Press Releases

          16 September 2004

    Women Key to Resolving Armed Conflicts, Deputy Secretary-General Says at Opening of Gender Justice Conference

    NEW YORK, 15 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the opening remarks by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at “Peace Needs Women, and Women Need Justice”, a conference on gender justice in post-conflict situations, delivered today in New York:

    I am delighted to welcome all of you to the United Nations, and to open this important conference which we hope will move the agenda forward on women, peace and security.  I thank the United Nations Development Fund for Women and the International Legal Assistance Consortium for making it possible.

    Over the next three days, you will hear from women in key legal and judicial positions from around the world, including more than a dozen conflict zones, about why ensuring justice for women is so critical to establishing the rule of law and consolidating peace.

    You will also hear from men and women in the international community at large.

    In this way, this conference will seek to make a real connection between strategic policies and local realities.  It will strive to make negotiations and deliberations about post-conflict situations answerable to the needs of women in post-conflict societies.

    We know from our experience of modern conflict that women and girls suffer its impact increasingly and disproportionately. 

    They are usually neither the initiators of conflict nor the wagers of war, and yet they are specifically targeted, often as a way to humiliate the adversary and break the morale and resistance of whole societies.

    Steps have been taken to end the culture of impunity surrounding this lamentable practice -- at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Sierra Leone Special Court, and in the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  These have started off on the right track, but we must build further on that work.

    And we must do more.  As the Security Council made clear in its resolution 1325, adopted almost four years ago, we must address the issue of women, peace and security on several fronts.

    While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also and always be recognized as a key to the solution.  We must strive to integrate their concerns more effectively in peace processes worldwide, and achieve women’s full, equal and effective participation in those processes.

    Resolution 1325 remains a landmark on many fronts.  It highlighted the mutually reinforcing imperatives of peace and justice in post-conflict settings -- and the need for women and men alike to be both agents and beneficiaries in advancing those objectives. 

    It stressed the importance of women’s equal participation in all efforts for peace and security -- in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building.

    It reaffirmed the need to implement fully international humanitarian and human rights law that protects the rights of women and girls during and after conflicts.

    It called for “special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse”.

    And it emphasized “the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls”.

    We are making a good deal of progress in translating those principles into action.

    Awareness and recognition of the issues have grown considerably in recent years -- both in conflict-affected societies and in the international community.

    In the UN, we are developing a more systematic approach to consulting with women in conflict and post-conflict societies from the earliest stages of a peace process, including in discussions on constitutional development, judicial reform and reconciliation.

    Those consultations must involve legal and judicial professionals with direct experience, as well as women who have been excluded, victimized and marginalized by systems and institutions.

    Based on that, we can address better the imperative for promoting and achieving equality and non-discrimination when making recommendations to the Security Council, planning mission mandates and structures, and formulating assistance programmes.

    On the ground, the human rights sections of our peacekeeping missions worldwide investigate the use of gender-based violence as a tool of war against women and girls.

    A number of peacekeeping missions, including in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, are providing support for local police on ways to address domestic violence and trafficking of women.

    The UN family has also supported governments in post-conflict societies, including Afghanistan and Timor-Leste, in the work to ratify and implement human rights instruments.  Crucial among those instruments is the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women -- the key standard for non-discrimination and gender equality and strategic tool for action at the national level.

    We have assisted governments in the creation of national institutions charged with promoting and protecting the rights of women.

    And we are working with electoral bodies in several countries to ensure women’s full participation in the election process.

    Clearly, much has been achieved.  But we all have a long way to go.  I believe this conference can play an important part in charting the way forward.

    Those among you who are national stakeholders can articulate the concrete needs of women on the ground -- whether it be legal training, forensic expertise, building up capacity for more women investigators, providing legal counsel specializing in sexual violence, strengthening witness protection and victim support programmes or any other kind of support you may need from the international community.

    All of you can discuss and propose ways to coordinate more effectively the actors within and outside the UN system.

    In this way, you can find ways to strengthen the partnership among governments and civil society in conflict-affected countries, bilateral and multilateral donors, aid agencies, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and foundations.

    Let us be honest:  mere information-sharing is often not enough.  Let us strive for all partners to work through a common national assessment of needs, capacities, aspirations and common national programmes of transitional justice, justice reform and rule of law development.  And let us ensure that women are engaged at all levels of that process.

    Within the UN system, we also need to work for better coordination. And -- as the Secretary-General stated in his recent report on the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies -- we need to review best practices and develop proposals for more tools and mechanisms to promote gender justice, involving justice sector institutions, civil society, donors and the UN.

    In other words, ladies and gentlemen, we all need to find additional practical ways to implement Security Council resolution 1325, and to place the international community firmly behind the statement that “peace needs women, and women need justice”.

    I thank every one of you for your commitment to that mission, and I hope this conference will prove to be another building block in the work towards our common goal.

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