Issue 116 - November 2 - Security Council Calls for Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict

New York, November 3, 2009 - On Wednesday, September 30, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1888 (S/RES/1888 (2009)) calling for the appointment of a Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict. 

The Security Council, spearheaded by the United States as President for the month of September, unanimously supported the text of the Resolution on Women, Peace and Security, along with sixty-eight other countries

The Resolution calls on the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative responsible to "lead, coordinate, and advocate efforts to end conflict-related sexual violence against women and children" (USDS).

In addition to establishing the Special Representative post, Resolution 1888 mandates peacekeeping missions specifically to protect women and children from sexual violence in conflict, and it calls for the deployment of a team of experts to "situations of particular concern in terms of sexual [strengthen] the rule of law." For the further protection of vulnerable women in armed conflict, the Resolution includes specific provisions for the prevention of rape and other sexual violence against women during peacekeeping, including the appointment of "women's protection advisers," and for the increase of female deployment in peacekeeping operations, to assure that protection is implemented. The Resolution also generally emphasizes the importance of women in peacebuilding, stressing their indispensable role in "rebuilding society."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Resolution as "an unequivocal call for action," setting an important precedent in linking sexual violence in conflict to sustainable peace and security.

Human Rights Watch praised the Resolution as a "victory" for women caught in conflict across the world, and it welcomed the call for a Special Representative as a "vital step toward more consistent UN action" on the issue of women in conflict.

Role of the Special Representative

According to Resolution 1888, the role of the Special Representative will be to "provide coherent and strategic leadership, to work effectively to strengthen existing United Nations coordination mechanisms." In addition, the person will be responsible for the advocacy efforts of the United Nations Actions Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, an "inter-agency initiative," as well as smooth international dialogue about the initiative.

About SRSGs

The appointee will be a Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG). According to a 2007 ACABQ report, Representatives of the Secretary-General serve at his or her discretion at the level and title designated by him/her. An SRSG usually is designated at the Under-Secretary-General level (but can also be an Assistant SG) and serves as head of a field mission, in accordance with a Security Council or General Assembly mandate.

The SRSG can serve either on a full-time basis or "when actually employed," depending on the requirements of the position, as determined by the Secretary-General.

There are currently 58 Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys of the Secretary-General, representing him in various capacities on a variety of subjects.  

According to the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation (FES), Special Representatives represent the leader of an impartial international civil service and must remain loyal only to the UN and its mission - not to the countries they are from or any other government.

FES also notes that the role of the SRSG has evolved into the "highest UN authority in the field, combining diplomatic and managerial skills."

Tasks can include: representing and leading a UN team on the ground, serving as principal of political peace processes (including brokering and implementing peace accords), managing peacekeeping or peacebuilding missions, and serving as the transitional administrator in cases where the UN has transitional or interim authority.

An SRSG may be assigned to a specific geographic location or have a thematic focus, "assigned to raise awareness for major problems of a transboundary nature and help the UN member states develop relevant policy solutions."

Most SRSGs are male, over the age of 60, and have served as a diplomat of their home country either to the UN or to one of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, reports FES.

Selection of the Special Representative: Calls for Quick Appointment of Qualified Person

It is the Secretary-General's duty and his sole discretion to appoint (and depose) SRSGs.

France and other Member States have expressed hope for the speedy appointment of a qualified individual with "experience in the field and real knowledge of the issues of sexual violence." The selected candidate must be capable as a spokesperson and advocate for victims; a "voice for the voiceless," said France.

The humanitarian advocacy organization Refugees International called for a quick appointment, referring to the "anemic, hoc and ineffective" UN response to gender-based violence in the past. A new Special Representative, it said, would reverse this trend and "strengthen the UN and national responses to sexual violence."

On October 2, Ambassador Melanne Verveer (US ambassador-at-large for global women's issues) noted that several "excellent candidates" were being discussed for the new post.

The UNelections Campaign works to ensure the selection of qualified international leaders. One important step for the Secretary-General to take in appointing his new Special Representative would be to ensure a qualifications-based decision. To do this, Ban should:

  • Identify candidates and assess their competencies on basis of formally agreed job description and criteria, and
  • Incorporate gender and geographic diversity considerations both in seeking candidates and making final selection from among qualified candidates.

Context of Resolution 1888

Other recent efforts to improve the international community's response to what women face during and following conflict include:

  • October 2000: Security Council Resolution 1325 (on Women, Peace, and Security): Recognized protection concerns for women in conflict, as well as the importance of their agency in conflict recovery and participation in peacebuilding. It also addressed sexual violence, and it called for more women in the UN system.
  • June 2008: Security Council Resolution 1820 (Sexual violence in conflict): Noted that sexual violence may constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or may be considered an act of genocide in certain situations. Also called for peacekeeping initiatives responding to sexual violence.
  • October 5, 2009: Security Council Resolution 1889: Outlined the needs and rights of women in post-conflict situations.

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