Overview of ILAC/UNIFEM Gender Justice Initiative by Nina Lahoud:  Presented at the Session on “Exploring ILAC Thematic Issues” at ILAC’s 2016 Annual General Meeting on 20 May in Solna, Sweden

Let me begin by saying that, based on my involvement in establishing ILAC’s gender justice initiative with the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), I feel that it is a laudable example of how consensus between two entities on an idea and strategy, rapid buy-in by management, dedicated counterparts on each side, broad outreach, and sustained donor funding can lead to an effective partnership for undertaking targeted activities.  To put this observation in context, I will elaborate on how this initiative was conceived and evolved, which Agneta Johannson and Christian Ahlund know well as the lead ILAC counterparts.

During my 2 ½-year assignment from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations to UNIFEM as the Executive Director’s Special Adviser on Rule of Law Programmes, which began in November 2003, I was asked to assist in developing a framework for ensuring that UNIFEM’s programmes for strengthening gender justice within post-conflict countries responded to the specific needs of the societies concerned.  For this purpose, it was critical to take account of the bold findings and recommendations that had been recently presented in the unprecedented 2002 Independent Assessment Report of two experts, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (now Liberia’s President) and Elisabeth Rehn (Finland’s former Defense Minister), on “The Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women’s Role in Peacebuilding”, particularly those in the Chapter on “Justice”.  UNIFEM had commissioned that Independent Experts Assessment to promote implementation of the ground-breaking Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security adopted in 2000.

However, by 2004, it was broadly felt that (1) progress in implementing resolution 1325’s goals as well as the recommendations of the Independent Experts Assessment had been slow; (2) the UN system’s approach for supporting rule of law needs of conflict-affected countries did not sufficiently focus on gender justice; and (3) the relevant expertise and resources of the UN and of various external entities were not adequately coordinated in order to yield the maximum benefits for national stakeholders.  Based on my previous collaboration with ILAC on its early legal assessment missions (including in East Timor and Liberia), and following extensive brainstorming discussions with Christian and Agneta, I proposed to the UNIFEM Executive Director (Noeleen Heyzer) that ILAC had the mandate and expertise to be a valuable partner and submitted a Concept Note for co-organizing a gender justice conference, which she endorsed after meeting with the ILAC team.

It is important to elaborate on the focus and strategy of the UNIFEM/ILAC partnership during that period, particularly for considering any future steps that ILAC might pursue in the gender justice area.  It was agreed that, in order for UNIFEM to develop gender justice programmes that were responsive to the needs of conflict-affected countries and to elevate attention to gender justice as an essential element for the rule of law, it was critical to undertake more in-depth consultations with major stakeholders in those countries, particularly women.  To spearhead such consultations, UNIFEM and ILAC decided to co-organize a three-day Conference on Gender Justice in Post-Conflict Situations (“Peace Needs Women and Women Need Justice”) on 15-17 September 2004 in New York which would bring women holding key legal and judicial positions from over 12 conflict-affected countries across the globe together with representatives of Member States, regional organizations, NGOs, academic institutions, foundations, and relevant UN entities and peacekeeping operations.  There were over 215 participants who attended from across this spectrum, which entailed extensive outreach to ensure inclusivity.

The Conference provided a valuable platform for leading women performing key legal and judicial roles (e.g., as judges, ministers of justice and human rights, law professors, lawyers specializing in sexual-based crimes) from Afghanistan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Timor-Leste (many at ministerial level), to strategize together and openly share their views.  As the Concept Note specified, these women presented their views on three specific issues: (1) the most critical gender justice requirements in their countries and implementation action needed; (2) the assistance most needed from international and bilateral partners to support such implementation action, and (3) best practices that had emerged in the gender justice area in their countries.  By also bringing together key international partners to engage in this dialogue, the Conference aimed to forge more coordinated and effective assistance to such national stakeholders in these conflict-affected countries so that they could develop and implement their own strategies and approaches for making institutional and legal reforms to achieve gender justice.

