Archive | February, 2012

Opening of CSW 56 with Special Focus on Empowering Rural Women through Technology

28 Feb

Yesterday marked the opening of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), organized for the first time in conjunction with UN-Women. Madame Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN-Women, offered remarks to the Commission chaired this year by Ambassador Marjon Kamara of Liberia. In addition to the theme of this year’s CSW on the situation of rural women, Madame Bachelet drew particular attention to the assistance needed for Palestinian women as well as women and children kidnapped and subsequently imprisoned in armed conflict. Madame Bachelet called for adoption of concrete actions for empowering rural women, women who represent one out of every four people in the world, over the next two weeks of the CSW. As aptly noted by many of the speakers in the opening session, empowering women is not only good for women, but it is good for peace and, therefore, for humanity.

Ms. Bachelet succinctly outlined the social, cultural, economic and political barriers impeding rural women’s participation and, in turn, the development of the entire community. Ms. Bachelet provided  examples of improved communities around the globe, such as Egyptian women being able to sign up for ID cards for access to health care, suffrage and education, as well as the more than 1 million women who have been asked to sit on rural village boards throughout India.

Ms. Bachelet also described another phenomenal form of development and its connection to women- Information Communication Technology for Development (ICTD). ICTD was referenced as it relates to a global survey conducted by the GSMA Development Fund. She reported that 93 percent of women surveyed felt safer with a mobile phone, 85 percent of women felt more independent with a mobile phone, and 41 percent had increased their economic opportunities by being mobile and connected. Other speakers such as Elizabeth Atangania of the Pan-African Farmer’s Forum also outlined the benefits of connecting women with resources and access explaining that mobile technology can be a helpful tool in aiding this process.

The exponential effects of a mobile phone were specifically underscored for their powerful influence on women’s empowerment, whether economic, political, social or otherwise. Ms. Bachelet noted, “And here I want to talk about mobile phones because they are changing lives and strengthening economic enterprises. Whether it’s information about credit, markets, weather updates, transportation or health services, mobile phones are changing the way rural women and men obtain services and conduct business.” One need not look much farther than the events associated with the Arab Spring over the last year and the tremendous impact of mobile technologies, social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, and other real-time updates from the ground by women and men alike.

These new technologies are key components to bridging the divide between men and women, rural and urban, as well as granting access and mobilization opportunities, most especially for rural women who are so often removed from the center of political discourse. In the context of social networking, these tools have a multiplier effect that ultimately give a voice to any woman that has a mobile phone and internet connection. Therefore, we sincerely hope that this year’s CSW will form concrete and actionable recommendations for improving the situation of rural women such that their voices can be heard buttressed by greater access to information and resources through these new technologies.

–Shea Molloy and Katherine Prizeman

Sexual Violence in Conflict, Small Arms, and Key Linkages

27 Feb

The Security Council, under the presidency of Togo, hosted an open debate on sexual violence in armed conflict featuring briefings from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative Margot Wallstrom, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous, and a statement from Libyan activist Ms. Amina Megheirbi representing the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. Although unable to adopt a Presidential Statement condemning such violence or a public statement on follow-up to Resolution 1960 (2010), the Council did express relatively unanimous support for Ms. Wallstrom’s mandate to alert the members to instances of sexual violence in conflict as well as increasing the effectiveness of the 1960 mandate through better coordination and information sharing. Member states were also supportive of the inclusion of a new mandate for Women Protection Advisers in peacekeeping operations. The debate was held just a few weeks after the Secretary-General released a  new report on ‘Conflict-related Sexual Violence’ on 13 January 2012.

Ms. Wallstrom noted in her statement that no one could remain unmoved by the striking country examples found in the most recent SG report, which she identified as already a ‘bit out of date’ and but one tool to combat the scourge of sexual violence in conflict. She referred to instances in Guinea, Syria, and Libya and poignantly stated that in contemporary wars it is more dangerous to be a women collecting firewood than a solider on the front line. More broadly, Special Representative Wallstrom also emphasized country level information moving effectively to the Council as well as robust support for government initiatives to combat impunity. Expanding the ‘naming and shaming’ listing was also identified as one way in which perpetrators could more effectively be held accountable.

