Asking a Different Set of Questions? Dealing with the Conflict Legacy in Northern Ireland and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 Part One

We are delighted to welcome this guest post by Dr Catherine O’Rourke. Dr Catherine O’Rourke is Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law and Gender Research Coordinator at the University of Ulster Transitional Justice Institute, where she also directs the LLM Gender, Conflict and Human Rights. Her new book, Gender Politics in Transitional Justice (Routledge, 2013), examines feminist engagement with, and gendered outcomes of, transitional justice in Northern Ireland, Colombia and Chile.

Attorney General John Larkin’s recent proposal for no further investigations, prosecutions or inquiries concerning past-related offences provoked predictable ire from politicians, human rights and victims NGOs, and academics. (Indeed, much of this ire has been vented on the pages of RightsNI.) The AG’s proposal has been controversial. His detractors are understandably concerned that such a move might act as a cloak for impunity and the absence of accountability. However, his intervention does point to a need and urgency to move away from the current ad hoc and criminal justice led approach to the past in Northern Ireland and, importantly, the need to start asking different questions of any process to deal with the conflict legacy. The absence of any official recognition of gender as a structural element of the conflict, or as a relevant consideration in crafting state responses to dealing with the past, is only one element of the broad disfunctionality of the current approach to the past. Nevertheless, a focus on gender does signpost a potentially important set of questions for any renewed or re-designed process to deal with the conflict legacy in the jurisdiction. Just such a set of questions was set out by the ‘Inquiry into the Actions and Level of Implementation of UNSCR 1325 Women, Peace and Security for Women in Northern Ireland since the Peace Process’ held at Parliament Buildings on the December 6th.

The ‘Inquiry into the Actions and Level of Implementation of UNSCR 1325 Women, Peace and Security for Women in Northern Ireland since the Peace Process’

The inquiry was conducted in order to gather oral evidence to inform the work of the Westminster Associate Parliamentary Group UNSCR 1325, who monitor the UK’s National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325. The panel members were Baroness Ruth Lister (formerly of the Opsahl Commission), Margaret Owen OBE (human rights lawyer and one of the founders of Gender Action on Peace and Security), and Paula Bradley, MLA (Chair of the Assembly’s All-Party Group on UNSCR 1325). UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) requires UN member states to ensure that efforts to build peace and security in postconflict contexts (1) ensure the participation of women, (2) protect women in conflict situations, (3) promote the rights of women, and (4) adopt a gender perspective in all aspects of peacebuilding, in particular in rehabilitation and recovery. These four areas of action are known as the ‘4 Pillars’ of the resolution, and these four pillars underpinned the questioning conducted by the panel members of the civil society groups, statutory organisations and public bodies who gave oral evidence to the Inquiry. In a dramatic departure from the questions typically asked about Northern Ireland’s conflict legacy, the Inquiry explored:

  1. The impact of the conflict on women’s continuing economic inequality in Northern Ireland,
  2. The conflict’s legacy in terms of the nature of domestic violence and the police and criminal justice response to that violence,
  3. The fate of women’s groups since their prominent role in the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, in particular those groups operating in interface areas,
  4. The level of implementation of the Good Friday Agreement’s commitment to the ‘full and equal political participation of women’, and
  5. The rights and entitlements of women victims of the conflict.

Together, these constituted a profoundly different set of questions about the legacy of the conflict. The answers gathered by the Inquiry pointed consistently and overwhelmingly to a set of priorities in dealing with that conflict legacy that could very usefully inform the current Haass process to deal with the past.


Part Two will be posted tomorrow.