‘Women, Peace and Security’ ~ Michelle Bachelet speaks in Norway

Women, Peace and Security

Remarks of Michelle Bachelet United Nations Under-Secretary-General Executive Director of UN Women at panel discussion on ‘Women, Peace and Security’. Litteraturhuset Oslo, Norway, 14 October 2011.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded last week to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen: three women who courageously and tirelessly promote peace and democracy. The Nobel Committee sent a strong message around the world: Peace and Security is advanced through the participation and leadership of women.

As I understand it, some of the members of the Nobel Committee are here today. Let me congratulate them for their courageous and forward looking decision. If this prize vindicates the work that we do at UN Women, it serves first and foremost as a call to action. We have to work so much more on increasing women’s empowerment, participation and leadership. Access to justice has to be a top priority to make these goals a reality. In fact our first flagship report which we launched earlier this year “In Pursuit of Justice” is focused just on that: access to justice for women in all areas of life.

Our panel today focuses on women’s access to justice in conflict and post-conflict situations. I couldn’t think of a better place to hold this conversation than here, in Oslo. Norway has indeed been committed to the issue of Women, Peace and Security for a long time. Let me applaud you in this regard for adopting a newly revised, strong and comprehensive National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security for 2011-2013, earlier this year. Norway has also been a strong supporter of UN Women from the get-go. And we are glad and proud to have Norway as a member of our Board.

” Dear friends. I hope you won’t mind if I call you friends as I really feel amongst friends here.

Dear friends, we all know that women have become one of the principal victims of conflicts over the past few decades. Women are of course the direct victims of violence, including sexual violence used as a weapon of war and we are all haunted by the stories that we heard of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But when fields, schools, villages are destroyed, it is also women who usually suffer the most as they are the ones who care and provides for the communities.

We all feel like we have known this for a long time and yet it wasn’t so long ago that the issue of justice for women in conflict situation and post-conflict situation was all but entirely ignored. I can take you back for instance to 2004 when the UN published an important report on the Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies. All you could find in that report regarding women was one reference describing women as one of the categories that needed specific attention, along with a number of other categories, including children, minorities, etc. But there wasn’t a deepened focus on women or on the need for gender responsiveness in justice systems and the rule of law. I know: I find that shocking too.

The good news however is that in recent years, we have accomplished much progress at the normative level in our efforts to secure justice for violations women experience during conflict. The United Nations and the international community have awoken to a world which encompasses women: the real world.

Today, we have an architecture of international justice that recognizes sexual violence as a war crime, a crime against humanity, and a possible constituent act of genocide. There have been ground-breaking cases before international and domestic courts that have established precedent in this regard. In fact at this very moment, the ICC is hearing a case focused nearly entirely on sexual violence with a bench of 3 women judges and a lead prosecutor who is also a woman.

Truth commissions have evolved to mandate minimal protections for gender-based crimes, representation of women, specific mention of sexual violence crimes in their mandate and dedicated gender units and women’s hearings. Reparations programmes in some countries are specifically identifying sexual violence survivors as prioritized beneficiaries. We now have UN Security Council resolutions dedicated to issues of women, peace and security and the Secretary General has produced last year a ground breaking report on Women in Peacebuilding.

Despite these important gains, the experience of women during and after conflict continues to be one of insecurity, violence and impunity.

For many women, peace ushers in neither security nor justice. It simply means the continuance of violence by other means. Changing this reality will require identifying and seizing strategic entry points for securing women’s access to justice. It will also require some rethinking of the basic assumptions on which we have built transitional justice, including the meaning of justice, the tools we use to secure justice post-conflict, and the violations for which we seek redress.

The focus, for example, on state level processes, such as truth commissions and courts, neglects that, for the vast majority of women, accountability starts in the community, where former perpetrators, combatants, victims and the displaced must live together and find a new modus vivendi. But it is here where insecurity generally prevails, threatening women and those most vulnerable.

Transforming transitional justice processes may require rethinking of the time frame for which we are taking action. For example, a woman raped by a soldier a day before a peace agreement is signed may be covered by a truth commission and reparations programme. However those women who continue to be violated as a result of the legacy of the conflict — the easy access to weapons, lack of accountability or vetting in demobilization processes, amongst other factors — may be excluded from access to any form of justice.

