UN Reps and Global Issues

HRC 34 Blog

The 34th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva

Stacy Lara and Madaline Keros, FAWCO's UN NGO Reps at the HRC in Geneva, will keep us informed via blog posts during HRC34.

By Madaline Keros, UN Representative Geneva

Palais des Nations, March 22, 2017

The forces of the Arab Spring in 2011 unleashed surprising responses and events—some positive and some negative—in an area of the world that many experts and politicians considered to be “resistant to change”. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) organized a side event on March 22nd that gave an inside look at the work and persistence of women peace activists on the front line of conflict. With the title “Human Rights in Yemen and Libya,” the four female panelists presented their research findings—based on interviews and first-hand assessments—focusing on two areas: first, how the violence negatively impacts and impacts women, and second, how women have been excluded from the peacemaking process.

The first panelist, Ms. R. Jahrum from Yemen began by describing the two dynamics that have lead to increased radicalization and terrorist activities in her country: tensions between northern and southern Yemen and the sectarian divisions present in both areas. She explained that communities in both regions are experiencing increased radicalization which feeds terrorist activities and leads to conflict between armed militias financed by Saudi Arabia. Women are also trained to fight in militias; gender-based violence has increased. Moreover, 30% of militants are children; mothers fear the recruitment of their children. At the highest political levels, she reported significant resistance to allowing women to participate concretely in negotiation proceedings. Women both as IDPs (Internally-Displaced Persons) and as actors in the security sector and in civil society organizations are however, involved in community peace and security efforts in two ways. First, women have been smuggling supplies, people and other resources to aid areas most affected by the fighting. Second, as IDPs, women have focused on disarmament and countering radicalization by developing and implementing a tool that identifies key “warning signs” of radicalization in a community.

The second panelist, L. Salim, also from Yemen, echoed many of the points presented by Ms. Jahrum. Her research approach entailed speaking with 43 women with the goal of understanding women in security roles and as civil society actors. She explained that cooperation with civil society organizations had existed in several communities until government forces lost control in those areas, at which point, these organizations ceased to operate. She called for gender-based responses in the security sector. Furthermore, she explained that a major obstacle to women’s involvement in the political peace process is the external, male-based pressure to prove their credentials and legitimacy as stakeholders and participants at the negotiating table.

Speaking about the situation in Libya, the third panelist, Ms. I. Miloud’s research focused on three cities in the west and south and targeted two main areas: women as peace activists and women at the grassroots level. Her findings revealed that women felt that the first priority was disarmament. All of them sought an immediate end to weapons dealing and armament financing (mostly from Saudi Arabia). At the ground level, women often have to live in conditions that minimalize the impact of their voices and engagement: many communities suffer from lack of adequate food, water, security and access to reliable political information. The majority of negotiators in Libya are men who, at high political levels, also appear to generate obstacles to women’s full participation in brokering political peace from procrastinating on the issue to belittling women’s negotiating power as effective actors in the peace process.

Representing WILPF, Ms. V. Farr expressed grave concern at the inaction of state and international actors and organizations in supporting women’s involvement and defending their right to participate at the political level in the peace processes of both countries. She also expressed frustration at the current responses to quell the conflict which entail primarily increasing military measures and armament in areas that are already heavily militarized. Women were not only direct victims in the violence but, as the primary caregivers and leaders in the community fabric, are also the ones who will have to deal with the aftermath. At the end of her presentation, Ms. Farr made the following recommendations: to protect civilians and migrants from further violence by ending foreign state financed militarization and arms dealing (often coming under the guise of “ending terror”), to reinforce arms control, to support women’s participation in mediation and peacebuilding and to “focus on supporting highly localized, community-based approaches to understanding and combatting extremism and the violence [which gives rise to it]. A crucial and currently missing element […] is the meaningful inclusion of women in both diplomatic and local level efforts to identify and implement economic, institutional, social and political interventions that can support stabilization and future growth.”


By Madaline Keros, FAWCO UN Representative in Geneva

Human rights is one of FAWCO’s core, four pillars. In the issue of migration, human rights violations and protection of migrants’ and refugees’ rights is a spotlight issue as the international community struggles with appropriately handling it. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center asserts that about 60 million people were on the move in 2015.  Forced to flee their homes, communities and countries—often due to climate change, poverty or political instability—women, children and unaccompanied minors remain the most vulnerable to human rights abuses such as human trafficking and gender-based violence.

Signed and agreed to by all 193 UN Member States in September 2016, the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants represents a landmark, comprehensive framework of measures to protect and respect the rights of refugees and migrants. The UN High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) and other UN agencies as well as Member States and civil society organizations work together in order to implement these measures. The Declaration features the Comprehensive Refugee Response (CRR) which sets forth implementation guidelines using experience that UN agencies and civil society organizations have gained in refugee protection, response and resettlement for the past 65 years.

What differentiates the New York Declaration from earlier responses to refugee crises (e.g. immediately following World Wars I and II) is its focus on seeking the input, experience and on-the-ground cooperation of multiple international, national, municipal and civil society actors. In so doing, it goes beyond the traditional humanitarian response (often underfunded and limited in scope) to implement a more comprehensive approach that can effectively address the economic, political, human rights and social challenges which migration presents not only to migrants and refugees but also to countries of origin and destination. 

The Human Rights Council dedicated a full-day session on migration and human rights on March 10, 2017 in Geneva. In the morning, in Room XX of the Palais des Nations, Member States and civil society organizations were each given two minutes to read aloud their official statements before a panel comprised of directors from the Office of the High Commission for Refugees (OHCHR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) the International Labor Organization (ILO), the UN International Emergency Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the permanent representative of Mexico to the UN.  In the afternoon Member States and civil society organizations engaged in a general debate concerning issues raised. 

In their statements, Member States and organizations reiterated a commitment to the New York Declaration, urged more shared responsibility in implementation and posed questions or made proposals to the panel. Reoccurring themes from speakers included: the gender dimension of migration, the protection of at-risk migrants and refugees, namely women, children, unaccompanied minors and the elderly, the need to more robustly and effectively address the root causes of migration (e.g. climate change, poverty and political instability), the co-responsibility of Member States in implementation and the call for safe, orderly and legal migration. States such as Thailand, Gabon and Morocco explained that building working partnerships with UN agencies such as IOM and UNHCR has enabled them to better implement the Declaration's measures.  Greece, Italy and Cuba took the opportunity to describe in detail the impact that massive migration to their countries has had and the hardships they face and to energetically promote the mandate of shared responsibility from other countries.  

Sierra Leone was the only Member State to enthusiastically call for a more aggressive response to the unbridled human trafficking involved in forced migration and asked panelists, “Why aren’t we breaking these smuggler chains?”. Human trafficking, especially of women and girls is an extensive, pernicious “trade", especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia. FAWCO has been active in combatting it through its 2013-2016 Target Project that offered generous financial support to the civil society organization, "Free the Girls”, which provides professional training to survivors of sex trafficking. In this way, FAWCO contributed to stopping a vicious side of migration that victimizes women and girls. 


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