ASEAN and Prevention of Violence Against Women in Conflict and Humanitarian Situations

IMG_1881[1]The Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, with the support of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, hosted a workshop on ASEAN and Prevention of Violence Against Women in Conflict and Humanitarian Situations in Jakarta on 20 August 2014. The event was attended by 48 leaders from the government sector, non-government organizations and international organizations from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Viet Nam. It was our honour to host Acting British Ambassador to Indonesia, ASEAN and Timor Leste, Rebecca Razavi, who gave the keynote address on the ‘Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative’.

Below is an abbreviated Introduction to the Workshop by Sara Davies, AP R2P Program Director for Prevention of Mass Atrocities. The Introduction has been published in full as a Spotlight Brief at Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

“It is my pleasure to have this opportunity to welcome such a distinguished audience to this Workshop on Prevention of Violence Against Women in Conflict and Humanitarian Situations, hosted by the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Today, we are attempting to address two ambitions.

First, to identify, document and highlight the important regional, national and local work that you – as governments and civil society organizations – have undertaken to protect populations from R2P crimes, which include widespread and systematic sexual and gender based violence.

Second, to explore ways of assisting ASEAN and individual members to fulfill their responsibility to eliminate violence against women. In particular, we are interested in exploring how the principle of the responsibility to protect might assist, what further initiatives may enable a deepening of engagement in this issue, what sorts of capacities still need to be built, and how the international community might support these efforts across Southeast Asia.

Our Centre is particularly focused on the prevention of mass atrocities. Prevention creates the best conditions for stability and prosperity, which enables populations to be protected effectively and inclusively.

We have long argued that the prevention of mass atrocity crimes requires engagement with the conditions that perpetuate gender inequality, women’s human rights violations and the disproportionate risk of atrocity crimes, specifically those that constitute sexual and gender based violence, which sees women and girls disproportionately targeted. It also demands that we pay attention to the empowerment of women as peacemakers, peacebuilders, and sources of protection.

We believe strongly that advocates of R2P should engage with and promote the prevention, protection, participation framework outlined by the Women Peace and Security Agenda, which was first passed as resolution 1325 by the United Nations Security Council in 2000, and successively in resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122.

As a result, the promotion of dialogue and mutual understanding between the R2P principle and WPS agenda has become a core focus of the Centre’s work on the conditions for prevention of mass atrocities for four main reasons:

First, it is now well recognized that sexual and gender-based violence can constitute acts of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. At their most basic, R2P and WPS share important goals in common, not least, the elimination of these types of crimes.

Second, there is a strong explanatory relationship between endemic gender inequality and high rates of political violence and one-sided violence against civilians. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon observed in his 2013 R2P report on State Responsibility and Protection:

‘Gender discrimination and inequality increase underlying risks associated with sexual and gender-based violence, which can constitute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity…Specific gender discrimination practices include the denial or inadequate protection of basic rights relating to physical security and the status of women, compulsory birth control and unequal access to services and property’.

Third, sexual and gendered violence are often the first types of mass atrocity crimes committed against populations to achieve political ends. These crimes can occur before conflict, after conflict and during conflict as Syria, Mali, Sri Lanka and recent tragedy in Iraq with the Yazidi population demonstrate. There is a history of gendered crimes being used as tools of political violence to achieve political aims. This continues today, but its role in fostering other crimes and violence conflict is not yet adequately understood. This is the focus of my own research with Prof. Jacqui True, in the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Asia Pacific Project.

Fourth, R2P and WPS share a common focus on prevention and in the development of international, regional, national and societal level tools to empower women and prevent mass atrocities (R2P – through appointment of government level R2P Focal Point and WPS – through development of NAPs). This means that there is opportunity to align the R2P principle and the WPS agenda on the targets and tools needed to prevent mass atrocity crimes, which – as stated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in his 2013 report – demands action to address structural gender inequality and gender discrimination.

Today we are interested in exploring the progress made by ASEAN member states in the promotion of the VAW Agenda and in how this may be extended through greater reference to WPS agenda in the Political-Security Community – the area with greatest focus (and responsibility) on populations at risk in situations of civil strife, conflict and humanitarian disasters. We want to explore how the WPS agenda might be advanced through the region’s Political-Security Community to ensure that the resilience built in ‘peaceful’ situations extends to situations characterized by conflict and humanitarian disasters – where there is disproportionate risk to women and girls.

