Tag Archives: GBV

Gender-Based Violence in the Arms Trade Treaty

8 Apr

After two separate negotiating conferences, in July 2012 and March 2013 respectively, an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has finally been adopted. The text (hereinafter “Final Text”) that was adopted on 2 April 2013 in the UN General Assembly by majority vote (155-22-3) contains strong references to gender-based violence (GBV). The objective of the ATT is to create a “comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional a

[1] This process, which began in 2006, came to an end just a few days after the conclusion of the “Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty,” which took place 18-28 March 2013. Although this Final Conference was unable to reach consensus, the draft text was brought to the UNGA and passed by an overwhelming majority of member states. This short brief provides an overview of the role of GBV within the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations as well some concluding thoughts about the significance of its inclusion in the Treaty.

In our policy brief on Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Policy Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA, GAPW highlighted the effects that the illicit trade in arms can have on domestic violence, conflict-related sexual violence, and how such arms can be mis-used in ways that deter women from participating in social and political life.[2]  Given the pervasive effect of the illicit flow of arms in perpetuating violence against women and limiting women’s participation, sufficient attention to a gender perspective is essential in effective disarmament and arms control discussions in order to create a reliable security sector.[3] Special attention should be paid to women’s agency because women in many countries tend to be under-represented in social and political life and tend to have limited access to education, employment, health-care, and judicial processes. [4]

The relationship between violence against women and the illicit flow of small arms was highlighted in the recent agreed conclusions of the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57)[5] as well as in the statement issued by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on 24 July 2012.[6] Moreover, women’s participation in disarmament processes was highlighted in the UNGA First Committee Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control.[7]

As states agreed by consensus in the recent CSW57 conclusions, GBV is “a form of discrimination that seriously violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women and girls of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”[8] Member states also agreed by consensus at the CSW57 that violence against women “means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering to women and girls, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”[9]

It is worth noting here the ATT is not a disarmament treaty per se, though there are clear linkages between the central purpose of the ATT – ending diverted transfers – and efforts to end arms-related violence against women. In this context, there are two relevant GBV references in the ATT text. In the Preamble, states parties recognize “that civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict and armed violence.”[10] This reference is not significantly different from the one found in the 26 July 2012 “Draft Treaty Text,” (hereinafter “Draft Treaty Text”) which formed the basis for March 2013 negotiations. The Draft Treaty Text recognized that “women and children are particularly affected in situations of conflict and armed violence.”[11] The reference to “armed conflict” was included in the Final Text at the request of many states, including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Nigeria, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate the reference to women and children as a homogeneous group is still included, as this suggests that women and children are affected by conflict and violence in the same way.

Additionally, the preambular paragraph in the Final Text does not include the link between GBV and international humanitarian law (IHL), which had been included in the Chair’s Non-Paper from 22 March 2013. The Non-Paper underscores that “recognizing acts of gender based violence may constitute violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”[12] This was particularly relevant and important given the discussions to strengthen the relationship between gender and IHL. Furthermore, the Final Text does not include any language on women’s participation and the role of women as agents of change.  Even though there has previously been agreed language on women’s agency within disarmament processes,[13] the disregard for participation reinforces the notion of women as vulnerable. This omission also continues to place emphasis on women as victims of violence, as opposed to their capacities, skills and experience as leaders in prevention and protection strategies.

The second reference to GBV is in the risk assessment section, Article 7 in the Final Text. In the Draft Treaty Text, GBV was to be taken into consideration after the state assessed whether or not a particular export would violate IHL and international human rights law (IHRL).[14] In making its decision to authorize the export, a state party could establish risk mitigation measures, and would not authorize the export if there was an “overriding” risk. The state party could also take “feasible measures” to ensure that the export would not lead to diversion or be used “to commit or facilitate gender-based violence or violence against children.”[15] One of the challenges with this reference was that it treated GBV as a less important criterion than the IHL/IHLR considerations. Additionally, the reference called for ‘feasible measures’ to be taken, although there was much ambiguity around what that could entail and there was a concern that the “overriding risk” standard allowed too much discretion on the part of the exporting state.[16]  Finally, there were concerns that due to the placement of the GBV provision in the Draft Treaty Text, its location raised questions about the relationship between GBV and IHL.

