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Human rights council holds the first panel of the annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women on accountability for women and girls in humanitarian settings

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13 ذو القعدة, 1441

Human Rights Council

13 July 2020

The Human Rights Council this morning held the first panel of its annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women, which focused on accountability for women and girls in humanitarian settings.

Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the topic of this discussion was of vital relevance, given the current intersection of multiple human rights crises. The urgent task today was to consider how accountability mechanisms could be responsive to the range of human rights abuses faced by women and girls in humanitarian settings.

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, speaking via video message, said that human rights did not end when emergencies began. Just as pregnancies did not end, when emergencies began. Sexual and gender-based violence did not end when emergencies began either. Rather the contrary, they increased. The international community and humanitarian organizations must consider the unique vulnerabilities of women and girls when designing solutions and implementing them.

Panel moderator, Tammam Aloudat, Deputy Executive Director of the Access Campaign, Medecins Sans Frontières, Switzerland, said that immediate interventions mounted by humanitarian actors tended to be primarily medical ones that focused on life-saving interventions. This, however, became rapidly insufficient in certain settings, thus contributing to multi-faceted disempowerment of certain groups within the affected communities.

Tatiana Mukanire, National Coordinator for the National Network of Survivors of Sexual Violence (Democratic Republic of the Congo), speaking via video message, said that some people still believed that rape did not exist or that it was not so serious -- this was absurd and revolting! Rape and sexual violence were the most humiliating way to kill a person while letting them breathe. Today there was something that could soften this pain : good holistic care and reparation.

Sara Hossain, Lawyer and Honorary Executive Director of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (Bangladesh), speaking via video message, said that in practice, for many of those living in humanitarian contexts, the prospects of accountability through international justice remained remote and distant. That was why it was so important to consider how existing systems on the ground could support women and girls to move them from being victims of international crimes to taking control over their lives and moving forward.

Enid Muthoni Ndiga, Senior Vice President, Global Legal Programme of the Centre for Reproductive Rights (Kenya), welcomed the efforts of the Council in the area of the human rights of women and girls in humanitarian settings, urging the Council to continue building on this momentum at a time of a global pandemic, prevalence of high conflict and natural disasters, and of a backlash against human rights generally but more so against gender rights and women’s rights.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted that it was worrisome that 25 years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and 30 years after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1324, women and girls still faced widespread violence and discrimination, notably in the face of humanitarian crises. They urged Member States to implement inclusive and sustainable solutions that enabled women and girls in all humanitarian settings not only to survive, but to thrive.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue were European Union, Denmark on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Luxembourg on behalf of a group of countries, Fiji on behalf of a group of countries, Canada on behalf of Groupe des Etats de la Francophonie, Qatar, UN Women, Germany, Angola, Pakistan, Senegal, Armenia, Venezuela, India, Philippines (video message), Iran, Australia, Cuba, Indonesia, Food and Agriculture Organization, Egypt, Slovenia (video message), and Switzerland.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor : Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, Save the Children International, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, the Centre for Reproductive Rights, Inc.,Sikh Human Rights Group, and Asociacion HazteOir.org.

The Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. The second part of the annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 July.

Annual Full-Day Discussion on the Human Rights of Women

Panel Discussion on Accountability for Women and Girls in Humanitarian Settings

Opening Statement

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the topic of this discussion was of vital relevance, given the current intersection of multiple human rights crises. Crises around the world had become increasingly protracted and complex : the average time spent in displacement was now estimated to be 26 years. Last year the United Nations Population Fund estimated that 35 million women and girls aged 15–49 required humanitarian assistance for reasons related to conflict and natural disasters, with 200 million people who may be needing assistance by 2022 due to climate change, COVID-19 and conflict. The Human Rights Council had emphasised that even in crisis situations, a broad vision of human rights-based accountability was essential. The urgent task today was to consider how accountability mechanisms could be responsive to the range of human rights abuses faced by women and girls in humanitarian settings. There had been some progress in recent years in ensuring that investigations of human rights violations integrated a gender perspective, with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar documenting intersecting rights violations against Rohingya women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence. In Venezuela, in 2019, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had documented limited access to sexual and reproductive health services, with zero contraceptives available in several cities, alongside severe restrictions on abortion. These investigations highlighted the importance of understanding the continuum of rights violations that women and girls suffered in humanitarian settings.

