R2P + WPS = preventing SGBV

States do go to war over oil and scarce resources, among other things, but they are more likely to do so if the society has norms of violence rooted in gender inequality. Sex and World Peace, p.3.

As Elizabeth and her captors arrived at the militia camp, she realized that dozens of other girls had also been kidnapped. “When we got there we were so many,” she said. “We were taken into the bush, when a big man came and took me.” Life with the Mayi Mayi, an ethnic milita, was a nightmare of almost continuous abuse. “All they did was come and ‘take’ us often. They used to tie up the women and tie their husbands to trees then take us [the girls],” the 17-year-old told IRIN.” I stayed with them for so long and it didn’t matter any more who took me.”

Widespread and/or systematic sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) can be an act of genocide, a war crime and a crime against humanity, three of the four crimes listed in the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle.  As such, the protection of those at risk of SGBV is not just part of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda at the UN, it is a fundamental responsibility for all states as part of their commitment to R2P.   However, there remain a variety of different views concerning the merits and utility of aligning WPS with R2P. In particular, views differ as to whether there is anything to be gained for the WPS agenda or for the R2P principle by advancing action to tackle widespread and systematic SGBV in the UN system, including the Security Council, as part of a coordinated strategy for implementing R2P and WPS.

Are opportunities being missed by failing to align the prevention and protection agendas in WPS and R2P? What are the potential costs and benefits of aligning the two agendas in some respects?  And, how are the common interests of the two agendas best advanced?

The Australian Government’s National Action Plan on WPS 2012-2018, made no mention of R2P itself or of the role of conflict early warning, conflict de-escalation, international military and police deployments, and the role played by the prosecution of crimes against women through the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Despite this, there are some clear potential synergies between the plan and the pursuit of R2P goals.  In particular, the National Action Plan provides scattered references to ‘responsibility’ in the context of the sovereign responsibility to protect women’s rights, the command responsibility of defence, and the responsibility that women often adopt to take care of vulnerable loved ones (often at risk to their lives) and seek peaceful stability (FAHSCIA 2012: 3, 36, 37, 41).

To examine the potential relationship between WPS and R2P, we at the Human Protection Hub with our research partners, the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, are preparing a workshop with policy makers and academics in October 2012 that will focus on whether these areas should be aligned with the prevention and protection aims of R2P.  We have four broad questions:

1.     Alignment of R2P with WPS – where is the value best added?

2.  The relationship between R2P and WPS for conflict prevention and civilian protection in international policing and military missions

3.     Operationalisation of WPS in humanitarian response

4.  Positive relationship between the ‘responsible state’ and WPS: building on knowledge of the specific drivers and national benchmarks that promote peace and security

The central focus in the workshop is on the potential advantages and pitfalls in aligning R2P with WPS.  As stated above, there are concerns that aligning the R2P lens with WPS undermines the protection of civilians and peaceful empowerment focus in the WPS agenda.  Is the ‘natural’ alignment between R2P and WPS primarily about identifying women as victims of sexual violence rather than empowered individuals able to protect themselves?  Or alternatively, may a ‘R2P lens’ highlight the enduring responsibility of all sovereigns to promote and protect the normative goals of WPS?  One thing is certain: it is vital that we better understand the drivers that prevent  widespread and systematic SGBV. This knowledge is crucial for both the R2P princple and the WPS agenda.  Our hope is to generate dialogue on the scope for cooperation and opportunities that will produce practical outcomes that empower women.

For further information on the workshop kindly contact:

Sara Davies (sara.davies@griffith.edu.au), Human Protection Hub

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