late 1990s, it became apparent that such comprehensive sanctions had devastating effects on the innocent population without affecting the regime in power. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s was a case in point.

In response, the council developed “smart” sanctionstargeting specifically identified individuals and entities within states, including an increasing number of non-state actors. Over the last decade, individualised sanctions regimes have proliferated.

The individualisation of UN sanctions, however, has not been accompanied by the creation of effective mechanisms for individuals to challenge the measures targeting them. At the UN level, no judicial or quasi-judicial institutions exist to provide an avenue of appeal. What’s more, recourse to national courts and tribunals tends to be unavailable as these generally lack jurisdiction to review Security Council resolutions.

It is therefore unsurprising that the UN sanctions regimes – the 1267 regime in particular – have been criticised for their lack of due process. Nonetheless, reform has been slow. The most significant development has been the establishment of an Ombudsperson mechanism in 2009 which now allows listed individuals and entities to petition the 1267 Committee for delisting.

While this represents a significant improvement, there is still no obligation for the 1267 Committee or the Security Council to delist a targeted individual or entity if certain requirements are met. Just last month, the European Court of Justice (ECJ)expressed its concerns about the current system. In the Kadi II case, the court held that the lack of effective judicial protection at the UN level required that EU courts proceed to an indirect judicial review of contested listings.

So, what can Australia do in its capacity as chair of three sanctions committees and non-permanent member of the Security Council to address the due process shortcomings?

Some of these options are technical and perhaps politically uncontroversial, but they would have a significant impact on the overall fairness of the process. For instance, the Ombudsperson currently does not have a mandate to follow up in cases where individuals and entities are officially delisted in New York, but where this delisting has not been implemented by states in practice with the consequence that assets freeze and travel restrictions remained in place.

But we should also not lose sight of the bigger picture and consider advocating for extending the Ombudsperson procedure to other UN sanctions regimes. At present, 14 of these regimes operate lists targeting individuals and entities. Yet, the Ombudsperson procedure is only available to those listed by the 1267 Committee. In one case, this has led to the absurd outcome that an individual was delisted from the 1267 list, only to be relisted on the sanctions list of the Committee on Somalia and Eritrea.

It is clear that such broader structural reform requires sustained political will. It is also clear that Australia’s capacity to tackle these broader endemic challenges is limited. But it can nonetheless play an important role in keeping the issue on the agenda, even if immediate progress seems politically unlikely.

The debate on the due process concerns of the UN sanctions regimes is therefore not only about justice for listed individuals and entities per se. Rather, it is also about the system that we want to build. If we want to go beyond the state and target individuals considered to constitute a threat to international peace and security, we should also give them standing to defend themselves. The issue is therefore closely related to the Security Council’s credibility in general.

As the council is becoming more concerned with human rights violations, it should practice what it preaches and operate in line with decent procedures. Australia should make the most out of its presidency of the Security Council and push for continued reform in this regard.

Will Australia make the most of its Security Council presidency?

UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré. Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of Australia.

As the federal election calls Australian attention to matters domestic, our diplomats are preparing for one of their most demanding briefs. On September 1, Australia becomes President of the United Nations Security Council.

Will Australia make the most of its opportunity? Or will politics at home overshadow this crucial role?

first published by The Conversation28 August 2013

Jeremy Farrall and Jeni Whalan

The Security Council is the world’s preeminent authority on matters of international security. It is accorded primary responsibility under the UN Charter for identifying threats to the peace and determining appropriate global responses.

The presidency of the Security Council offers a rare opportunity for Australia to promote its foreign policy agenda within this powerful body, usually by focusing the council’s 15 members on a particular issue of concern. Historically, council presidents have used their tenure to tackle such important issues as preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, protecting civilians in conflict, and promoting justice and the rule of law.

September is a big month at the UN. Not only will our diplomats need to contend with the distractions of the Australian election, they also face a demanding list of precarious international situations before the Security Council.

Last week’s allegations that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against civilians will demand the council’s attention. However, the Syrian conflict exposes the deep political divisions between the council’s permanent members. Russiaand China have repeatedly blocked proposals from the United States, Britain and France for action against the Syrian government. Russian support for an independent UN investigation of the chemical weapons attack is a positive move, but is not expected to lead to Security Council consensus on further action.

Meanwhile, the council is also managing fragile conditions in countries around the world. These include the Democratic Republic of Congo, where earlier this year the council authorised the UN’s first combat peacekeeping operation; the Central African Republic, where deteriorating political, security and humanitarian crises have left 1.6 million people in dire need of assistance, half of them children; and Sudan and South Sudan, where violent conflict and humanitarian crises have occupied the council in 17 meetings this year alone.

Further, the council currently oversees 31 peacekeeping and field-based political missions spanning the globe, including the hotspots of AfghanistanMali and Somalia.

Given the international turmoil and domestic election campaign, why does Australia take on the presidency in September? The simple reason is that the Security Council presidency rotates on a monthly basis according to which country comes next in the English alphabet.

Due to our favourable alphabetical position, Australia was actually the first ever president of the Security Council. On Thursday January 17, 1946, the council’s inaugural meeting was called to order by none other than Australian Norman Makin. The presidency is currently held by Argentina, which will hand us the presidential baton at 12.01 am on Sunday September 1. We will then dutifully pass it to Azerbaijan at 12.01 am on Tuesday October 1. The monthly presidential rotation also means that Australia will have a second opportunity to be president in November 2014.

So what can we expect Australia to do in September while it holds the presidency? As president, we will set the Security Council’s agenda, chair its meetings, sign off on formal correspondence and speak to the press as the official voice of the council. Savvy past presidents have also taken advantage of their position to promote Security Council policy refinements.

If Australia’s performance to date on the council is any indication, then the day-to-day business of the Security Council should proceed smoothly and effectively. Our delegation will undoubtedly fulfil its chairing responsibilities diligently and professionally. But it would be terrific if Australia could use its presidency to deliver more durable improvements in the Security Council’s effectiveness and credibility.

The scheduling of national elections for September was less than ideal for our Security Council presidency. Normally, a September presidency would be a golden opportunity to shape the council’s approach to pressing issues of the day. This is because heads of state and government from the UN’s 193 member states will converge on New York in the third week of September for the annual UN General Assemblyleaders’ week.

An Australian prime minister could therefore preside over a leaders’ level Security Council meeting on their favoured cause, with potential attendees including presidents Obama, Putin, Jinping and Hollande, as well as UK prime minister David Cameron. This would represent a full house of thePermanent Five members.

In the past, September presidents have shone the spotlight on protecting children affected by armed conflict (Germany in 2012), preventing nuclear proliferation (United States in 2009) and maintaining peace and security in Africa (France in 2007).

At the time of writing, Australia has still not announced what its flagship presidency theme will be. Insiders suggest that a rabbit is waiting to be pulled out of the presidency hat. It might be promoting a greater role for women in peace-building, protecting civilians in Syria, strengthening the rule of law in countries emerging from conflict or banning illegal trade in small arms and light weapons.

In light of recent Syrian events and Australia’s own historic role in the successful conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention over 20 years ago, this would also be an opportune moment to devote renewed energy to arms control.

Let us hope that Australia makes the most of this opportunity to promote an important theme that will improve the effectiveness and credibility of the Security Council. If we can do this, then we might be remembered not just as a country that worked hard as council president, but as one whose hard work in that position made a difference.