Archive | July, 2012

The Question of Palestine: Divisions at the Top and Human Insecurity at the Bottom

31 Jul

The Security Council (SC) debated on 25 July 2012 whether or not Palestine could become a Member State of the United Nations in a debate entitled “The Question of Palestine.” Yet, the standard rhetoric clouded the issue and buried it within the ongoing Israel-Palestine and Israel-Arab world divides. Several other divides also surfaced stemming from historic occurrences, present actions and current ongoing conflicts that continue to produce gaps and stall peace negotiations. These divisions reveal the underlying fundamental issue: the divide between State security and human security and the disconnect that exists between high-level officials and the human perspective.

When discussing Israel and Palestine the underlying systemic issues dividing the Middle East and the international community surface. The continual divide between Israel and the Arab world; Iran’s alleged enrichment of nuclear weapons; and the Syrian Conflict – a subject within which there are multiple high-level divides – collectively clouded the focal issue on Wednesday and continue to form the broader backdrop against which the Palestine-Israel issue is framed.

The topic of peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel has been ongoing since 1967. A stalemate in negotiations between Palestine and Israel has endured since 2010. The “Question” of Palestine has been reviewed several times at Security Council meetings. Israel refused to attend the last Council meeting fearing it would only result in countries ganging-up on them from multiple sides. This was the reality at the 25 July 2012 meeting.

The meeting began with Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. Serry expressed that a continued stall in peace negotiations is perilous and an effort to restart direct talks between Israel and Palestine is critical. The “worrying issues on the ground” make this timing of the utmost importance. A Two-State agreement is vital to reaching peace and security in the region and on a global scale.

The stalemate in the peace process between Palestine and Israel is based on four main issues: Israel’s continued construction and encroachment of settlements, destruction of agricultural and orchard lands, violations of multiple international laws and the six year blockade in Gaza; the internal divides that exist within Palestine stemming from the ousting of Fatah from Gaza by Hamas in 2001,resulting in tensions  between the Hamas-lead government under Ismail Haniya and the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas; the pre-1967 boundaries; and a diminished or nonexistent level of trust due to enduring violence and conflicts as well as terrorist attacks in the region.

The Palestinians, as well as Egypt, Qatar, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Tunisia and Syria agreed that Palestinians were specifically targeted for war crimes and ethnic cleansing through the use of “demographic change via geographical expansions” and that it represents a “collective punishment” by the “colonizers.”

The majority of the SC, including four of the P-5 (excluding the United States), agreed that Israel’s illegal settlements as well as the blockade erected in 2004 were the main cause of the stalled peace negotiations, with Iran specifically stressing that Israel should immediately return all of its occupied territories – meaning their past military occupations of lands within Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

The U.S. delegate stressed that “unilateral decisions were contrary to reaching a two-State agreement,” which is essential to the end goal of creating an “independent Palestinian State living in peace and security alongside a Jewish democratic State.” The U.S. also did not support expansions of outposts. In response, Russia specifically suggested that the U.S. has been supporting Israel’s expansions– an accusation based on the U.S. veto of the 2011 UN Resolution which was to declare Israeli settlements illegal.

Israel was further accused of detaining multiple Palestinians illegally – many of which are children and not allowing visits from Palestinian families. Only recently was one visit allowed. Reports of continued hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners continue and allegations of torture ensued at the meeting. This is a grave and sensitive issue which fuels anger on the Palestinian side and further increases human and State insecurity in the region.

Palestine was blamed – mostly by Israel for engaging in, supporting and continuing acts of violence.  Israel blamed Hamas for carrying out continued terrorist attacks on Israeli soil and accused them of engaging in rocket launches. The majority of speakers at the meeting condemned such actions. All states at the meeting stated they condemned any and all acts of terrorism.

