By Sofia Todorova
The United Nations Association of Australia’s (UNAA) biannual conference was held in Canberra in August 2015. The conference this year was a celebration of sorts as it marked the 70th anniversary of the United Nations (UN). I was given the privilege of attending as the La Trobe University student representative and my trip was sponsored by Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR). ALHR’s Secretariat is based at La Trobe University’s Law School and students enrolled in the newly created subject, Human Rights Advocacy (HRA) collaborate with ALHR to assist with research work for ALHR submissions, development of memoranda, enquiries of governments and institutions, liaison with the ALHR National Committee and much more. Conference attendees included students, lawyers, politicians, long time UN staff members and humanitarian workers, who had been on the ground in camps in Rwanda and Afghanistan amongst others.
The UNAA conference was organised into a series of panels with each addressing varying relevant human rights issues. ‘Women in Conflict Zones’ was discussed during the Women’s Panel with special attention on the UNSCR 1325. UNSCR 1325 was passed unanimously by the Security Council on 31st October 2000 and Australia is a signatory. The resolution requires parties in conflict to protect women and girls from gender-based violence in conflict zones, and most pivotally to include women in the conflict-resolution process. Despite it being a UNSCR 1325 requirement this obligation is not being met by the global community and there is an overall lack of women’s inclusion in the peace making process.
On a practical level this is likely due to a lack of enforcement and implementation mechanisms. Unlike treaties (which are enforceable once ratification has occurred) the nature of Resolutions is that unless expressly stated, they operate without enforcement mechanisms and instead serve as guidelines.
Implementation mechanisms are important to ensure Resolutions go beyond the text and have real world application. In this case implementation mechanisms fail as there is no reference to accountability within the text of the Resolution and therefore there are no benchmarks and targets for measuring progress.
Despite the Resolution, rape and other sexual violence against women in conflict zones is still a qualitative, systemic and strategic method of warfare. This ineffectiveness is evidenced by UN reports which address increased rates of women’s sexual violence in war zones since the Resolution’s enactment. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has seen several UNSCR 1325-inspired initiatives launched. Despite these initiatives the increased number of conflict-based sexual attacks suggests a failure of implementation.
Between 2004 and 2008, approximately 300 Secretary General Reports were made to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) only 16 percent referred to gender issues more than once. This can be compared to the implementation of equally non-binding resolutions on child soldiers, which due to affective implementation mechanisms have been adopted on an almost global scale.
Women and girls are the main victims in war zones, so it is pivotal their voices are part of the resolution process. The notable absence of women’s voices at the UNAA Conference exemplifies a bigger problem which is that conflict zone gendered violence is not being taken seriously enough.
The UNAA Women’s Panel spoke of the need for amending the Resolution so it can facilitate what it originally intended to do. The solution may lie in the original draft of the UNSCR 1325, which included in it an ‘expert implementations panel’ and a recommendation that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have a ‘formal commitment to further the protection and development of women in conflict zones’ – for unclear reasons these were removed from the text of the final resolution.
Sofia Todorova is a feminist, activist, radical and anarchist. She is completing a Bachelor of Laws/ Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University.