Keynote Statement

CROWN PRINCESS MARY OF DENMARK, speaking via video message, said that human rights were the basic rights and freedoms that belonged to every person in the world, from birth until death, regardless of the circumstances. Human rights did not end when emergencies began. Just as pregnancies did not end, when emergencies began. Just as childbirths did not end, when emergencies began. Sexual and gender-based violence did not end when emergencies began either. Rather the contrary, they increased. As health facilities globally were overburdened and supply chains disrupted, women and girls faced limitations - particularly in humanitarian settings - in accessing essential health services, including sexual and reproductive health services. Lockdowns increased the risk of violence and exploitation of children. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had estimated that COVID-19 had impacted schooling for over 70 per cent of children around the globe. Girls living in emergency contexts were at particular risk of not returning to school. Women and girls’ vulnerability in crises was not a sign of weakness, but of inequality. More than anything, women and girls were powerful and resourceful. More than ever, the current health crisis had demonstrated the need for the international community to work together - it had shown that the strength of unity and the power of joining forces was the world’s best weapon. The international community and humanitarian organizations must consider the unique vulnerabilities of women and girls when designing solutions and implementing them.

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

TAMMAM ALOUDAT, Deputy Executive Director of the Access Campaign, Medecins Sans Frontières, Switzerland, and moderator, said immediate interventions mounted by humanitarian actors tended to be primarily medical ones that focused on life-saving interventions. This, however, became rapidly insufficient in certain settings, thus contributing to multi-faceted disempowerment of certain groups within the affected communities. The protection of, and accountability to, women and girls in humanitarian settings could not be done through a separate line of work and away from humanitarian workers, the doctors and nurses, logisticians and administrators, that were providing the “physical” services. It was specifically by a requirement and expectation that those very humanitarian workers were, through their engagement with the community and a significant shift of responsibilities and decision making to local actors and community members, the ones that could push further in this route. This was a shift in culture and understanding of the mission and values of humanitarian actors, rather than a change in indicators and standard operational procedures. This, unfortunately, was a more difficult route but it was necessary and long overdue.

TATIANA MUKANIRE, National Coordinator for the National Network of Survivors of Sexual Violence (Democratic Republic of the Congo), speaking via video message, said that some people still believed that rape did not exist or that it was not so serious -- this was absurd and revolting! Rape and sexual violence were the most humiliating way to kill a person while letting them breathe. To be raped was synonymous with several words, it was to be dead in one's own flesh, one's soul, with a broken and irreparable heart. Today there was something that could soften this pain : good holistic care and reparation. People often say that to educate one woman was to educate a whole nation. Had the world ever understood that to destroy one woman was to destroy a whole nation? For her, these reparations were synonymous with acknowledging the harm done to her while giving her a chance to get back on her feet. Ms. Mukanire urged the consultation and direct involvement of survivors in the design and implementation of all policies relating to the issue of sexual violence during and after conflict, as well as the provision of holistic care and support to the Global Fund launched by Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for survivors, to ease the pain by encouraging reparations for the damage caused to victims and survivors in their respective countries.

SARA HOUSSAIN, Lawyer and Honorary Executive Director of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (Bangladesh), speaking via video message, said that the discussion was taking place during a pandemic, when some were able to participate in person, while others remained restricted in their movements. The pandemic experience for women and girls in humanitarian settings was very different as too many were deprived of access to mobile and Internet networks. Access to technology and an understanding of how it related to the issue of rights was critical to establishing accountability for women and girls in humanitarian settings. The Council must build on positive experiences, such as the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar that was effective in mobilising support to provide protection for women and girls, by developing the mandate of its investigation bodies. In practice, for many of those living in humanitarian contexts, the prospects of accountability through international justice remained remote and distant. That was why it was so important to consider how existing systems on the ground could support women and girls to move them from being victims of international crimes to taking control over their lives and moving forward.