Israel also blamed Iran for supporting terrorism throughout the Middle East and specifically accused them of the attacks in Bulgaria. Accusations significantly escalated between Iran and Israel, with Iran later accusing Israel of targeting and killing its own citizens in order to blame and frame Iran. Further, Iran’s alleged uranium enrichment was raised and continues to trump the Palestine “Question” yet it is directly linked to the high-level divisions which exist on both topics – creating national, international and intra-national divides.

A majority of States blamed the SC, the Quartet and the international community for continually failing to find a solution to resolve the issues in Palestine and Israel.

Amidst all the finger pointing, disagreement and accusations, the actual purpose of the meeting was buried. Many States did not address the “Question,” whether or not they supported the Palestinian application for Statehood. The meeting merely demonstrated continued stalemates at the top levels. It illustrated the inability of high-level officials to properly address on-the-ground issues and reach any sort of standing resolution that will bring peace to a region that has been in the midst of conflict for decades.  While the top remains divided, human suffering and insecurity on the ground endure.  A connection between State and human security is missing.

For more analysis on the debate, as well as a reflection on the need for a “bottom-up” approach to the conflict, please click here.

— Cara Lacey

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Women’s Participation at CEDAW’s 52nd Session

30 Jul

As we noted in previous blog posts, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (hereinafter “Committee”) celebrated its 30th anniversary with a public event on women’s political participation. Political participation is highlighted in Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (hereinafter “Convention”) which calls on all states parties to take all appropriate measures to prevent discrimination of women in public and political life, and ensure for their right to vote, to participate in government policy formulation, to run and hold public office, and to perform at all governmental levels.

As such, in its review of states parties in the 52nd session, the Committee discussed with the delegations the status of women’s political participation, looking not only at participation within the national political systems, but also focusing on diplomatic services. Below, we highlight some of the discussion that has taken place on this topic, as the Committee reviewed Jamaica, New Zealand, and Samoa. Overall with this issue, as well as most of the articles examined by the Committee, the focus was not only on enacting the right legislation, but also in ensuring that such legislation is implemented and a culture of participation is promoted. Women’s rights are not automatically ensured if they are translated into appropriate legislature; there must also be room within society for them to exercise those rights.  

For Jamaica, the Committee’s attention was on women’s participation in politics and emphasis was placed on political violence as a deterrent to participation in this context and the need for programs that increase awareness. Jamaica noted the difficulties of participation when the focus of political parties was mostly on winning elections, but noted efforts that need to be taken to ensure for the tools necessary to address this issue through providing financial support and support to women’s organizations that promote the advancement of women.

For New Zealand, the focus was on ensuring that adequate training is available to promote a culture of participation. The New Zealand delegation recognized as one of its challenges the need to engage more women as representatives and noted current measures undertaken, such as training available in the rural areas to promote participation as well as efforts undertaken by political parties. The delegation acknowledged that more could be done to build confidence and encourage participation.

For Samoa, the delegation discussed the proposed amendment to allow a minimum number of seats for women to participate in politics, which is a significant step for the government of Samoa.  The Committee focused its attention on the impact that Matai titles have on women’s participation; according to the national Constitution, women must obtain Matai titles before being candidates in elections, but there are barriers with accessibility to those titles and, more generally, with women coming forward to participate in politics.   

Overall, throughout the session, the Committee was focused on addressing its concerns towards the states parties, as it pertains to their obligations under the Convention. With the 52nd session now complete, attention and preparation shifts to the 53rd session to be held in Geneva in 1 October – 19 October 2012. As we move forward we also take note of the General Recommendations on the Committee’s agenda, such as access to justice and women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict. GAPW will be monitoring the development of the General Recommendations and will be reporting updates accordingly. 

