Government developing new policy on women, peace and security

Last month, the Australian Government ran a series of consultations around Australia, seeking input from the community, civil society and academia on Australia’s second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (WPS).

National Action Plans serve as a means for UN Member States to integrate the suite of resolutions passed by the Security Council into their own national policy and practice. The first resolution on Women, Peace and Security, UNSCR 1325 was passed in October 2000. It was the first time the Security Council recognised that men and women, boys and girls, experience conflict differently. Since then, seven more resolutions have been passed to mainstream gender issues into international peace and security, calling for an end to conflict related sexual violence and an increase in women’s participation in conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and relief and recovery.

Australia’s first National Action Plan, was launched in 2012 and was due to expire this year, but the government has sought an extension of the plan from parliament. The new plan is due in 2019. The national consultations were structured around a publicly available discussion paper. There were three groups of questions for discussion at the consultations: the proposed principles of the new NAP; pillars of the NAP; and accountability.

The proposed principles of the new NAP fail to acknowledge the international legal framework from which the Women, Peace and Security agenda arises. Seven of the eight resolutions explicitly draw on international humanitarian law including the Geneva Conventions, and international human rights law. Six of the eight resolutions explicitly draw on international agreements on women’s rights. Protecting women from conflict related sexual violence and ending impunity for such crimes is the focus of half of the resolutions.

Several of the resolutions remind Member States that sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But the Security Council remains frustrated by the total lack of prosecutions. There have been both victims and alleged perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But the last time a successful war crimes trial was prosecuted in Australia was 1951.

The discussion paper suggested Australia may focus their upcoming WPS efforts on women’s participation. While there was significant criticism of previous focus on women as victims in war, rather than agents of change, there remain significant gaps in action to end impunity for conflict related violence. These shortfalls need to be remedied during the period of the next NAP.

There is an interest in ensuring the next NAP is flexible enough to deal with emerging issues in the WPS agenda. Such issues include terrorism and human trafficking. The legal and policy framework for these issues needs to be sured up in the Australian context, and better connected to international peace and security policy and practice. Some advocates are also calling for other issues such as climate change and migration to be included in the next NAP, but this cannot be done at the expense of the core principles of women’s rights which underpin the entire WPS agenda.

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq have highlighted the massive gap in implementation of the WPS agenda. Hundreds of Australians have travelled overseas to join the ranks of organisations like Da’esh whose tactics and procedures incorporate such serious breaches of international law as the trafficking of women and girls, their sexual enslavement, sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But the Australian legal system has entirely failed to investigate and prosecute these crimes, despite having the relevant criminal law at the Commonwealth level. Trying to incorporate issues such as climate change into the next NAP when there is clearly so much work still to be done at the core of the agenda is unreasonable.

Australia, and countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden, UK, US from where thousands of foreign fighters have travelled, need to update their policies and programs to ensure the relevant investigative authorities and judicial mechanisms work to end impunity for conflict-related sexual violence.

When such policies align with international treaty obligations, reporting to the international community should be simple. Monitoring and evaluation was by far the greatest weakness of the last NAP. Since then, international developments such as the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals have increased the reporting expectations. But if the NAP is constructed around these obligations, and a suitable monitoring and evaluation framework is developed, reports should be able to produce themselves.

If you would like to reinforce the importance of international law, and updating policies to ensure Australia acts to end impunity for conflict related sexual violence, you can still have your say. The Office for Women who are coordinating the development of the NAP have an online survey where you can contribute your views on the questions they asked in the discussion paper. The survey is open until the end of July.

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