ENID MUTHONI NDIGA, Senior Vice President, Global Legal Programme of the Centre for Reproductive Rights (Kenya), welcomed the efforts of the Council in the area of women and girls’ human rights in humanitarian settings, urging the Council to continue building on this momentum at a time of a global pandemic, prevalence of high conflict and natural disasters, and of a backlash against human rights generally but more so against gender rights and women’s rights. There was a global consensus on the need to bridge the humanitarian and development nexus, emphasising the centrality of human rights in these conversations. Humanitarian settings exacerbated entrenched and systemic patterns of discrimination : women and girls’ rights were often neglected and deprioritised in times of emergencies. Effective accountability mechanisms had to go beyond legal criminal accountability, requiring full, equal, effective and meaningful participation of women and girls as well as the ability to confer meaningful and effective remedies to victims and survivors of violations. To achieve this, a Human Rights Council initiative on accountability for women and girls in humanitarian settings would help ensure a circle of accountability.

Discussion

Speakers noted that it was worrisome that 25 years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and 30 years after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1324, women and girls still faced widespread violence and discrimination, notably in the face of humanitarian crises. The COVID-19 crisis was very much associated with a sharp rise in incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, as societies were torn apart, and protective structures were broken down. Accountability for human rights violations against women and girls was too often given little importance in aid programmes, and speakers urged the need to promote a survivor-centred approach. Some speakers said women and girls were more likely to make sacrifices in humanitarian emergencies, such as eating less, to support their families. Ensuring women’s and girls’ agency to engage in accountable and decision-making processes and dialogues with the duty-bearers would allow for the identification of new and more effective ways to address their needs during humanitarian situations, and also to effectively redress violations of their human rights in crises. Speakers urged Member States to implement inclusive and sustainable solutions that enabled women and girls in all humanitarian settings not only to survive, but to thrive.

Speakers emphasised that the COVID-19 pandemic started as a health crisis, but had now evolved into a multi-dimensional human rights crisis. An inclusive approach in responding to the pandemic was instrumental in building back better and emerging from the crisis to a more equal society. Countries hosting refugees needed to generate conditions in which it would be possible to end discrimination against refugee women and girls. Some speakers called for a collective and united response from the international community at large, condemning unilateral coercive measures that negatively affected the rights of women and girls in targeted countries. The full spectrum of gender-responsive policy design, monitoring and implementation was emphasised by other speakers as the key to a holistic approach that would engender real change on the ground, ensuring systemic accountability. No culture, socio-economic system or level of development was immune from gender-based discrimination against women and girls. Stigmatisation remained one of the obstacles in victims seeking justice, and speakers asked the panel about best practices that would ensure the protection of victims’ privacy. Rural women comprised 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force, but worked longer for less, facing even greater constraints, and their reliance on agriculture-based livelihoods put them at particular risk to disaster.

Concluding Remarks

TAMMAM ALOUDAT, Deputy Executive Director of the Access Campaign, Medecins Sans Frontières, Switzerland, moderator, said that COVID-19’s immediate effects needed to be addressed. At the same time, it could be considered a mere stress test for future challenges for which all needed to prepared.

TATIANA MUKANIRE, National Coordinator for the National Network of Survivors of Sexual Violence (Democratic Republic of the Congo), speaking via video message, said it was important to involve survivors as they were the only ones who knew what they needed to improve their lives. Their voices must be heeded.

SARA HOUSSAIN, Lawyer and Honorary Executive Director of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (Bangladesh), speaking via video message, said it was important to put girls and women at the centre while considering their need for control and agency. A significant best practice was having health and justice sectors working together. In the COVID-19 context, it was particularly important to remember that human rights were also women’s rights.

ENID MUTHONI NDIGA, Senior Vice President, Global Legal Programme of the Centre for Reproductive Rights (Kenya), said that, in order to enhance the participation of women and girls in a sustainable manner, it was important to provide fora and opportunities for them to engage in sectors and activities from which they had been excluded in the past. To that end, the transformative opportunities of humanitarian interventions had to be seized. For example, accountability should be increased and sexual and reproductive health services should be provided in humanitarian contexts.

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