I will make some final notes regarding areas where we see alignment across three areas – WPS, PSVI and VAW – in the ASEAN region.

ASEAN and WPS PowerPoint

First, with passage of Resolution 1325 in 2000 it was recognized that the maintenance of international peace and security depended upon women’s equal and full participation in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. The ASEAN Political-Security Community has developed parallel to WPS and have made statements suggesting supportive of its goals but, thus far, ASEAN Member States have made few specific engagements relevant to 1325 in terms of taking both a whole-of-government and regional organization approach to incorporate WPS into political and security sectors. Of interest to us, the one area where we have seen significant ASEAN foreign ministry-led engagement in WPS has been the UK’s PSVI.

The PSVI, which we will hear more about next from UK FCO Acting Ambassador Rebecca Razavi, has been one of most important normative developments in foreign policy in recent years. There has been much focus on the UNGA Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the recently, the International Protocol on Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Within this region, 8 ASEAN member states have committed to this Declaration. The Declaration calls upon states to legislate against and prosecute individuals for these crimes, have police and justice mechanisms in place to punish anyone for these crimes, and requests states and regional organizations to recognise and implement the WPS National Action Plans; as well as promote women’s full participation in all political, governance, and security structures.

The commitment of Indonesia, Philippines and East Timor Foreign Ministers, at the June 2014 Global Summit on PSVI, to serve as Champions of PSVI and promote the UNGA Declaration against Sexual Violence amongst the ASEAN membership is a further significant development. This public support provides an opportunity to sharpen attention on the participation, protection and prevention elements of the WPS agenda that is not present within the ASEAN Political-Security Community. The PSVI falls directly under the purview of the ASEAN Political-Security Community and may provide an opportunity to formalise inclusion of WPS agenda.

To date, we have identified a considerable gap in reporting on the work being done every day to protect people from these grave crimes. We focus a lot on the failure but give too little focus and attention on what works. This gap in knowledge exists not just in the area of WPS but across a number of areas of concern to R2P – in relation to asylum seekers and refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, children and other vulnerable populations. This workshop is the beginning, we hope, of a process of documenting the work you are doing which contributes to the goal of preventing atrocities and provides opportunities for participation and engagement that may inform future policy and programs.

As such, we are very keen to hear from you about what the priorities should be as we move forward to achieve the goals of WPS and R2P in our region.

A report detailing the event and recommendations from the participants will be available at the Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect in late September.  The program for the event may be found here.

Australia and the Responsibility to Protect

Statement may also be located at Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect.

At the 2005 World Summit of the United Nations, commemorating 60 years since the birth of the United Nations, the responsibility to protect (R2P) was articulated as a shared commitment on the part of UN member states. In the intervening period, R2P has gained greater momentum as a framework for responding to, or trying to prevent, the outbreak of mass atrocities. The relative success of R2P prompted one leading scholar on global governance, Tom Weiss, to claim that ‘no idea has moved faster or farther in the international normative arena than R2P’.1

There are many reasons why R2P has transitioned from being an emerging norm, as it was spoken about in the middle of the last decade, to an action guiding norm that has widespread support today. Of these, there is no doubt that consistent and enduring support from successive Australian governments has been an important variable in explaining the evolution of R2P.2 Indeed, it should be remembered that there has been a bipartisan commitment to the protection of populations at risk from mass atrocities stretching back over many years. Recall that it was the government led by Prime Minister John Howard that undertook the interventions in

East Timor (1999) and the Solomon Islands (2003), both of which are now heralded as early examples underscoring the responsibility to assist states under stress and to protect populations at grave risk (in World Summit speak: Pillar 2 and Pillar 3 responsibilities). More recently, the bipartisan appeal of R2P prompted former Liberal Party Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to note that he was ‘at one’ with his long-serving Labour predecessor Gareth Evans in calling for Australia to show leadership in international affairs by making R2P ‘a major priority’.3

What follows is a brief analysis of the key drivers of the process of norm transmission that highlights Australia’s enduring contribution to the emergence, consolidation and institutionalisation of R2P. The analysis concludes with recommendations for Australia’s continued support for R2P under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Norm Promoter

The success of R2P owes a great deal to the clarity of the initial articulation by the International Commission on State Sovereignty and Intervention (ICISS). The work of this Commission, at the beginning of the century, shifted the focus from the ‘right’ of external states to intervene to the ‘responsibility’ of all states, first and foremost, to protect peoples in their jurisdiction from genocide and other crimes against humanity. Through his skillful co-chairing of the ICISS, former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was able to shape the agenda with respect to mass atrocity prevention and response. Finding a way to ‘sell’ R2P to a developing world that had rightly been suspicious of interventionist practices was a major challenge: it was met with the ingenious argument that R2P was a friend of sovereignty rather than its enemy. In other words, to be considered a worthy member of the UN system in the 21st century, it was necessary not just to have the attributes of sovereignty but to exercise that power legitimately. Sovereignty was never meant to be a tyrant’s charter.