The Final Text is much improved. In the text adopted on 2 April 2013, under Article 7, GBV is listed as a binding criterion. In making its assessment under Article 7, the exporting party shall consider if the export contributes to violations of IHL, IHRL and shall also take into account the risk that the transfer will be “used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.”[17] This reference is much stronger than in the Draft Treaty Text as it makes the GBV criteria binding and the ambiguity surrounding “feasible measures” eliminated. Additionally, as Ray Acheson notes in the Arms Trade Treaty Monitor, this binding criterion “requires states to act with due diligence to ensure the arms transfer would not be diverted to non-state actors such as death squads, militias, or gangs that commit acts of gender-based violence.”[18] At the same time, however, the reference discusses GBV and violence against women in the same sentence which may be somewhat redundant, and the recurring homogeneous reference to women and children continues.

Overall, it is undisputable that the final text of the ATT contains a strong reference to GBV and one that is a good starting point for further improvement, certainly much better than the July 26 Draft Treaty Text. At the same time, the GBV references must be seen in the context of the rest of the Treaty and the loopholes that remain, including but not limited to the limited definitions of arms included in the scope, the limited scope of activities covered, the lack of an unambiguous prohibition regarding mass atrocity crimes, the “overriding risk” consideration and the lack of public reporting.[19] These factors are not only important when considering the objectives of the Treaty, but also when considering the ability to detect, prevent and monitor instances of GBV stemming from the unauthorized arms trade. As discussions move on to interpretation, ratification and implementation, the effectiveness of the GBV provisions will have to be determined based on how effective the Treaty will be in holding states accountable to its provisions. Given the lack of a strong accountability mechanism within the Treaty, this can prove to be challenging.

Additionally, from a gender perspective, the two-week negotiation process that ultimately brought about the adoption of the ATT reaffirmed the limited priority the GBV issue still has for some states, the challenges that remain regarding mainstreaming gender in relevant disarmament and security-related processes, and the recurring hesitance to talk about women’s participation, despite previously-agreed language (by consensus) promoting their agency. While over 100 member states supported a stronger GBV reference in the ATT, there were still some states that objected to the inclusion of GBV in the text, and preferred “violence against women” as well as states that promoted the inherent inclusion of GBV within IHL, but did not support a specific reference to women.

As attention starts to shift to the post-2015, including the passage of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) deadline, the challenges that were evident in the ATT negotiations, as well as in relevant processes such as the CSW, must be taken under consideration in forming appropriate policy strategies. Some valuable recommendations include:

  • More support for women’s participation in relevant processes, including but not limited to security, judicial, and development forums.
  • More attention to and support for mainstreaming gender issues within relevant processes to promote gender as a priority issue and to be addressed as main issues are negotiated.
  • Increasing awareness on the legally and politically binding instruments that are in place to support the advancement of women’s rights.
  • More attention to and support for promoting collaboration between instruments and processes that share complementary mandates on combating GBV.

 

—Melina Lito

 


[1] A/RES/61/89 (2006), paras. 1 and 2.

[2] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief.

[3] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief.

[4] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief.

[5] See, Commission on the Status of Women, 57th Session, March 2013, Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, Agreed Conclusions, Advance Unedited Version, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw57/CSW57_agreed_conclusions_advance_unedited_version_18_March_2013.pdf

[6] Statement of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Need for a Gender Perspective in the Text of the Arms Trade Treaty, Adopted on 24 July 2012 during the 52nd sessionhttp://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/statements/StatementGenderPerspective.pdf

[7] A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1

[8] Commission on the Status of Women, 57th Session, March 2013, Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, Agreed Conclusions, Advance Unedited Version, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw57/CSW57_agreed_conclusions_advance_unedited_version_18_March_2013.pdf

[9] Commission on the Status of Women, 57th Session, March 2013, Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, Agreed Conclusions, Advance Unedited Version, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw57/CSW57_agreed_conclusions_advance_unedited_version_18_March_2013.pdf

[10] Final United Nations Conference of the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft Decision, 27 March 2013, available at http://www.un.org/disarmament/ATT/docs/Draft_ATT_text_27_Mar_2013-E.pdf

[11] United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft of the Arms Trade Treaty, 1 August 2012, available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/CONF.217/CRP.1&Lang=E.

