An Evolving Human Rights Framework
In 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325-a landmark decision mandating the inclusion of women in peace processes. It calls upon all parties to protect women in armed conflict and to integrate gender perspectives into peacekeeping operations, UN reporting systems and peacebuilding programmes.(10)
The resolution builds on earlier gains for women's rights during armed conflict. The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the first permanent court charged with prosecuting individuals for crimes against humanity, specifically defines "rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence" as crimes against humanity.(11) Prior to the advent of the International Criminal Court, the special tribunals set up to prosecute crimes against humanity in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia broke new legal ground in prosecuting perpetrators of rape during wartime.(12) The Special Court of Sierra Leone, for the first time in international law, established forced marriage as an "inhumane act" and a crime against humanity.(13)
"Women must be full and equal participants
in the building of peace, in the development of
post-conflict legislative, judicial and
constitutional structures. Because it is only in
this way that these structures will be fully
representative of the post-conflict society and
therefore fully able to meet the needs and
demands of all. This is sustainable peace."
- Sir Emyr Jones Parry, President of the United Nations Security Council
In December 2004, the report of the UN Secretary- General's High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change reiterated the importance of ending sexual violence against women during war and recommended that Member States and UN agencies fully implement Resolution 1325.(14) If brought to fruition, the Peacebuilding Commission proposed by the panel and endorsed in the UN Secretary-General's Report In Larger Freedom,(15) would provide another opportunity to implement these recommendations.
The 1949 Geneva Conventions and Optional Protocols protect civilians during wartime and prohibit attacks, rape, deportation and the use of children as soldiers. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols protect children and adolescents during armed conflict and forbid recruitment of children under the age of 18. Four UN Security Council resolutions passed between 1999 and 2003 affirmed the importance of protecting children and adolescents during and directly after conflicts. They also urged their inclusion in peace processes, noted the specific needs and vulnerabilities of girls, and condemned sexual violence during peacekeeping operations.(16)
The international legal framework for protecting women and children during conflicts has proven inadequate to the task, especially for the world's 25 million internally displaced persons. The majority are women and children, often from indigenous and ethnic minorities.(17) Forced to flee their homes by conflict or natural disasters, displaced persons are vulnerable to impoverishment, disease, violence and "disappearance", and may also be persecuted during flight by armed groups. Their living conditions can test the limits of human endurance. They may have to do without food, water, sanitation, housing, privacy or access to education and health services. With no land to cultivate, no employment options and their properties seized, internally displaced persons can quickly descend into dire poverty. In camps, they may be targets of attacks. Children and adolescents may be recruited as soldiers or forced into sexual slavery. The needs of the elderly or disabled are often disregarded.(18)
Internally displaced persons, who comprise more than two thirds of all those uprooted by crises, lack the international legal protections granted to refugees who have crossed a national border.(19) Because they fall under national sovereignty and jurisdiction, the plight of the internally displaced is considered a domestic issue, limiting possibilities for intervention by the international community.
This issue has gradually gained greater attention from the international community. In 1992, the UN Secretary-General appointed his first Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons(20) and in 1998 the Commission on Human Rights adopted guiding principles, which establish standards for the protection of the rights of displaced populations.(21) The Representative's 2005 report to the Commission highlighted the "disproportionate burden from displacement" suffered by women and girls and emphasized their vulnerability to rape and domestic violence. Discriminatory inheritance laws and practices make it difficult for women to reclaim the land and property of deceased husbands when they return home.(22) Securing employment is another major obstacle. The UN Secretary-General, in his major report, In Larger Freedom, urged governments to adopt the guiding principles and step up efforts to meet the needs of internally displaced persons. As he stated: "[I]f national authorities are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens, then the responsibility shifts to the international community to use diplomatic, humanitarian and other methods to help protect the human rights and well-being of civilian populations."(23)