–          Melina Lito

The ATT: Moving on and moving forward

30 Jul

As the mandate for the arms trade treaty (ATT) Diplomatic Conference expired on Friday afternoon, delegates and civil society alike were disappointed at the failure to adopt a treaty after four weeks of negotiations and, perhaps more importantly, the inability to address the lack of internationally-adopted common standards for the unregulated trade in conventional arms. The President’s draft treaty text was adopted as an annex to the Report of the Conference, although there was no clear indication of how that text would be treated in the future either in the General Assembly (GA) First Committee in October or elsewhere. While many delegations expressed regret over the lack of a consensus document, there was general agreement that the process is not over. In a statement to the plenary delivered by Mexico, a group of 90 countries expressed the desire to bring the current text to the GA First Committee to “finalize our work” to achieve “a strong and robust Treaty.” The Nigerian delegation explicitly called for a new mandate from the GA to complete the work of the ATT on the basis of the President’s most recent draft text with further consultations. The delegations of Germany, CARICOM, and Spain called for an ATT to be adopted “in the near future,” while others, including Peru, said there was “near unanimity.”

While this large majority of delegations is correct and commendable in their desire to continue to identify a way forward to achieve the still elusive goal of an ATT, it is difficult to imagine how, even with more consultations, the present text would become more robust or that member states would be able to reach “unanimity” on the major issues still left unresolved. After four weeks of hard work and difficult, political wrangling, there is much to be disappointed over.

The President’s most recent draft text still has significant loopholes and is far from the robust ATT that was aspired to by many delegates and civil society advocates—ammunition and munitions are lacking in the core items listed in the scope; the implementation measures provide for a superseding of the criteria by the vague references to “other instruments” and “contractual obligations under defence cooperation agreements;” records of authorizations do not need to be made public; and amendments can only be adopted through consensus leaving very little flexibility for substantive future changes in the Treaty. The language pertaining to criteria is particularly weak given the structure of the ATT as it will be driven primarily by national implementation responsibilities (and thus biases related to national interest). Diversion remains a “secondary” consideration in paragraph 6.4 (national assessment) requiring that states only “consider taking feasible measures” to avoid it. These are not insignificant weaknesses, but rather, compromise the Treaty and its ability to combat and eradicate the illicit and irresponsible trade in arms in a consistent, universal, and legally-binding manner.

Although the particulars of the text could certainly continue to be debated, the question now becomes how to proceed with the process writ large. Although the overwhelming majority of member states have made apparent their intention to continue the ATT process, the specific path forward (and on what basis) does not enjoy the same clarity. The most obvious option would be to bring the draft treaty to the First Committee in October and request another mandate to continue work through a new Diplomatic Conference. This is a position that, although not detailed explicitly on Friday afternoon, would seem to garner significant support among delegations given the commentary in the room. The French delegation noted that states “should not start from zero,” which would indicate support for using the draft text as the base forward.  Likewise the Chinese, Moroccan, and UK delegations called the President’s text “a good basis for future negotiations.”

As member states prepare to bring the ATT to the GA this fall, and they must at the very least report back to the body on the progress made, it is important to remember that the rule of consensus, and ultimately the de facto veto power of each member state, will not necessarily apply to future negotiations. As such, the majority of member states that have called for an ATT with stronger provisions than the ones found in the President’s text (presumably more than the 2/3 majority required for adoption of resolutions in the GA), should propose a text that encompasses more of the provisions that these member states have fought for throughout the negotiations, most notably inclusion of ammunition and munitions in the scope and clear, legally-binding criteria for national risk assessment. The group of 90 states on Friday noted, “Compromises have had to be made, but overall the text you [the President] put forward yesterday has the overwhelming support of the international community as a base for carrying forward our work.” Ultimately, if the rules of procedure change, then so should the Treaty such that these compromises be re-evaluated if they only apply to a few select states and a new, stronger text should be presented.

The goal of a universal, legally-binding treaty for the trade in conventional arms was and remains a noble one. A global ATT would certainly serve as a complement to already-existing, but mostly non-binding, agreements such as the UN Programme of Action on small arms, as well as future instruments seeking to contribute to the strengthening of the UN’s multilateral security framework.  As the next “phase” of this process begins, delegates and civil society should seize the opportunity to adopt a Treaty that can make a robust contribution such a framework.