Following the 2001 ICISS report, and the inclusion of R2P (at Evan’s insistence) in Kofi Annan’s High-Level Panel report, there followed a critical period in which diplomatic first movers such as Australia had to drive the agenda forward. A milestone achievement in this respect was the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, containing the three operative paragraphs about R2P (138, 139, 140).

Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, John Dauth, helped broker the global consensus that emerged at the World Summit, strongly supported by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. From 2005 to 2009, Ambassador Robert Hill ‘led the charge to implement the RtoP by stressing its relevance to the UN’s protection of civilians agenda’.4

Norm Consolidator: Staying the Course

From 2005 to the present, there has been on-going diplomatic support from key states at all levels in international society, including Security Council Permanent Members such as the UK and France, and dozens of other sovereign states in the UN—notably Australia—who are active members of the Secretary General’s ‘Group of Friends of R2P’.5 This support takes many forms: first, declaratory statements in the UN General Assembly or other multilateral institutions outlining the importance of atrocity prevention and/or the need for timely responses to the outbreak of mass atrocities; second, leveraging R2P to censure governments that are manifestly failing to protect their peoples; and third, reminding the international community of its responsibility to assist or coerce governments when a risk of atrocities is present or already occurring. This is precisely the diplomatic support Foreign Minister Bishop provided in her address to the UN General Assembly on 27 September 2013. Recalling that all UN member states had endorsed R2P at the 2005 World Summit, Julie Bishop reminded world leaders that the ‘first obligation of any government is to protect its own citizens’, and that Australia would continue to press for Security Council action to uphold this principle in Syria.6 This address came just a day after Foreign Minister Bishop chaired the Security Council meeting that marked the adoption of the first-ever Security Council resolution dedicated exclusively to the problem of small arms and light weapons (SALW). Drawing important linkages between the Council’s thematic agendas, this Australian-led resolution related the Council’s effort to control SALW to its obligations under R2P by underscoring that small arms have been implicated in grave crimes covered by the R2P principle (i.e. genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity).7

For each of the past five years, the General Assembly has held an informal dialogue on a yearly Secretary General’s report on R2P. Australia is one of only twenty governments that have participated in all five dialogues. The statement presented on behalf of the Australian government at this year’s debate held on 11 September 2013 demonstrates a full spectrum endorsement of R2P. The statement opened with a commitment to the R2P principle – ‘the exercise of sovereignty by a State comes with a fundamental responsibility to protect its populations from mass atrocity crimes’, before wholeheartedly getting behind the prevention initiatives in the Secretary General’s report (this year’s theme focused on the role of state governments in atrocities prevention). Embedded in the statement was a succinct analysis of the Syria crisis through the lens of R2P – summarised as follows: the host state had manifestly failed, the international community therefore has a responsibility to take effective action, and yet ‘the Council has failed to fulfil its responsibility to prevent further atrocities for over two years. It must now meet its responsibilities’.8

There have been many other norm consolidators in the ranks of UN member states. Yet it would be difficult to find another state in the UN system that has been more committed to R2P from 2001 to the present: Canada, by contrast, was an R2P promoter but it has subsequently ‘fallen by the wayside’.9 Moving in the opposite direction, countries that were previously cautious to the framework are now giving it their endorsement, including a number of Southeast Asian and Latin American states (such as Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Argentina and Brazil). The degree of consolidation is such that the Secretary-General and other leading advocates of R2P now talk about the challenge no longer being one of articulation but of implementation.

Norm implementer: Institutionalising R2P in domestic and international contexts

An engaged community of academics, practitioners, and advocacy networks has nudged the normative evolution of R2P forward. Several Australian governments have deemed this ‘epistemic community’ as being worthy of receiving modest yet targeted resources. Australia has provided funding to: the International Coalition for R2P to help build and mobilise a global network of NGOs seeking to advance R2P; the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) and their focal point initiative which supports governments to appoint a senior-level official responsible for the promotion of R2P at the national level (Australia co-chairs this initiative along with Denmark, Ghana and Costa Rica); as well as research led by the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P (AP R2P) to deepen understanding of atrocities prevention strategies and measures to institutionalize R2P at the state, regional and UN levels.