Nonetheless, perhaps most importantly, Ms. Wallstrom classified the issue of conflict-related sexual violence as not a women’s issue, but a security issue with much wider peace and security implications than particular instances of rape. This point is particularly important for Global Action as we strive to link such issues to other components of the broader human security agenda. Not only can rape serve as a precursor to conflict, a diagnostic of pre-conflict conditions, and a symptom of impunity, it is also evidence of a weak and insufficient security sector. As is often said by proponents of the women, peace and security agenda, there is no security without women’s security and the aim is not only to protect women from violence, but to also encourage their active participation in political and economic life. A robust sector sector will indubitably support such participation as well as enhance protection mechanisms needed to eliminate such sexual violence in and out of conflict.

Indicative of these linkages, the delegate of Germany also referred to the proliferation of small arms and its dire effects on violence against women and children. It is a fact that women are disproportionately affected by gun violence in communities. Furthermore, the ready availability of small arms undoubtedly facilitates grave crimes such as sexual and gender-based violence, which is almost always committed at the point of a gun. Better gun control mechanisms, including a robust Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that is to be negotiated this July as well as better implementation of the UN Programme of Action on small arms, are essential to a more dependable security sector and, in turn, protections for women against sexual violence and, just as critical, participation opportunities.

As Special Representative Wallstrom noted, the response to conflict-related sexual violence must be gender-focused and community-based. Communities must deal with this issue as part of a bundle of security issues that pose a threat to the well-being of its citizens– including small arms proliferation, gender-based violence, and lack of women’s access to political and economic life. We fully support the mandate of Ms. Wallstrom and her staff and hope that continued emphasis on the broad security implications of sexual violence will bear more robust and effective response mechanisms for communities suffering from such blights.

–Katherine Prizeman

Worry on Many Fronts for the #Armstreaty

22 Feb

The ATT preparatory committee completed its work last week during the fourth and final session of its series of meetings. Diplomats were able to adopt rules of procedure and a report on its work during all four preparatory meeting.

With each passing day, there seemed to be more urgency and anxiety around completing the preparatory process of the ATT—making state positions clearly known on substance, gathering and approving the necessary background documents, and adopting some semblance of rules of procedure. Also prevalent in the undertones of many statements and interventions was an air of worry over tackling too much or too little in the months remaining until the negotiating conference.

Some delegations focused this angst on completion of a comprehensive compendium of views from all four of the previous preparatory committee sessions. Cuba’s delegate made the case that national experts—military, trade, and legal—would benefit from this sort of document in their deliberations back in capital prior to the negotiations in July.  The European Union and Swiss delegations expressed doubt over the usefulness of this burdensome task for the Secretariat claiming that statements and positions are already available on the UNODA website. Algeria’s representative, whose delegation first brought up the idea of a compendium during the last Prep Com, disagreed stating that such statements on the UNODA website were incomplete and member states should have access to alternatives not reflected in the Chair’s Paper from 14 July 2011. Likewise, the Nicaraguan representative reiterated support for a compendium document reflecting updated states’ views. Belize’s delegation stated that any document, including such a compilation, would have to be reviewed and approved by member states before its inclusion in background documentation for the negotiating conference. The Iranian delegation reiterated the need to have all documents related to the conference—the SG’s report on states’ views, the Report from the GGE, and the Draft Report on the Prep Com among others—to be available to all member states in the interim.

Other delegations focused intently on completing and adopting rules of procedure before close of discussions for fear that negotiations will seriously be hindered without clear and agreed upon provisions. The Costa Rican delegation noted that the rules of procedure must facilitate negotiations rather than hinder them. The Indonesia delegate referred to a certain level of awkwardness that may come about if during the July negotiations the rules of procedure would need to be amended. As such, the delegate called for including a stipulation in the rules of procedure that they could be changed by consensus. More generally, Morocco implored all member states to stay focused on the rules of procedure and the Chairman’s report.

Some delegations focused their worry on particular substantive aspects of the treaty. Sweden’s delegation cautioned against an outright ban against arms transfers to non-state actors as industry would fall under this category and such cross-border industry cooperation is important and likely to increase among states. The delegation of Malaysia focused on the overall goal of the ATT and stated that reference to corruption, legal and victims’ assistance would serve to detract from the main objective of an ATT– completion of a legal and trade agreement. Contrastingly, the Chilean and Sierra Leonean delegation claimed that there is an undeniable humanitarian element to the ATT in addition to the legal regulations negotiated. Nigeria’s delegate took the opportunity to reiterate the necessity of including ammunition in the treaty’s scope.