[12] United Nations Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, President’s Non-Paper, 22 March 2013, Draft of the Arms Trade Treaty, available at http://www.un.org/disarmament/ATT/docs/Presidents_Non_Paper_of_22_March_2013_(ATT_Final_Conference).pdf,

[13] See for instance the First Committee Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1 (2012).

[14] See, United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft of the Arms Trade Treaty, Article 4(2),  1 August 2012, available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/CONF.217/CRP.1&Lang=E

[15] United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft of the Arms Trade Treaty, Article 4(6)(b), 1 August 2012, available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/CONF.217/CRP.1&Lang=E.

[16] Ray Acheson, Demanding more from An Arms Trade Treaty, Arms Trade Treaty Monitor, 27 July 2012, Vol. 5, No, 18.

[17] Final United Nations Conference of the Arms Trade Treaty, Draft Decision, 27 March 2013, available at http://www.un.org/disarmament/ATT/docs/Draft_ATT_text_27_Mar_2013-E.pdf

[18] Ray Acheson, Maria Butler, and Sofia Tuvestad, Preventing armed gender-based violence: a binding requirement in the new draft ATT text, Arms Trade Treaty Monitor 6.9.

[19] See, Ray Acheson, A Tale of Two Treaties, Arms Trade Treaty Monitor, 28 March 2013, No. 6.9.

Profile of Activist Luz Mendez: Legal Case on Sexual Enslavement of Indigenous Women in Guatemala

15 Mar

Women’s rights activist from Guatemala Luz Mendez has been presenting her legal case on the sexual enslavement of women during Guatemala’s civil war at the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this month.

Luz Mendez was 15 years of age when she decided to become involved in her home country’s political course of action. Guatemala had been torn by a civil war for nine years at the time Mendez decided to no longer simply accept the status quo. “The numerous years of political oppression and the lack of liberties were the call to action for me”, Mendez explains retrospectively.

Mendez became the President of her High School’s Student Association creating “a small democracy within my school”, Mendez states. It was the year 1969 when the world was shook up by a politicized, international youth that was not willing to accept military dictatorships, questionable wars and the ongoing, and further growing, already vast economic imbalance between nations and entire continents.

Her position in high school put her in touch with many more student leaders from other schools. “That really opened my eyes and I understood how much power we have, when we organize for a good cause and start advocating for our rights.” She moved on to become a noteworthy activist, soon to establish international recognition, by participating in the peace negotiations as the only female member of the delegation of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (UNRC), contributing to the incorporation of unprecedented commitments for gender-equity in the accords. In 1996, she was the only woman representative signing the peace agreements for socioeconomic development and democratization in Guatemala.

Mendez joined this year’s CSW in order to present comprehensive details about the legal case she is trying to establish for indigenous Guatemalan women who have been victims of sexual violence during Guatemala’s civil war. It would also be the first trial of this kind brought to a national court.

The extraordinarily bloody civil war in Guatemala lasted thirty six years total, from 1960 to 1996. All this time the government was fighting left-leaning rebel groups that were supported by Mayan indigenous people. About 50,000 Guatemalans disappeared and up to 200,000 were killed or went missing. According to a UN report released in 1999, called “Guatemala: Memory of Silence”, 83 percent of those Guatemalans killed were Mayan. The Guatemalan government to this day is hesitant to acknowledge the commitment of genocide, although it has been internationally condemned in the past. According to UN resolution 260A, genocide is defined as follows: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life

calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”

A truth commission that had been installed in Guatemala after the civil war and was supported by the United Nations stated that “over 80 percent of the atrocities were committed by the army”. Current Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, to the contrary of his predecessor Álvaro Colom, has also promoted the view that genocide did not take place in Guatemala. Only in 2009 the former Military Commissioner Felipe Cusanero was sentenced to receive a 150-year jail term, for the disappearance of six farmers in the years of 1982 until 1984. “This was hailed as a landmark prison sentence in Guatemala,” Reuters wrote back then.

