BY: VICTORIA SCHEYER AND MARINA KUMSKOVA
Today, we live in a world of intersecting and constant crises.
From Yemen to Syria to the DRC to South Sudan to Ukraine, one only needs to look at news reports to understand that the international community is failing “to save future generations from the scourge of war.”
Since 2012, the economic impact of violence has increased by 16 percent. One hundred countries experienced increased terrorist activity, with only 38 improving, and total conflict deaths increased by 264 percent between 2006 and 2016.
Available statistics from the news and reports, however, do not account for the personal horror of “the people” trapped in these war zones and do not take into consideration local conflict analysis in developing solutions. Experiences of women, for example, are yet to make it into the International Criminal Court even though many instances of sexual violence in conflict have already been accepted by human rights professionals as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
This is where we are today, and the prospects of peace and the transformation are blurry, with Member States pulling more and more weapons into conflict and the UN Security Council assuming that there is no need to look into the local dynamics and contexts in order to solve conflicts. In this context, people, who are bold enough to refuse this logic, are becoming the heroes of our time.
According to the UN Charter, the UN’s main goal, to save people from war, requires robust action on conflict prevention. It means the absence of weapons. It articulates that the Security Council, the main body responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, must strive towards the peaceful settlement of disputes on the basis of universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Therefore, the UN Charter says that peace is a matter of policy coherence, non-violence, and respect for each other.
However, the growing instability and violence has made a lot of academics, civil society activists, and professionals within the UN System question the ability of the Security Council to respond to crisis, leaving alone preventing it.
The problem does not necessarily lie in the inability to respond to crises effectively. The problem lies in the culture of domination and subordination that is prevalent in peace and security work. It presumes that civil society, especially local women’s groups, do not require the official voice in the Council, as they lack expertise. It promotes “liberal peace,” a top-down approach that ignores or neglects the everyday needs and socio-economic realities found in the specific contexts of armed conflicts. Conflict response and understanding of security are based on military involvement and solutions. Finally, the UN Charter dictates that the Security Council’s Permanent Members are more important than others when it comes to making decisions about people’s lives in Syria, Palestine, Yemen, and beyond.
Despite the general trends, some bold heroes in the Security Council have demonstrated that change is possible. They make small steps toward a new way of working and a different security approach. They attempt to listen to women’s experiences, work and enable space for civil society, reject arms proliferation and challenge the power relations with the Council for advancing the objectives of the UN Charter.
In the world of security, gendered transformation started in October 2000 with the adoption of the landmark Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security sponsored by Namibia, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. As a result of this, many parts of the UN System became actively engaged in developing policies and programmes associated with it. For example, Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE) established a Task Force on Women, Peace and Security that works to promote and coordinate the integration of gender analysis into all the peace and security work of the UN bureaucracy.
Later, Spain has pushed forward UNSCR 2242, which encouraged the inclusion and adequate funding and support for civil society. The implementation of this resolution has led to the first instance of a women’s civil society to brief the Security Council on country-specific situations. As of today, the UNSC has been briefed by 18 women civil society speakers. Since 2016, the Peacebuilding Fund broadened funding eligibility for its Gender Promotion Initiative to incorporate the direct funding of international NGOs. The impact of the Women, Peace and Humanitarian Fund on the ground as well showed a significant step forward in advancing and supporting local civil society action.
As part of Sweden’s commitment to strengthen action on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, their Mission in New York actively worked on mainstreaming the Agenda, human rights and conflict prevention in the UNSC documents. This showed results. Resolution 2339 (2017) on the Central African Republic also introduced the first-ever separate designation criteria on conflict-related sexual violence in a sanctions regime.
While the Security Council is largely silent on the issue of disarmament, the leadership of Australia during its Council membership, led to the adoption of Resolution 2117, the first ever Security Council resolution on small arms and light weapons, which also recognized the disproportionate impact of violence perpetrated against women and girls.
Overall, this change is largely driven by the non-permanent members, whose voice has become stronger in the midst of power struggles between the Permanent Members. There are actions and heroes that do show us that we have tools to create a world where everyone can enjoy safety and prosperity and eventually bring about a structural power shift. More importantly, it shows that the Security Council actually can act in a more transparent, inclusive and preventive manner.
To ground this change and being able to actually accomplish the purpose of the UN Charter, the Security Council has to change from within in order to act as a proactive conflict prevention body instead of a conflict management body, by accepting that militarism is not a sufficient response, by reframing security on the basis of human rights principles and by becoming a field-oriented and people-centered organization with less hierarchical and patriarchal structures.
Marina Kumskova holds a Master’s Degree in Human Rights from Columbia University and has previously worked for several non-profit and academic research centers, where she conducted in-depth human rights analysis across the security spectrum. Currently, she works as the Women, Peace and Security Program Associate at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and supports the Center for Progressive Security, an innovative project for strengthening legal jurisprudence and good practice exchange on women’s rights in counterterrorism.
Victoria Scheyer is currently graduating from the Master’s Degree in International Peace Studies at the University of Peace mandated by the United Nations. She previously worked with the Galtung-Institut for Peace Practice and Peace Theory as a research assistant and trainee in conflict transformation. Besides being engaged in various research projects on feminist politics, structural violence and migration issues, she has several practical experience, such as assisting refugees in Germany and working in migrant camps at European borders with different human rights organizations.
Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.