Women around the globe share an immense stake in ending armed violence. Our peace work should reflect that reality.

Women around the globe share an immense stake in ending armed violence. Our peace work should reflect that reality.

By: Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and H.E. Amb. Selma Ashipala-Musavyi, Chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters

The global pandemic is forcing us all to experience degrees of hardship and uncertainty. For those who are also contending with violence—sometimes because of armed conflict raging just outside the home, or sometimes because the violence is in the home—insecurity and suffering can enshroud every hour of every day.

As stay-at-home orders took hold earlier this year, many women and girls around the world found themselves suddenly confined away from view with their abusers, even at gunpoint. Soon thereafter, the UN Secretary-General was reporting signs of a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence”.

Ending the pandemic may bring little relief for these women, particularly in societies ravaged by armed conflict and violence. Left unaddressed, the waves of violence will continue to break against these women steadily.

Women everywhere share an equally immense stake in ending armed violence, and the world should give them every possible tool to counter it in homes, in communities, and around the globe. The horrible virus reigning over our lives only makes this task more urgent.

Twenty years ago, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, the first of several resolutions recognizing and reaffirming women’s significant role in promoting peace and security. Today, we understand better than ever how gender shape individual experiences of conflict and violence, including when weapons are involved. We also now better understand the subtle forces that stifle and drive the systematic exclusion of women’s voices from peacemaking, peacebuilding, conflict and violence prevention efforts.

Yet even 20 years after the Security Council adopted its first resolution on this issue, fundamental gender inequalities remain a fact in all our lives.

Addressing these issues is a top priority for the United Nations’ Secretary-General, who has said that “disarmament prevents and ends violence. Disarmament supports sustainable development. And disarmament is true to our values and principles.”

We believe that governments and organizations can focus their efforts to address the scourge of gender-based violence and remediate gender inequalities rooted in tools of violence. Here are four ways that can allow men and women to contribute equally towards preventing and resolving conflict and building peace and security.

First, all states should adopt arms control and disarmament policies that address how weapons affect men and women differently. For example, civilian men hold most of the estimated 1 billion firearms in global circulation, and a gun in a home makes intimate partner violence against a woman five times likelier to turn lethal.

Second, women should fully participate in professional fields of conflict prevention, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, arms control and disarmament. As women who have dedicated our professional lives to these fields, we each understand all too well what it is like to be the only woman in a crowded room of policymakers. Sadly, the picture at the UN is not particularly encouraging. When diplomats met for last year’s General Assembly committee session on disarmament and international security, three of every four statements came from men. In and beyond the UN, countries should make every effort to ensure that women, youth and other underrepresented groups all have a voice.

Third, governments and international agencies should form diverse alliances with women’s civil society organizations and other non-governmental groups. Women peacebuilders and advocates are transforming communities around the world as they fight the proliferation of weapons. Globally, women’s movements were central to banning atmospheric nuclear tests during the Cold War and to supporting the 2017 nuclear weapons ban treaty, for which the women-led International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons received that year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Fourth, we need more solid evidence in the form of disaggregated data that illuminates the different experiences of women, men, girls and boys with respect to weapons and violence. By collecting this kind of information and sharing practices with each other, governments and organizations can develop better informed responses to peace and security challenges.

In all its chaos, this moment offers a chance to put gender equality at the core of our peace work and build towards a future that benefits us all. Let’s seize this time to bring about real change.

Syria Talks

Historic new Syria talks should focus on relief for war-weary civilians

Work on drafting a new foundational text for war-torn Syria officially began at the UN in Geneva on Wednesday with representatives from the Syrian Government and opposition sitting face to face and preparing to discuss the country’s future for the first time in the nearly nine-year conflict.

Addressing the delegations – as well as a third group representing Syrian civil society – UN Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, urged them to seize the “historic” opportunity of working together, for the sake of the Syrian people.

Potential new beginning

“The future constitution belongs to Syrians, to the Syrian people and them alone,” he said, adding: “Today could become the beginning of something new, something meaningful for Syria and for Syrians everywhere. And this will be led by you, and you only, as both Co-Chairs have emphasized. Together, we can make this come through; tomorrow, the hard work begins.”

According to the rules of procedure in these UN-facilitated discussions, meetings of the 150-member Committee will take place in parallel with a smaller “drafting group”, made up of 15 people from each of the three delegations.

It will be tasked with writing any new constitution, depending on what is voted on by the larger Committee.