More analysis and reporting from the month-long negotiations can be found here on Reaching Critical Will with the previous editions of the daily ATT Monitor.

–Katherine Prizeman

CEDAW Reviews: Mexico

26 Jul

The 30th anniversary of the Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) continued on 17 July 2012with a review of Mexico. The delegation from Mexico discussed the Committee’s questions about the government’s approach towards addressing different forms of discrimination and violence, which continue in many parts of the country.

In its introductory remarks, Mexico focused on recent initiatives taken to incorporate a gender perspective in all three branches of its government. Despite steady improvement, such as new health insurance policies and lower dropout rates for girls in secondary education, many challenges remain. Mexico concluded its remarks with a list of challenges it sought to address: strengthening law enforcement, efficient coordination of actors and resources, criminalizing femicide and applying protocols in a timely measure, creating a model for violence against women with an inter-cultural perspective (especially for indigenous citizens), creation of a federal labor law that provides equality between men and women, prohibition of harassment, workers rights, time schedules, constructing better telecommunication, obtaining greater sanctions for established legal violations, and improving legal representation for women.

During the discussion, CEDAW drew on many of these challenges. However, many of the main concerns related to federalism. Mexico’s thirty-one states have wide-ranging legal structures and CEDAW stressed that all local discriminatory legal policies in these states must be eliminated. Moreover, CEDAW made clear that regional implementation of the Convention was a national responsibility, not a state one. These concerns over localized discriminatory practices were similar to those expressed in the Committee’s recent review of Indonesia.

Furthermore, the Committee focused most of its attention on femicide, abduction of women, disappearances of women, and the killings and abuses of human-rights activists and journalists, as discriminatory practices. While Mexico spoke about national initiatives regarding femicide, CEDAW noted that mere enactment of laws was not enough, and more could be done to ensure for their implementation.

Moreover, distrust of the police force was a structural problem that was identified by the Committee. While Mexico recognized this problem, it also highlighted steps it is taking to address it, including the creation of systems to detain unlawful police officers, the training of police officers with a gender perspective, and the formation of a force to specialize in finding disappeared persons.

Finally, Mexico discussed the counseling services available to women in situations of violence. There are 284 support services around the country and they have served over 40,000 women since their creation. Mexico stated that its goal was to reach 100,000 women through these psycho-emotional support systems.

Overall, Mexico was the first state party report that went beyond the time period usually allocated for these reviews.  The head of the delegation was on point and reminded the delegation numerous times to answer the questions and not focus as much on background information that had already been submitted to CEDAW. Ultimately, Mexico was the state party review thus far that represented a conversation between the Committee and the delegation.  Considering the many challenges Mexico has to address, it is hopeful to see the positive attitude between the delegation and the Committee.

–          Henry Neuwirth

CEDAW Reviews: Bulgaria

17 Jul

As noted in previous blog posts, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).  But, as Mr. Stephan Tafrov, Ambassador to the Permanent Mission of Bulgaria to the UN, noted in his introductory remarks to the Committee, it also marks the 30th anniversary since Bulgaria ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (hereafter “Convention”).

Bulgaria briefed the Committee on the status of the Convention’s implementation in the country, noting that according to its national constitution, international treaties entered into by Bulgaria, and that are promulgated in accordance with the necessary procedures, become part of domestic law and prevail when a conflict of laws exists. In general, Bulgaria has made many efforts to implement the Convention since its last report in 1998 and has established many structures to ensure the protection of gender rights. Laws have been enacted to protect against discrimination, to promote equal treatment and equality for all, and to prevent domestic violence and trafficking in persons. Special measures have also been taken to protect the rights of Roma women, including a national strategy plan specifically on the elimination of discrimination against this minority group

The discussion with Committee members focused on a wide range of issues, but particularly noteworthy was the discussion on the status of the Convention, use of stereotypes, and women’s participation in diplomacy.  Regarding status of the Convention, the Committee recommended that while the original 1979 text of the Convention, is important, the general recommendations that have been enacted throughout the years are also significant.

