Women, Peace and Security in the Work of the UN Security Council


University of Fribourg

Speaker: State Secretary, Pascale Baeriswyl

From the perspective of policy and international law, the history of the UN Security Council's regulatory framework on gender issues is a unique example of innovative pioneer work. At the same time, it exposes the Security Council's overall shortcomings when it comes to implementation. 

The regulatory framework on women, peace and security consists principally of eight thematic resolutions (1325 [2000], 1820 [2008], 1888 [2009], 1889 [2009], 1960 [2010], 2106 [2013], 2122 [2013], 2242 [2015]). In addition, several other Security Council’s resolutions are considered as part of the WPS agenda (in particular resolution 2272 [2016] and 2331 [2016]) although they were adopted under different agenda items. Lastly, numerous presidential statements and many references within country resolutions or in the context of sanctions regimes reinforce the regulatory framework. 

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) was adopted in the year 2000. It was the year of the first review process of the Beijing Platform of Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Also in that period of time fell the UN Security Council’s missions’ failings in Rwanda, Srebrenica and Somalia, which led to the set-up of the UN Security Council’s protection architecture. UNSCR1325 was adopted following UNSCR 1265 (1999) and 1296 (2000) on Protection of Civilians (POC) and UNSCR 1261 and 1314 (both in 2000) on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), thus completing the protection architecture, which has since been upheld by these three – interconnected – pillars. 

UNSCR 1325 is remarkable inasmuch as it was the first and still is one of the only UN Security Council resolutions that came about in the context of a strong movement of civil society in combination with leadership from elected Council members from the South (Bangladesh, Namibia, Jamaica and Mali). It is substantially broader than its sister resolutions, and – in addition to prevention and protection - it includes the role of women in peace processes and conflict management and resolution (prevention, protection and participation [PPP]). The invitation to all member states to draw up a national action plan (NAP) is another ground-breaking aspect of the resolution as it recognised early on the need for an interplay between the international and national levels (and between international and domestic legislation). This inspired the implementation mechanism of UNSCR 1540 (non-proliferation) as well as the sanction regimes, and today is being discussed in particular in counterterrorism. The inclusion of civil society in the elaboration of the resolution and the involvement of the national level have contributed to the fact that today, UNSCR 1325 is one of the UN Security Council's best-known resolutions worldwide. However, there is little correlation between this prominence and how effectively the resolution has been implemented. The very combination of participation and protection as well as lacking or inconsistent political will resulted in the implementation of UNSCR 1325 quickly falling behind that of its sister resolutions. The WPS agenda also lacked institutional integration into the UN system, unlike PoC (with OCHA) or CAAC (with UNICEF). It was not until the creation of UN Women in 2011 that the WPS agenda gained an institutional backup within the system. 

With the creation of the special tribunals on former Yugoslavia (UNSCR 808 [1993]) and Rwanda (UNSCR 955 [1994]), the Security Council laid the foundation for criminal jurisdiction on sexual violence in conflicts and for the subsequent inclusion of a definition of the crime in the Rome Statute. With the verdict in the case of Jean-Paul Akayesu[1], for the first time an international court found that sexual violence had been used as a weapon of war and constituted a key element in qualifying the crime as genocide. The work of the special tribunals and the serious offences committed in the context of the conflict in the DRC resulted in the Security Council recognising sexual violence as a threat to peace and security in 2008. 

With UNSCR 1888, for the first time the Security Council created a special representative of the UN Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflicts (SRSG-SVIC) reporting directly to the Security Council (the special representative for CAAC's mandate was created by the UN General Assembly) and, with UNSCR 1960 – using the same model as the protection mechanism for CAAC – established Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Arrangements (MARA). UNSCR 1960 also strengthened the relation to Chapter VII[2] of the UN Charter by associating the MARA framework and the special representative with the Council's sanctions system and by recommending that women protection advisors, who could report to the MARA framework, be included in field missions. An annex was incorporated into the Secretary-General's report listing parties to conflicts responsible for patterns of rape or other forms of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict on the Security Council agenda. 

In 2009, another ground-breaking development occurred with the adoption of UNSCR 1889, which followed the broader tradition of UNSCR 1325. It provided for the development of a system of indicators for the work of the Security Council in general in order to measure its effectiveness in implementing a Security Council resolution (political benchmarking). 

In 2015, 15 years after the adoption of UNSCR 1325, the UN Secretary-General commissioned a comprehensive ‘Global Study’ on the implementation of the resolutions in the field of women, peace and security, the conclusions of which had an influence on UNSCR 2242. Interesting developments include the linking of the WPS agenda with the discussion on the prevention of violent extremism, as well as the creation of an informal group within the Security Council (as has already been in place for the PoC agenda for many years), mandated to promote the coherency of the WPS agenda within the general work of the Security Council from now on. 

In March 2016 the Security Council rounded out the body of rules relating to gender – after a number of scandals relating to sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, especially in Chad – with UNSCR 2272. The aim of this resolution is to add authority to the UN Secretary-General's zero tolerance policy and to provide the threat of consequences for violations of this policy despite the immunities enjoyed by UN mission personnel, for example through recalling entire national contingents. 

And finally, in December 2016, the Security Council adopted UNSCR 2331 on combatting human trafficking, in which it highlighted the fact that the majority of trafficking victims were women and girls and that the response of the member states must include special attention to their rights. Amongst others, it encouraged states to include considerations regarding women, peace and security in national engagements against trafficking in persons, and to build strong partnerships with the private sector and civil society, including local women organisations. 

Consequently, the UN Security Council now has a well-established rulebook with numerous tools, including reference to the enforcement measures under Chapter VII. 

Women, peace and security undoubtedly benefits from a strong universal support. As mentioned before, the resolutions however fall short of their implementation. Since 2016, civil society organisations have urged the Security Council to abstain from issuing further resolutions and focus on the operationalisation of the existing resolutions. To that purpose, a network of national focal points on WPS has been created – Switzerland is part of it. Finally, an increase of activities on national and international level in the WPS agenda is expected in the months to come, since UNSCR 1325 will celebrate 20 year of existence in 2020.

[1] Prosecutor v. Akayesu, Case No. ICTR-96-4, Judgment (Sept. 2, 1998).

[2] Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter sets out the UN Security Council's powers to maintain peace. It allows the Council to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and to take military and nonmilitary action to "restore international peace and security".