In its initial phase, AP R2P managed a $2m Australian R2P Fund which supported 14 research projects. Among these included a project on atrocities prevention led by Oxford Professor Jennifer M. Welsh, the newly appointed Secretary General’s Special Advisor for R2P. Professor Welsh recently joined a team at the UN Joint Office on Genocide Prevention and R2P, which the Australian government has funded to deepen the UN’s commitment to atrocities prevention, to raise alerts where there is risk such violence, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate remedial action. These examples of Australia’s willingness to match its rhetorical support for R2P with the resources to translate words into deeds have undoubtedly contributed to the resilience, conceptual development and long-term sustainability of the principle.

Enabling a community of the committed to advance R2P is an important contribution. Further progress, however, requires a great deal more than this. It needs a coalition of the committed among great powers, emerging powers, countries in the global north and the global south, and civil society organisations. It requires effective leadership in the UN system, in capitals of member states, and in key regional and international institutions.

Maintaining Momentum

Australia’s bipartisan and enduring commitment to R2P has made it a change agent in the transmission of the norm from its initial ‘promoter’ phase, through to ‘consolidation’ after the World Summit, and implementation during the last 5-8 years. Such forward movement should not be taken for granted – the near universal consensus that the sovereign state bears the primary responsibility to protect is not matched by a parallel convergence in the international community as to what should be done when the host state is manifestly failing in its protection responsibilities.

Building a norm is a painstaking task; it is one where consistent declaratory support must be matched by well-considered and appropriate resource allocation. Australia’s continued support for R2P relies on the government and its agencies taking difficult political decisions in a time of relative austerity.

We close by foregrounding what we in the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P think the government should prioritise – it is anticipated that each of these points will receive more extensive analysis in subsequent publications by AP R2P and in dialogue with the relevant agencies:

• Maintain active support for the Australian R2P ‘focal point’ – both in terms of sustaining the role in DFAT and building a wider international constituency for member states to initiate focal points.

• Commission a review of R2P activities and commitments across all relevant institutions of government (mapping these against the three pillar analysis favoured by the current Secretary-General).

• Ensure there is alignment between R2P and related UN Security Council thematic agendas, specifically protection of civilians, women, peace & security, children and armed conflict, and small arms and light weapons.

• Continue to dedicate targeted resources to maintaining the work of the R2P community of the committed, while at the same time better integrating their research and advocacy into work being done within DFAT.

• Use the 2014 year on the Security Council to advance R2P both thematically and as a policy response to specific issues/crises that are clamoring for the attention of the ‘15’.

• Encourage regional engagement on atrocities prevention in the Asia Pacific, Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific study group on R2P.

These initiatives would ensure that the consistent support given by Australian governments to R2P endures. Australia should remain at the forefront of the global effort to protect populations from mass atrocities.


1 Thomas G. Weiss, ‘R2P Alive and Well after Libya’, Ethics and International Affairs, 25:3 (2011), p.287.
2 As Alex Bellamy put it, ‘Australia‘s commitment to the RtoP has been bipartisan and enduring’. See Alex J. Bellamy, ‘The Responsibility to Protect and Australian Foreign Policy’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 64:4 (2010), p.436.
3 Alexander Downer, ‘Australia fumbles its chance at the United Nations’, The Adelaide Advertiser, 01 September 2013.
4 Alex Bellamy, ‘The Responsibility to Protect and Australian Foreign Policy’, p.436.
5 The Group of Friends of R2P is an informal group of states supportive of and seeking to advance the SG’s efforts to implement R2P. Australia is a member of the group, which is co-chaired by the Netherlands and Rwanda, and comprises some 40 states, a regional organisation and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
6 The Honourable Julie Bishop MP, ‘Building Global Security and Prosperity’, National Statement to the Opening of the General Debate of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, 27 September 2013.
7 S/RES/2117, Resolution of the United Nations Security Council, 26 September 2013. ‘Statement by Mr. Michael Bliss, Political Coordinator, Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations’, UN General Assembly, 11 September 2013.
8 Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock, ‘R2P: A New and Unfinished Agenda’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 1:1 (2009), pp.54-69.