Mr. Pedersen highlighted that the existing Syrian constitution could be re-examined, in line with UN Security Council resolution 2254, adopted unanimously on 18 December 2018, in New York.

“The Constitutional Committee may review the 2012 constitution including in the context of other Syrian constitutional experiences and amend the current constitution or draft a new constitution,” he said, adding that it was “the first political agreement between the Government and the Opposition to begin to implement a key aspect of Security Council resolution 2254, which called for setting a schedule and a process for drafting a new constitution.”

In addition to endorsing a road map for a negotiated peace between belligerents, the UN Security Council resolution also called for a nationwide ceasefire and free and fair elections, as part of a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political transition.

Ahead of the official convening of the 150-member body at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva, the organization’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, welcomed the fact that both the Government of Syria and the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission “will sit together and take the first step on the political path out of the tragedy of the Syrian conflict”.

The UN chief also welcomed the fact that women’s representation on the committee was “very near 30 per cent”, a “minimum threshold” that the UN has long pushed for, in the interests of representing the widest possible number of Syrians affected by the conflict.

‘Positive change’ on the agenda

In his comments to the forum, the Government of Syria Co-Chair, Ahmad Kuzbari, expressed an openness to reviewing the country’s existing foundational text, the latest dating from 2012.

“It is a modern constitution,” he said, “but that does not prevent us Syrians from meeting for the purpose of considering any possible amendments to the current constitution or to consider a new constitution that would improve our reality and bring about a positive change that can be directly reflected in the lives of our people.”

And while Mr. Kuzbari underscored the fact that the Government was “committed to the success of this part of the political process”, he warned against “any occupying forces on our territory, the spoliation of the resources of our country and the continuing imposition of unilateral economic sanctions”.

These elements could threaten “the entire political process”, he said, insisting that they also breached the UN Charter and international legitimacy.

 

Looking for similarities, not differences

From the opposition, Committee Co-Chair, Hadi Albahra, underscored his delegation’s desire for progress in negotiations, noting nonetheless that “the 150 people meeting today in this room have diverging opinions on many issues”.

Be that as it may, “after eight painful years of suffering in Syria, we came here determined to look for similarities and not differences”, Mr. Albahra said, highlighting that the conflict had claimed one million lives and displaced millions more. “We are fully aware of the aspirations of a whole nation that awaits salvation from unspeakable suffering.”

He also appealed for progress on other confidence-building measures on the ground in Syria, particularly the release of prisoners – or information about them.

“We must achieve the release of all detainees at the hands of all parties and to discover the fate of the missing and the forcibly displaced, we must respect the right of families to know the fate of their loved ones,” he said.

Secretary-General at World Bank IMF Meetings

Global economy: ‘we must do everything possible’ to avoid global ‘fracture’ caused by US-China tensions, urges Guterres

Tensions around global trade and technology continue to rise and the international community needs to “do everything possible” to prevent the world being split into two competing spheres, led by the United States and China.

Photo of the World Bank Headquarters

Photo of the World Bank Headquarters

That was the message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Saturday, speaking during the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Annual Meetings in Washington DC.

In remarks to the International Monetary and Financial Committee, the UN chief said that “during tense and testing times” he continued to “fear the possiblity of a Great Fracture – with the two largest economies splitting the globe in two – each with its own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, its own internet and artificial intelligence capacities and its own zero-sum geopolitical and military strategies.”

A trade war between the two economic giants is threatening to wipe out gains across the global economy, which could shrink global GDP next year “equivalent to the whole economy of Switzerland” said the new head of the IMF, Kristina Georgieva, just a few days ago.

Mr. Guterres told world financiers that “it is not too late to avoid” the division, but “we must do everything possible to avert this…and maintain a universal economy with universal respect for international law; a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF.”

He noted three main areas where fiscal policy and investment in the future would be pivotal. First, make tax systems “smarter, greener, and more aligned behind the sustainable development and climate action agendas”, he urged.

Secondly align the whole financial system behind the 17 SDGs, or Sustainable Development Goals, incentivizing longterm public and private finance, and “revisiting financial regulations that may inadvertently encourage short-termism in financial markets.”

Third, “it is time to break the cycle of excessive debt build-up followed by painful debt crises”, meaning taking a systemic approach to lend and borrow more responsibly.

And we must keep a focus on countries particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, namely Small Island Developing States.  I fully support proposals to convert debt to investment in resilience such as through the Debt for Climate Adaptation Swap initiative”, noted the UN chief. “We should move this from idea to reality.