To ensure that the Conference discussions focused on the perspectives of “local actors”, there were four 5-member panels, each comprised of (1) three women who had assumed key legal/judicial functions in conflict-affected countries with serious gender justice challenges, including one from a country that had demonstrated good practices and innovative approaches in the gender justice area (and which might be replicated), (2) one representative from a potential “donor entity” (a Member State or regional organization), and (3) one representative from an NGO that provided legal/judicial support globally.  Each panel had an internationally-recognized woman legal expert as the facilitator, and focused primarily on the views of the three women panelists from conflict-affected countries who each made bold and compelling presentations, which were followed by comments from the other two panelists and a Q&A session.  These panels set the stage for two additional panels, respectively comprised of the heads of UN departments/agencies with rule of law-related programs and the heads of several UN peacekeeping operations, who discussed how gender justice issues were addressed by each and how a more coordinated institutional approach might be forged.

There were also featured opening and luncheon speakers each day, including the UN Deputy Secretary-General, the two experts who undertook the 2002 UNIFEM-commissioned Independent Assessment, and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.  To promote follow-up action after the Conference, UNIFEM and ILAC arranged for both the Finnish Ambassador serving as President of the UN Economic and Social Council and the President of the UN Association of the US to speak at a luncheon panel to announce the launching of the “Partners for Gender Justice Initiative”, to be spearheaded by a group of interested Member States and some NGOs with ongoing UNIFEM and ILAC support, to further the gender justice agenda and foster complementary partnerships of support to post-conflict countries.  To lay the groundwork, the Partners for Gender Justice Initiative was also mentioned in the Concept Note that was distributed to all participants in advance of the Conference (and was later highlighted in the Conference Report/para. 85).

As part of the UNIFEM and ILAC strategy for follow-up, the Report of the three-day Conference was transmitted to the Secretary-General under a letter of 25 October 2004 from the Permanent Representatives of Jordan, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom which asked that it be brought to the attention of the Security Council and issued as a document of the Council (see S/2004/862 of 26 October 2004), as we wanted it to feed into two key Security Council debates that month.  To capture the breadth of the Conference dialogue, the Report provided an overview of the observations and recommendations made under ten thematic sections, each divided into two parts: (1) priority gender justice concerns/requirements in the countries concerned and the assistance needed, and (2) best practices in the gender justice area that had emerged in some of those countries.  During the Security Council’s two open debates in October 2004 on “Justice and the Rule of Law: the UN Role” and on “Women and Peace and Security” (on the fourth anniversary of Council resolution 1325), a number of Member States referred positively to the Conference and its recommendations, underscoring that the Conference had propelled gender justice issues to the Security Council’s attention.

To draw further attention to the Conference Report, it was decided that UNIFEM would issue a publication on the Conference that included the Report as well as a 45-page Compilation of Summary Extracts from the Presentations of the Speakers/Panelists, the agenda, the list of participants, the Concept Note and other relevant documentation.  To maximize awareness, the publication was launched at a special panel event during the 49th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women on 11 March 2005, and was broadly distributed to all Member States, Conference participants, and UN field offices.  In addition, the Report and other Publication documents, as well as the full written presentations of each speaker and panelist and their biographies, were posted on UNIFEM’s web portal on women, peace and security (at http://www.womenwarpeace.org/issues/justice/gender justice conference.htm), which became a valuable resource tool for users (until they unfortunately disappeared when the UNIFEM website transitioned to the UN Women website).

It is important to highlight that the Conference Report proposed, in the Concluding Section, specific steps and high-level UN mechanisms that could be established to review and decide on follow-up action to the Conference recommendations.  As part of those steps, UNIFEM presented, in March 2005, a Proposal for Donor Funding to proceed with certain initiatives to be in a position to respond, in collaboration with other UN and non-UN partners (including the UN Development Programme and ILAC), to a number of the Conference recommendations.  Those proposed initiatives included the establishment of:  (1) a roster of legal/judicial specialists with gender justice expertise and the rapid deployment of gender justice assessment teams (tapping on the expertise available from ILAC’s member organizations); (2) a UNIFEM/ILAC-organized Expert Advisory Group on Legal Reform to Advance Gender Justice; (3) a UNIFEM cost-sharing account for enhanced programmes to support gender justice requirements of post-conflict societies; and (4) increased UNIFEM staff capacity to undertake these initiatives and also provide ongoing support to the Partners for Gender Justice Initiative and Steering Committee.  UNIFEM arranged briefings on the Donor Proposal, and it was sent by the Executive Director to targeted Member States to seek funding. While Agneta and Christian can elaborate on the progress generated by this Proposal, I would particularly flag that UNIFEM was able to launch multi-year gender justice programmes in some key conflict-affected countries and also worked collaboratively with ILAC when it undertook an assessment visit to Haiti in early 2005 with a strong gender justice focus (as reflected by the assessment report).  This also led to a Partners for Gender Justice Seminar in Haiti and, at the Government’s request, ILAC’s commissioning of a Study and publication on Gender Justice Best Practices (with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute taking a lead role).