Then, there is a need for a rethinking of the violations for which we seek justice. Only in the recent past has sexual violence been prosecuted as a serious crime of international law. This is critical. But gender-based crimes experienced by women are broader than just sexual violence. Violations of social and economic and cultural rights are disproportionately experienced by women. The destruction of civilian infrastructure places increased burdens on those who traditionally care for the family, and forced displacement, in addition to being a crime in itself, increases women’s vulnerability to sexual violence. As the Norwegian National Action Plan points out so rightfully, we need to build up a security and justice sector that meets the whole population’s needs.

Next we must look at the mechanisms of justice which we prioritize. Millions of dollars are spent on supporting international prosecution processes each year. Criminal justice and prosecution of individual perpetrators is critical. A new country cannot be built on a foundation of impunity. But the focus on prosecutorial justice must be matched by an equal prioritization of reparative justice, as the most victim-centred transitional justice measures. The balance must be there, as mentioned, between punishing those guilty and repairing the harm done to the victims.

For women in particular, reparations programmes can provide acknowledgement of their rights as equal citizens, a measure of justice, as well as crucial resources of recovery. It is insufficient to only prosecute a handful of perpetrators or to ask women to share their stories before a commission or even to hand out individual compensation in the form of reparations to achieve the goals of sustainability and a culture of human rights. Reparation programmes must therefore have a strong economic development component. For years, we have given ex-soldiers and rebels jobs and salaries as part of DDR programs. It is about time that we start focusing on the economic empowerment of the women who were victims of the crimes, so that they can regain control of their lives and work for the reconstruction of their communities. For there will be no real justice for women without economic independence.

Lastly, transitional justice processes also need to be able to fulfill a key objective, which is the guarantee of non-repetition. In order for this to happen, justice must encompass gender justice as a central feature, and reforms must address inequality and the overall context of injustice to ensure that violence does not simply continue for the majority of the population in new forms.

Now, just a word on what UN Women is doing to further women’s access to justice post-conflict. We are working with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish minimal standards of gender responsiveness in truth commissions, reparations programmes and related bodies. And we are also supporting the UN to establish markers and mainstream good practice through its own technical support to these institutions.

With the same partner, we are also creating guidance for the UN system for strengthening reparations for sexual violence crimes.

With the UN Development Program, we are exploring the relations between reparations and development, to further justice and economic recovery as part of peacebuilding strategies.

Whilst reparations and development are two distinct rights, all efforts must be made to strengthen reparations programmes and ensure that they have both a sustainable and transformative impact in women’s lives. By involving development practitioners, building state capacity to carry out effective national consultations, and strengthening the institutions needed to deliver reparations, as well as linking these programmes to target development programmes, reparations programmes can achieve these goals.

With the UN Department of Political Affairs, we have been developing guidance for mediators to ensure that sexual violence crimes are integrated into peace talks and all aspects of peace agreements, from cease-fire monitoring to justice, demobilization programmes and reparations programmes. I know that this is an area of work that will speak to some of you as Norway has been leading the way in providing support for mediation programs, including through the Mediation Support Unit Project. We are supporting women’s groups to be part of peace processes, and ensuring their demands, including those for justice, are heard. In particular, we are supporting an increase in the number of women on the peace table so the final agreement reflects women’s experience and the need for justice and recovery.

Beyond these specific programs, it is really all the work that we do and are committed to do at UN Women that will support access to justice for women in the long run; in times of conflicts as in times of peace. If we want countries to implement in depth reforms guaranteeing women’s access to justice, we need to ensure that women are fully empowered. This is why we have made women’s political and economic empowerment one of our priorities. This is why we are working hard right now to support women who are participating in the Arab Spring so that they can participate in the political transition process. In fact, when I leave Norway on Saturday I will be heading to Cairo to a workshop on political participation that we are co-organizing for women from the region and in which Nobel Peace prize laureate Tawakkul Karman will participate.

I started by talking of the Nobel peace prize and now that I returned to it, I feel it is more than time for me to stop. As I often do, I am afraid that I have gone over my time limit. I hope you can blame it on my passion and enthusiasm.

Thank you very much and I look forward to dialoguing with you and to the work we will do together in the years to come.

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