Lithuania's statement at the UN Security Council open debate on protection of civilians: Protection challenges and needs faced by women and girls in armed conflict and post-conflict settings
Women and girls are usually the first victims of conflict. They are disproportionately affected by conflict related displacement, rights deprivation, marginalization, and abuse. They are also the prime targets of sexual violence, rape, of forced and child marriages.
In 1999 the Security Council took a unanimous decision to address systematically the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Considerable normative base has been created and progress made since. That progress has been reinforced by the adoption of the landmark Resolution 1325 a year later, and relevant developments since.
The primary responsibility to protect civilian populations rests with the national governments. The international community has to step in when that responsibility is neglected, be it for lack of capacity, lack of political will, or breakdown of the state. As discussed in previous protection of civilians debates, effective protection requires clear and well-designed protection mandates that are supported by adequate means, resources, and training among other things. Gender disaggregated data is essential to inform protection of civilians implementation.
To ensure adequate protection of women and girls, implementation of relevant mandates must take into account local specificities, conditions, as well as prevailing customs and practices. For protection purposes it does matters how far women have to go for water, food, or cooking wood; where they can take care of their basic sanitation needs; what kind of terrain they have to cross; whether peacekeeper patrolling patterns support their movement patters; whether they can trust local officials and police to report on their attackers; what their perceptions of the UN forces and their ability to protect; and many other things which only they know the best. Therefore consulting women on all these matters is important in order to have strong protection mandates.
The presence of and adequate support for women’s protection advisors on the ground; personal commitment of mission’s leadership to gender - sensitive protection of civilians; pre-deployment guidance and training of the military, police and civilian personnel not simply on protection of civilians basics but on gender-sensitive protection of civilians; as well as the sharing among missions of effective gender -sensitive protection practices and lessons learned are also important. Also, more women peace keepers and police officers, more females among UN mission leadership.
Strict implementation of a zero tolerance policy vis-à-vis sexual abuse among peacekeepers is yet another necessary element of the protection of women and girls in a conflict situation. Improving protection also requires addressing the problem of widespread availability of illicit small arms and light weapons and the illicit trade in arms on the lives of women and girls in conflict zones. The Arms Trade Treaty which came into effect last December requires to assess transfers against the risk of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and is a landmark achievement which, if duly implemented, would make a real difference in women's lives.
While physical protection measures in the field are a vital and most immediate form of protection response, promoting an environment supportive of women's participation is key. To this end, all UN efforts and presence on the ground have to be synchronized to produce that enabling environment where women and girls will be safe and free to engage in the processes that affect their lives. Nothing enhances women's protection better that their full involvement and participation in the decision-making processes at all stages of conflict resolution, national reconciliation, and post-conflict reconstruction.
Let me stress in particular the importance of strengthening the rule of law and pursuing accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including gender-based violence and rape. As today’s briefers have noted, tackling impunity is paramount. Relevant work by national justice and prosecution mechanisms is essential, and the international community must invest in strengthening national judicial, prosecution and corrections capacities. Building such capacities in a country emerging out of conflict however, does take time.
It is therefore important that the Security Council should continue to support accountability and use the full range of means at its disposal to this end, inter alia, by a more systematic use of referrals to the International Criminal Court, mandating commissions of inquiry and acting upon their reports, as well as reinforcing the application of gender parameters among the designation criteria in all of the sanctions regimes. Greater involvement of SRSGs on sexual violence in conflict and children and armed conflict in the work of the sanctions committees, their interaction and exchange of information with respective panels of experts would strengthen sanctions committees’ focus on violence against women and allow to pursue and sanction the perpetrators with greater determination. That would strengthen the deterrence element vis-à-vis the perpetrators and support the protection work carried out on the ground.
I had no intention to touch upon specific country situations today. But let me react to what the Russian delegation has said. We appreciate Russia’s concerns about the growing numbers of civilian deaths and the suffering of women in eastern Ukraine. However, the protection for those women is in Russia’s hands. It is up to Russia to put an end to those horrors by cutting off all support and military, financial and other supplies to its proxies, the illegal militants, whose abysmal lawlessness has been amply documented by the OHCHR reports presented here in this hall, and whose impunity has contributed in a most direct way to the suffering that women in eastern Ukraine are enduring.
I thank you, Mr. President.