The traditional role of women in Bulgarian society and the issue of stereotypes, in particular women as familial caretakers, were discussed.  The Committee focused on the need to address the root causes of discrimination that frame such stereotypes. Bulgaria has undertaken efforts to survey stereotypes in education programs, reviewing textbooks and teaching materials to ensure that advancements on gender equality are highlighted in such educational materials.  

Lastly, on women’s participation in diplomacy, the Committee examined the need to ensure that any obstacles faced by women in accessing such diplomatic posts, as well as obstacles in ensuring equal access and opportunities, be identified and addressed. Bulgaria noted women’s representation in the current Parliament and ruling party. Nevertheless, the Bulgarian delegation also acknowledged the need for improvement in increasing women’s role in diplomacy.      

Overall, Committee members, especially those from Romania, Slovenia, and Croatia, were particularly vocal on these issues. It was particularly interesting to see the insistence on pursuing these issues, especially as responses were not necessarily always on the points raised. Nevertheless, the Bulgarian case study shows once more the determination of the Committee to get answers to its questions as well as to highlight areas where more progress is needed, not only as it pertains to enacted legislation but also to its implementation.   

–          Melina Lito 

CEDAW Reviews: Indonesia

16 Jul

Delegates from the Republic of Indonesia came before the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on 11 July 2012 for the Committee’s review of the state party’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (hereafater “Convention”). In introducing the report, the Minister of Women and Child Protection discussed the establishment of a national development plan and national strategy plan for the protection of human rights including women’s rights; legislation on human trafficking and migrant smuggling; and migrant and domestic worker’s rights. Indonesia also discussed the ongoing progress in gender mainstreaming, education and awareness as well as socialization training.

Questions from the Committee ranged on a variety of issues, with special attention on female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM was previously outlawed but has again been legalized within health care facilities. In making the practice legal again, Indonesia hope it will ensure that FGM is administered safely and within sterile conditions. Nevertheless, FGM remains a grave violation of human and women’s rights. A secure, equal and non-discriminatory environment cannot be upheld where this practice is encouraged under a veil of traditional or religious rights. Moreover, the practice is in direct violation of Convention obligations. Until the practice is completely eliminated, it demonstrates an unwillingness to protect women. It is an act of discrimination and violence and is a significant barrier to achieving women’s equality.

Most strongly addressing the FGM issues were Committee members from Afghanistan, Egypt and Turkey, each stating that FGM was not associated with or upheld by the Muslim religion. Overall, the Committee was persistent on this issue and reasoned that, regardless of traditional or religious justifications, the practice was still a significant violation of the obligations under the Convention.

Besides FGM, compliance with CEDAW recommendations on the issue of gender equality was also addressed, especially as it pertains to political life and meeting gender quotas; to marriage and family relations; and inequalities in land rights and tenure. Such inequalities can inhibit the status of women within society, specifically when political decentralization is used as a veil behind which human rights violations targeting women are occurring. 

The utilization of decentralization to restrict the rights of women sets a challenging and complex precedence, which may have vast consequences on women’s security. Women’s security is significantly threatened when the violation of their rights are not addressed within political systems. Decentralization is being used in this case to give local governments the authority to establish bylaws in direct violation with national, international and human rights laws. Such violations can lead to gross domestic violence and damaging marriage practices as well as other discriminatory and violent acts against women.