In strategizing on how to further accelerate follow-up to the New York Gender Justice Conference in advance of the Security Council’s fifth anniversary debate on resolution 1325 in October 2005, ILAC and UNIFEM obtained the agreement of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to host a High-Level Meeting in Stockholm on “Building Partnerships for Promoting Gender Justice in Post-Conflict Societies”, which was organized in cooperation with UNIFEM and ILAC, on 25-26 August 2005.  Taking stock of the recommendations emanating from the New York Conference as well as the ongoing process of UN reform and the contemplated establishment of a UN Peacebuilding Commission, the overall goal of the Stockholm Meeting was to focus on how gender justice requirements, within the context of rule of law and post-conflict peacebuilding, could best be addressed and operationalized in such settings.  The Meeting, chaired by Swedish State Secretary Annika Soder, brought together key partners within the UN system, Member States, including national women stakeholders (primarily at ministerial level) from Afghanistan, Haiti, Liberia and Sudan, regional organizations, international financial institutions, and NGOs.  The aim was for these partners to determine what major conclusions and recommendations raised at the New York Conference required follow-up action by the UN system as a whole as well as by Member States, regional organizations, NGOs and other relevant actors, and to forge strategic partnerships for implementation and funding of such action.

To facilitate discussions, a Concept Note for the Stockholm Meeting was distributed in advance, which included an Annex presenting “Key New York Conference Recommendations Relating to Institutional Structures and Mechanisms Needed for the UN System to Better Respond to the Gender Justice Requirements of Women in Post-Conflict Societies”.  The Meeting also took account of UNIFEM’s Proposal for Donor Funding for follow-up initiatives to the New York Gender Justice Conference as well as three UNIFEM Project Proposals for Gender Justice Programmes in Afghanistan, Liberia and Sudan which were distributed.  The final session of the Meeting was dedicated to summarizing the conclusions and recommendations that had emerged and to roll-out the next steps for action.  One of the major outcomes was that Sweden and South Africa (represented by the Minister of Justice) announced at the Meeting that they had agreed to serve as the first Co-Chairs of the Partners for Gender Justice Initiative and to host meetings in 2006.  As many of you probably know, this led to three Partners for Gender Justice Conferences focusing on Africa that were held in Monrovia, Liberia in October 2006, Capetown, South Africa in March 2007, and in Accra, Ghana in November 2008.  I suggest that you consider the ILAC publications issued on each which reflect the breadth of participation and dialogue that contributed to sustaining the focus on gender justice requirements and support needed.

As part of the UNIFEM/ILAC strategy to ensure broad dissemination of the Stockholm Meeting Report in advance of the Security Council debate on Women, Peace and Security marking the fifth anniversary of resolution 1325, the Report was transmitted under a letter of 24 October 2005 from the Swedish Permanent Representative to the Secretary-General, requesting that it be brought to the attention of both the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly and issued as an official document (see A/60/444-S/2005/669).  For consistency, the Report’s recommendations were presented under the same ten thematic headings as those used in the New York Conference Report, and were grouped together with related recommendations extracted from that Report.  At the Security Council debate held on 27 October 2005, a number of Member State interventions commended the outcome of the Stockholm Meeting and the 2004 New York Conference, again thrusting gender justice into the Council’s discussions.  To increase access to the valuable knowledge products generated by the Stockholm Meeting, the Meeting Report as well as the agenda, the list of participants, the Meeting Concept Note, and the written presentations of each speaker were posted on both the website of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (at www.ud.se) and the UNIFEM website (at www.unifem.org), with the latter under a separate banner on “gender justice” (though it was later dissembled by UN Women).  In addition, a Publication on the Stockholm Meeting was issued by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was also posted on the ILAC website.

I hope that Agneta and Christian will add their perspectives, as well as others who were involved, so that we might think further about how ILAC could reinvigorate efforts to promote gender justice in its future work.  My personal view is that such efforts might initially focus on some specific countries where ILAC assessments are to be undertaken and the gender justice challenges are particularly pressing.