Credit: Erik Halkjaer, Svenska Afghanistankommittén

HRC44: Ensuring accountability for women and girls in humanitarian settings

On July 13th 2020, the Human Rights Council held the first panel of the annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women, focusing on accountability in humanitarian settings. During the discussion, the Right Livelihood Foundation delivered a statement highlighting the difficult situation in Afghanistan, where women and girls have been affected by decades of conflict. 

The panel started with introductory remarks from Ms. Nada al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, who emphasised the vital relevance of the discussion and said that the urgent task of this discussion was to consider how accountability mechanisms can be responsive to human rights abuses faced by women and girls in humanitarian settings. Crown Princess Mary of Denmark also delivered introductory remarks, stressing that the international community must take into account the unique vulnerabilities of women and girls when designing crisis responses. The moderator of the discussion, Mr. Tammam Aloudat, Deputy Executive Director at MSF Access Campaign, then emphasised the need for a holistic approach, as medical interventions are routine but not sufficient. In line with this position, Ms. Tatiana Mukanire, national coordinator of the National Movement of Survivors of Sexual Violence in the DRC, stressed that holistic care and reparation are the only way to soften a survivor’s pain. On the other hand, Ms. Sara Hossain, lawyer and honorary executive director at the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust stated that for the majority of survivors of human rights abuses living in humanitarian settings, accountability through international justice remains distant. She thus called for better local systems that could support women and girls in obtaining justice. Lastly, Ms. Enid Muthoni Ndiga, Senior Vice President at the Center for Reproductive Rights, urged the Council to build human rights-based accountability mechanisms. She stressed that remedies should go beyond criminal accountability and should aspire to transform pre-existing patterns of discrimination, which requires the full equal, effective participation of women and girls.

During the debate, 24 states and observers delivered statements, including 6 joint statements. Numerous countries, including the European Union, the Benelux countries, Qatar, Fidji, the Philippines, Australia and Slovenia agreed that emergency responses should become more inclusive, with women participation at all levels. In this context, Luxembourg, on behalf of the Benelux countries also stressed the importance of protecting Women Human Rights Defenders. The non-aligned movement and Armenia recalled that this year marks the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325, which should encourage states to reflect on their responsibilities to fight impunity. Germany added that the Women Peace and Security Agenda offers a normative framework, which needs to be better implemented on the ground. In this context, Germany also added that it has been supporting the IOM and the Mukwege Foundation (founded by 2013 Right Livelihood Laureate Denis Mukwege) to redress programmes for survivors of gender-based violence. Lastly, Fidji (on behalf of Canada, Fidji, Georgia, Sweden and Uruguay) announced that they would introduce a resolution on accountability for ensuring women and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights in humanitarian settings, at the 45th session of the HRC.

The Right Livelihood Foundation also delivered a statement in support of Right Livelihood Laureate and Afghanistan’s Minister for Human Rights Sima Samar, focusing on the situation of Afghanistan, emphasising that it is essential that women and girls’ be acknowledged as agents of change and be included in the planning, designing, monitoring and implementation of interventions as well as in peace negotiations. The Foundation further highlighted the utmost importance of Afghan women’s inclusion in the current peace process with the Taliban, and the safeguard of their human rights as a non-negotiable issue, as well as a crucial part of achieving sustainable peace in the country. Lastly, we urged Member States to implement inclusive and sustainable solutions that enable women and girls in humanitarian settings not only to survive, but to thrive.

Read the full statement below.

In their concluding remarks, the panellists stressed once more that women and girls need to have agency in the response mechanisms, which is why working with local communities and civil society is fundamental. They also called for developing long-lasting accountability systems, through new laws and strategies, not short term interventions.

Oral Statement – Delivered at the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council:

Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women: Part I – Accountability for women and girls in humanitarian settings

Thank you, Madam President,

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation thanks the esteemed panellists for their remarks and welcomes this opportunity to bring to the Council’s attention the situation of Afghanistan, where women and girls have been disproportionately affected by decades of economic and political instability, and where a culture of impunity and corruption is predominant.

Afghanistan’s ongoing war has intensified the exclusion of Afghan women from the social, political, and economic arenas. This has not only resulted in the exacerbation of widespread poverty, but in the perpetuation of the Afghan conflict itself.

In this grave context, it is essential that humanitarian actors acknowledge women’s and girls’ roles, not as recipients and victims, but as first responders and agents of change. They are also the best representatives of their needs and therefore, must be included in the planning, designing, monitoring, and implementation of any humanitarian intervention.

Camilla Argentieri from the Right Livelihood Foundation delivering the Oral Statement at HRC44.

Madam President,

We deplore that women in Afghanistan continue to be excluded from the decision-making processes. In this regard, we underline the utmost importance of Afghan women’s inclusion in the current peace process with the Talibans, and the safeguard of their human rights as a non-negotiable issue. The presence of women is not only important for fairness and inclusivity but also crucial for the durability of any negotiated peace.

Likewise, access to justice and accountability for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, in particular against women and girls,  must be addressed as an essential part of achieving sustainable peace.

Madam President,

Justice and dignity for women in humanitarian settings only comes when their needs are not understood as vulnerabilities, but as human rights. We therefore urge Member States to implement inclusive and sustainable solutions that enable women and girls in Afghanistan and in all humanitarian settings not only to survive, but to thrive.

Thank you.