Overall, Indonesia is trying to progress in the realm of women and gender equality.  Most notably they have implemented legislation on human trafficking and migrant workers; they are working toward meeting their quota agenda; they are mainstreaming women and gender equality and they are implementing training and socializing programs at multiple governmental levels, within law enforcement, the judiciary and within civil society. While all of these efforts are of course welcome and promoted, there are still grave human rights violations, specifically targeting women and girls. It is understandable that behavioral norms, customs and cultures are challenging specifically when trying to change a society steeped in years of a patriarchal system. But, at the same time, the government must take a stand to address and end the gross violations against women and to progress forward. Although CEDAW maintained an understanding of the climate and culture within Indonesia, they also highlighted these issues and raised the bar of expectations in terms of Indonesia’s future report.

–          Cara Lacey 

CEDAW Reviews: Guyana

12 Jul

The Committee on the Elimination of the Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) began the morning of 10 July 1012 with a discussion between the Committee and nongovernmental organizations from Cooperative Republic of Guyana (hereafter “Guyana”).

With representatives from the Ministry of Human Services and Human Security, Jennifer Webster, and Ministry of Education, Priya D. Manickchand, as well as representatives from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Guyana to the United Nations present in the room, Guyana gave an overview of the status of women and gender equality domestically. Guyana noted progress made on legislative reform, access to land, access to education, elimination of discrimination against women, and promoting gender equality between women and men. On domestic violence specifically, it is considered a national priority and relevant laws have been amended to include new offenses or severe penalties. Legal clinics are also available to provide aid to six of the ten administrative regions of the country; such legal aid clinics are run by a nongovernment organization but are state-funded.

Overall, in her introductory remarks, Webster focused on the many legal achievements Guyana has made and the country’s strong commitment to women’s rights and human rights.  Also mentioned were Guyana’s four Human Rights Commissions – on Rights of the Child, Women and Gender Equality, Indigenous people, and Ethnic Relations— all of which include women at the leadership level. The Parliament is currently 32% female and five of these female parliamentary members are also indigenous women. Finally, Guyana reemphasized the importance of Guyana’s constitution, and also brought up a few newer acts on sexual offenses and women with disabilities, which Guyana believes will have a significant impact.

Questions from the Committee ranged on a wide array of issues, mainly on the status of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (hereafter “Convention”) as well as statistics about the status of women and accessibility of counseling services to victims of violence.

On how the Convention is enforced domestically and justice system reform, Guyana noted that the Convention part of its national constitution. As such, the terms of the Convention can be enforced as fundamental rights. When national laws are amended or reformed, Guyana is still bound by the rights protected by the Convention. Furthermore, Manickchand explained that even if the Convention is not explicitly referenced in related court decisions, by drawing upon the Constitution, these decisions all implicitly invoke the Convention. Since Guyana has four to five women judges, Manickchand expects that members of the judiciary are informed about the Convention and its provisions.

Some debate arose in the afternoon session when statistics from alternative sources were incorporated in the questions posed to Manickchand and Webster; these statistics were not used in Guyana’s report to the Committee.  Guyana refuted many of the referenced statistics, especially those regarding any gender imbalance in the education system, but admitted that gathering reliable statistical information was a central challenge and future priority the Guyanese government. One noticeable statistic that was not refuted regarded mental health services in Guyana; Committee members were concerned about counseling services for victims of violence because only one hospital currently provides psychiatric support to victims. Guyana agreed that, while there were psychosocial services provided by various NGOs, there are few medical services offered for mental health. A psychosocial service provided by the government is a men’s empowerment network. After receiving complaints and requests in surveys on domestic violence, Guyana created the network to reach men at different community levels and offer counseling and anger management services.

Overall, as the first review of a state party for the 52nd session, the review process seemed to run rather smoothly. Even when questions from the Committee were more straightforward, Guyana elaborated on statistics by assessing the structural difficulties (usually political, economic, and geographic) that must be addressed in order realize greater equality and comply with their country’s CEDAW commitments. It was good to see the steps Guyana has taken nationally on the implementation of the Convention. Implementation of the Convention, of course, is a main issue of the Committee that will likely frame many discussions for the rest of the month.

– Henry Neuwirth