In February this year, the news that former General and Guatemalan Head of State Jose Efrain Rios Montt would be on trial at home for the crime of genocide, found great international support and positive acknowledgement. It is the first time in history that a domestic court is sentencing a former chief-of-state for genocide. “The Rios Montt trial also marks an important development in an evolving arena of international human rights,” comments News Network Al Jazeera.

Although several international courts established in the past 20 years have prosecuted individuals involved in genocide, the events in Guatemala are exceptional because the trial has been brought “home” and also because no ranking officer of the former totalitarian Guatemalan government has been held responsible thus far. The first public hearing will be held on 19 March.

Furthermore, the brutal victimization of indigenous women in Guatemala has not been rectified in any noteworthy manner as of now. Activist Luz Mendez wants to change that. In September of last year, fifteen Guatemalan women from the indigenous q’eqchí people testified before the High Risk Court in Guatemala City, with their testimony establishing the first criminal trial for sexual slavery and rape during an armed conflict in front of a domestic court. Moreover, as it applies to indigenous women, this testimony is ultimately helping thousands of women victims all over the world.

Mendez describes in her article, “I don’t want to die without seeing justice’: Sexual Slavery During Guatemala’s Armed Conflict,” the atrocities committed against indigenous women during the civil war:

“The history of Dominga Coc made a profound impression on the enslaved women in Sepur Zarco. Dominga, a twenty year-old woman went to the military camp with her two little daughters, Anita and Hermelinda, in search of her husband who had been captured by members of the army in 1982. After arriving at the base, she was captured and raped repeatedly by soldiers in front of her husband and her daughters. After several weeks of being brutally raped, she and her daughters were forcibly disappeared. Her body was found, in early 2012, on the edge of the river and exhumed. Dominga’s husband survived. He presented the testimony in the court. The story of Dominga Coc resonated for years among the women enslaved in Sepur Zarco and became a permanent warning of what could happen to any one of them at any time.”

According to the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, a “general pattern” exists that holds for indigenous women worldwide—that they have a particular “vulnerability to sexual violence.” In areas of conflict, indigenous women have often fallen victims to abuse by members of the military and are often subject to sexual enslavement, forced pregnancy, gang-rapes, sexual mutilation and killings. The International Indigenous Women’s Forum points out that “Historically, violence against women was used as a weapon in colonial conquests of indigenous lands, but as recently as the 1980s and 1990s, 1,400 indigenous Samburu women of Kenya were raped by British soldiers on their lands. In the 1980s, indigenous women were targeted for rape as a weapon of war in Guatemala.” In the 1990s, indigenous women in Chiapas, Mexico were subject to compulsory servitude in paramilitary camps. In times of crises, indigenous women are often forced to leave their communities and search for shelters and jobs elsewhere, which results in cultural and spiritual isolation as well as their exposure to sexual trafficking and prostitution as well as exploitation as domestic workers.

Nevertheless, Mendez is optimistic about her case. “We have any reason to be,” she explains. She is naming several groups of Guatemalan society that have been teaming up and are actively supporting the process. “Not only are the survivors strong women who have been waiting for public recognition for more than a decade, but women lawyers, psychologists and last, but not least, my group the Advisers’ Council of the National Union of Guatemala Women (UNAMG) have been closely working together to try and achieve justice for Guatemala’s indigenous women.” Mendez also points out that Guatemala has undergone a shift in dealing with its own history. “The fact that Rios Montt is now standing trial is giving me a lot of hope to also achieve public recognition and justice for indigenous women in Guatemala.”

 

–Lia Petridis Maiello