It comes as no surprise that there is much anxiety still remaining on many fronts. As this final Prep Com concluded, delegations continued to make those anxieties known in the waning days of official preparations. The task at hand is complex and wrought with substantive and procedural challenges. However, the important thing to bear in mind is that the lack of international standards for the transfer of conventional arms is a severe blight on the world community and needs remedying. Furthermore, the distinct air of anxiety among diplomats illustrates just how important filling this crack in international law truly is.

For more reporting, analysis and documents from the Prep Com, please see Reaching Critical Will.

–Katherine Prizeman

4th ATT Prep Com: Time to be Realistic and Concrete

7 Feb

As diplomats and civil society alike prepare for the final preparatory committee in the Arms Trade Treaty process, it is important to take note of the original intent and point of consensus behind the initiation of the process: despite difficult and complex political considerations, there is general and widespread support for negotiating an ATT indicating a majority opinion that arms transfers should operate according to a common set of international standards. How those standards will be negotiated, who will ‘monitor’ compliance with these standards, and how much latitude will be allowed for more robust and explicit ‘disarmament’ language remains to be seen.

There are many questions remaining, including the most basic of all: What is the goal and objective of such a treaty? Differing answers to this question present a complex challenge for both this Prep Com as well as the July Negotiating Conference. There is ultimately no philosophical consensus—some advocate for a treaty that can establish strong humanitarian standards for the transfer of conventional weapons that can combat, prevent, and eradicate the illicit transfer of such weapons where they can facilitate destabilizing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, while others wish to negotiate strictly on the grounds of trade. How a member state characterizes the core objective of a future ATT will likely impact all relevant positions adopted and thus will influence the success of drafting and adopting the treaty. Therefore, it is necessary that the upcoming negotiations and these final preparatory consultations seek a realistic and pragmatic solution to this philosophical difference of opinion. Without such a harmonization of purpose, the ATT negotiations will forever be divided between schools of thought that seem less reconciled than they might actually be.

It is also important to highlight the difficulty of the ATT process in the context of the other disarmament challenges that are to arise in 2012. During a year that is punctuated by many disarmament and arms control challenges, such as the Review Conference on the Programme of Action on small arms and a conference on establishing a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone, creation of a legally-binding ATT will require some degree of political capital investment, especially in light of the provision of consensus decision-making and acceptance of at least minimal international oversight of national control systems. Large manufacturing states will have to be active and productive participants in the ATT process if the treaty is to have any real impact on the arms trade – both cooperating with the provisions as well as providing international assistance to smaller states for the necessary national implementation capacity. There is an inherent responsibility on the part of the major exporters to negotiate an honest and robust ATT based on the fact that they account for the lion’s share of total arms manufactured, and thus in circulation.

As the ATT preparatory phase comes to a close and official negotiations begin, it is important to take into account the following recommendations that will make for a more robust and better implemented treaty over the longer term:

  • It is wise to incorporate a concrete review process that establishes regular meetings of the states parties to assess and adjust the ATT to better reflect evolving security circumstances as well as provide opportunities to make the treaty stronger to hopefully include some or all of the ‘additions’ that still remain contentious and perhaps are too difficult to include in the initial treaty.
  • It is essential that negotiations on an ATT focus on a structure that can support and even monitor national implementation once a treaty has been adopted. Member states must look realistically at the security, communications, and oversight challenges that lay ahead for treaty implementers. There is no obvious mechanism that currently exists to coordinate ATT-related logistics.
  • Even those member states that vigorously contend that any ATT should neither encroach on territorial sovereignty nor interfere in the ability of states to conduct arms transfers cannot argue against the dangers of diverting otherwise legally transferred weapons to non-state and illegitimate actors, such as criminal or terrorist elements, as well as through reselling weapons to line the pockets of corrupt officials. Delegations should address diversion directly in formulating a robust treaty that sufficiently highlights, monitors, and addresses all facets of this risk.

Understanding the inherent purpose of the ATT, as well as the broader disarmament context in which it is being negotiated, is important to the process. We hope that the final Prep Com will yield concrete negotiating points for July as well as a strong sense of enthusiasm and commitment from member states that will put diplomats in the strongest and most encouraging position possible for the diplomatic conference.


–Katherine Prizeman