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The Security Council (the ‘Council’) is the organ with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security (Chapter VII, UN Charter). The Council consists of 5 permanent members (P5) – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – and 10 elected members, serving two-year non-renewable terms. Each member has one vote; however only the P5 members have veto power.

The Council has the authority to adopt legally binding resolutions pursuant to its peace and security mandate as set forth in Articles 24 and 25 and in accordance with Articles 39- 42 (Chapter VII) of the UN Charter. Accordingly, once the Council determines the existence of a threat to peace, a breach of the peace, or an act of aggression (Article 39), in the interests of securing the peaceful settlement of disputes, it can issue recommendations or decisions requiring states to comply with specific measures (Article 40). It may also impose sanctions or authorise military action in order to prevent or stop aggression (Articles 41-42).

How does it help tackle violence against women?

Women, Peace and Security

On 31 October 2000, the Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). This landmark resolution was the first to connect women’s experiences of conflict with international peace and security. The resolution acknowledged the changing nature of armed conflict and the disproportionate impact this now has on civilians, specifically women. It was further recognised that women are largely excluded from conflict prevention and resolution as well as from participating in peace processes. To address these concerns, Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325) establishes four pillars of WPS:

  • Participation
  • Protection
  • Prevention
  • Relief and Recovery

Seven follow-up resolutions have been adopted by the Council to support SCR 1325 and its implementation: SCR 1820 (2008), SCR 1888 (2009), SCR 1889 (2009), SCR 1960 (2010), SCR 2106 (2013), SCR 2122 (2013) and SCR 2242 (2015). Together, these resolutions define and direct state obligations under the WPS agenda. Some of these obligations include:

  • Military training on preventing and responding to sexual violence
  • Adoption and enforcement of zero-tolerance policies for peacekeepers with regards to sexual exploitation and abuse
  • Ending impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence
  • Establishing Women Protection Advisors
  • Ensuring the participation and leadership of women and women’s organisations in developing strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism

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In fulfilling its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the Council has the authority to determine when and where a peacekeeping mission should be established. The tasks of these missions vary and, consequently the Council may call on peacekeepers to focus on and prioritise, among other matters, the protection of women. For example, Security Council Resolution 2149 recalled the resolutions on WPS and requested MINUSCA to fully take into account “gender considerations as a crosscutting issue throughout its mandate…” It also identified a number of mission priorities including:

30 (a)(ii) To provide specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict, including through the deployment of Child Protection Advisers and Women Protection Advisers…

30(e)(ii) To monitor, help investigate and report specifically on violations and abuses committed against children as well as violations committed against women, including all forms of sexual violence in armed conflict, and to contribute to efforts to identify and prosecute perpetrators, and to prevent such violations and abuses.

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Enforcing Criminal Accountability

Pursuant to its peace and security mandate, the Council has established two ad hoc criminal tribunals: the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Together, these Tribunals were among the first courts to explicitly consider crimes of sexual violence committed during wartime and to define gender-based crimes under customary international law.

The ICTY and ICTR’s convictions have played an important role in expanding the boundaries of international law, recognising rape and other forms of sexual abuse as international crimes. For example, under the ICTY, rape was recognised as a form of torture (see Mucic et al.) and sexual enslavement a crime against humanity (see Kunarac et al.). The ICTR also recognised rape as a war crime and crime against humanity, and found Jean Paul Akayesu guilty for rape as a crime of genocide.

Under Article 13 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, in combination with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Council has the power to refer cases to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation. If the state fails to cooperate with the ICC following this referral, the ICC may also send information back to the Council for review (Article 87, Rome Statute).

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