Together, let us raise ambition for development finance, climate finance, and finance that is inclusive and enables markets to grow, businesses to thrive and people to live in dignity.”

‘Great opportunities’ ahead, for climate action

Speaking at a meeting of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, Mr. Guterres said that the 44-member group launched just six months ago, was “a vital part of our response to the climate emergency”.

The Climate Action Summit last month in New York had shown “the world is waking up to the crisis”, with “great opportunities” ahead to reduce air pollution, save billions of dollars on disasters fueled by global warming, and unlock the true benefits of the green economy.

Despite a “glaring gap in ambition and finance” finance ministers can turn the tide: “You come to the table with a mix of tools, including tax policy, controlled spending and climate budgeting…And you can end counter-productive subsidies for fossil fuels and pave the way for what I would like to see as a major trend: shifting taxation from income, to carbon.”

Sweden and Colombia are already using carbon taxes; Uganda is implementing a Climate Change Budget Tagging System; and the island of Dominica has used fiscal policy to improve preparedness for climate shocks, following a devastating hurricane.

“Your Coalition is taking the ‘whole of government’ approach we need for systemic change. We need to have in place by COP26, country-level road maps and fiscal policies for economic, technological and energy transitions”.

Haiti Transition

Security Council marks transition from 15 years of UN peacekeeping in Haiti

Although 15 years of UN peacekeeping in Haiti have drawn to a close, the Organization’s commitment to strengthening and stabilizing the country will continue, the Security Council heard on Tuesday.

UN peacekeepers fly into a town to perform emergency surgery on wounded Haitian police officers.

UN peacekeepers fly into a town to perform emergency surgery on wounded Haitian police officers.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, briefed ambassadors on major developments and achievements during this period.

“This chapter, which comes to an end today, was characterized by shared successes with the people of Haiti, the tragedy of the (2010) earthquake, and by lessons in what we should have done better. Today, we must think together about all these aspects: They are the basis on which we can go into the next stage of the partnership of Haiti with the United Nations,” he said.

UN peacekeeping in Haiti began in 2004 with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), established in response to a deteriorating political and security situation.

MINUSTAH concluded its mandate in 2017 and was followed by a smaller mission that supported reinforcement of the Haitian National Police, rule of law institutions and promotion of human rights, known by the French acronym MINUJUSTH. Effective on Wednesday, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) will begin work on strengthening political stability and good governance through support of an inclusive national dialogue.

As Mr. Lacroix put it: The UN was turning the page on peacekeeping in Haiti “but we are not closing the book on United Nations support.”

 

Peacekeeping contributed to progress

The two UN peacekeeping missions contributed to Haiti’s progress, including in improvements to policing, strengthening of the justice sector, and implementing community violence reduction programmes.

Although they created an enabling environment for political and democratic processes to take root in Haiti, Mr. Lacroix said more political solutions are clearly needed.

Haiti is currently in the midst of a political crisis, with thousands taking to the streets in recent weeks to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise. At least 30 people have been killed since mid-September, according to UN estimates.

The President has issued a call for national dialogue and the formation of a unity Government, but opposition groups want him to stand down, as a precondition for talks.

United States ambassador Kelly Craft said an inclusive national dialogue is critical.

“We encourage the Government of Haiti to continue a peaceful dialogue that results in a parliamentary government that strengthens the rule of law and anti-corruption institutions. Likewise, we urge Haiti’s political, economic and civil society stakeholders to work peacefully to address the most pressing economic and social challenges facing the country,” she said.

Legacy issues

The new UN office, BINUH, will continue to work with the Government and partners on legacy issues from the peacekeeping period, such as eliminating cholera and addressing cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, including paternity cases.

Patrick Saint-Hilaire, chargé d’affaires at the Haitian Mission to the UN, spoke of the need for continued training for the security forces, who also require proper equipment and other resources.

“It is urgent for state authority to be restored in an unlimited, bloodless fashion in all areas which are unfortunately described as not being under the rule of law,” he said.

BINUH signifies a transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding, and the office will have benchmarks that reference the Sustainable Development Goals.

For example, the national police and related institutions, such as those in corrections and justice, will operate under improved legal frameworks and oversight mechanisms in line with the development objective of promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.

“The progress in Haiti over the past 15 years is considerable but the achievements of stability are still fragile and must be deeper rooted in democracy and development,” Mr. Lacroix stated, adding that “the beginning of BINUH’s operations tomorrow is a renewal of the UN commitment to Haiti’s stability and prosperity.”