In recent decades, many interstate and intrastate conflicts have required external intervention to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table. The UN and the UN Security Council are the only institutions authorized by the international community to intervene. The question of when, under what circumstances, and by what means an intervention will be carried out often reveals a problematic interpretation of security.
In the 1990s the use of military means to enforce human rights provoked major political controversies. After Iraq occupied Kuwait, the UN Security Council authorized the use of military force to protect the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq. Subsequent military interventions, such as in Somalia and Haiti, have been justified by the argument that unstable political systems and the associated violence in these countries endanger international or regional peace. Such interventions are fundamentally problematic. The concept of state sovereignty in international law stipulates non-interference in relations between states. The resulting focus on measures of military coercion also blocks out civil forms of intervention.
Measures of military coercion are only sanctioned by international law if they are authorized by the UN Security Council. Given the veto powers of the five permanent members of the Council – the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, and France – authorization entails extended negotiations. Generally it is declared to be a military intervention on humanitarian grounds. Even if justified by grave violations of human rights and humanitarian crises, a military intervention will violate the prohibition against violence and the non-interference clauses of the UN Charter. However, in response to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the “ethnic cleansing” in former Yugoslavia, national sovereignty and the rights of intervention by the UN and the international community were reinterpreted under the concept “Responsibility to Protect.”
Women’s rights can also be misused to legitimize military interventions – as happened in Afghanistan. The fundamentalist Taliban, who ushered in the most misogynistic regime in the world, were at first supported by the US and promoted in Pakistan’s mosques. Only after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the media and the public became aware of the massive human rights violations Afghan women had to suffer. President George W. Bush, as well as German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, justified the intervention that began on October 7, 2001, on the basis of the oppression of Afghan women.
We are thus faced with a very ambivalent situation, since the abuse of women’s rights may be used to try to legitimize military intervention. On the one hand, human rights are only taken seriously if they are protected worldwide; on the other, this protection should follow from a human rights perspective that encourages action at an early stage and with a view toward prevention. As a result of international lobbying by women’s organizations, the final document of the 1993 UN Human Rights Conference in Vienna expressly emphasized the principle that “women’s rights are human rights.” As a consequence, genital mutilation and domestic violence – i.e., gender-specific violations of human rights – were placed on the international agenda. Two years later, the UN Conference on Women in Beijing affirmed the right of women to live without violence. In 1994, a UN “Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences” was appointed. During the 1990s, sexualized violence was defined as a crime under international criminal law, starting with the rulings of UN tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and then as statutory offences under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Article 7 of its so-called Rome Statue lists rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, and other comparably severe forms of sexual violence as crimes against humanity.
In the past decade, the United Nations has continued to promote women’s rights in many other areas as well. Meanwhile, plans of action exist for all major areas such as eradication of poverty, health, education, and trade. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was trend-setting for the area of peace and security. In recent years, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Commission has repeatedly addressed the problems of forced prostitution and trafficking in women. Several UN bodies have investigated sexual assaults on female refugees by UN employees participating in peacekeeping missions. In March 2005, the UN Secretary General drew up a report on this for the General Assembly, and the Security Council issued an unprecedented condemnation of sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel at its session on May 31, 2005, and reinforced this with Resolution 1820 in June 2009. The final document of the 2005 world summit included a variety of demands by women activists in the areas of education, employment, gender justice, empowerment, and human rights. Especially noteworthy are the sections on “The Role of Women in the Prevention and Resolution of Conflicts”: “We stress the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peacebuilding. We reaffirm our commitment to the full and effective implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security. We also underline the importance of integrating a gender perspective and of women having the opportunity for equal participation and full involvement in all efforts to maintain and promote peace and security, as well as the need to increase their role in decision-making at all levels. We strongly condemn all violations of the human rights of women and girls in situations of armed conflict and the use of sexual exploitation, violence and abuse, and we commit ourselves to elaborating and implementing strategies to report on, prevent and punish gender-based violence.”
This reaffirmation of earlier declarations demonstrates that success can be achieved on a normative level within the framework of the United Nations. Still, formulating a norm is a long way from ensuring adherence to it in practice. Therefore, additional reforms taking into account a gender perspective are needed within the UN. There are still no concrete proposals on how a gender perspective can be integrated in the event of external interventions. In military interventions, one of the major weak points in the authorization of peacekeeping missions has been and continues to be the design of the UN mandates themselves. The complicated negotiation process in the UN Security Council as well as between it and the UN Secretariat has often caused mandates to be formulated in vague terms, raising high expectations that can never be met due to a lack of funding, personnel, and logistics. Moreover, given the narrow scope of the mandates, troops in affected areas can react only poorly to changing needs. Gender policy objectives can only be implemented if they are defined in the mandate – which currently is not the case. The mandate formulation process thus also urgently needs reform on this point. The financial requirements associated with each mandate must also be specified precisely, since they directly affect the mandate’s type and scope of implementation. And to re-emphasize the point: Before resorting to military measures of coercion all other non-military forms of intervention must be exhausted.
The High Level Panel also contains very few gender-specific demands. Although the High Level Panel and the final document of the 2005 world summit do refer explicitly to Security Council Resolution 1325, they make no recommendations as to how the resolution should be implemented. Point 4 of Resolution 1325, for example, states that the role and contribution of women should be reinforced by promoting their work as military observers, civil personnel, civil police, and as human rights and humanitarian personnel for UN field missions. In 2008, however, only 2.1 % of military personnel were female, although an all-female police contingent of 103 Indian women did provide security in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
Out of 30 worldwide peacekeeping missions, there was only one, the UNMIL in Liberia, that was led by a woman, Denmark’s Ellen Margrethe Løj. Just eleven peace missions had full-time gender consultants; eight had feminist gender consultants; and seven had “Gender Focal Points.” Deploying more female UN Special Envoys and increasing the number of women in peacekeeping missions would be both simple and effective strategies to achieve the objectives of Resolution 1325. The political will of the countries sending troops is a vital precondition for success. Because of major political differences between the UN member states, so far only a very small portion of the High Level Panel’s reform proposals has been implemented. One of these proposals, adopted by the UN General Assembly inits session of December 20, 2005, was to establish a Peacebuilding Commission.
However, in gender questions, so far neither the Peacebuilding Commission nor the newly formed Human Rights Council have made truly significant progress, although some starting points for feminist demands are expressed in the various position papers for UN reform.
This also gave a new impetus to discussion about whether a new UN organization for women should be established, with increased staff and financial support. The initial impulse for this came from a man, the Canadian feminist Stephen Lewis. In an impassioned speech on UN reform in July 2006 in Geneva, the former UN Envoy for AIDS in Africa pointed out the low budget of the UN Women’s Fund, UNIFEM, and insisted that half of humanity should no longer be fobbed off with mere crumbs. It is, “after 50 years of passivity and paralysis, high time” to set up an organization with an annual budget of at least one billion US dollars, he said. At an informal meeting of several UN member states in September 2008 in New York, various models were discussed. The EU, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as several NGOs, supported the idea of combining previously existing women’s departments into a new, stronger entity that encompasses the following organizations: the UN Women’s Fund (UNIFEM); OSAGI (Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues); DAW (Division for the Advancement of Women), and INSTRAW (International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women). Other countries wanted to leave everything the way it was or thought that a new department under the UN Secretary General would be better.