Sexual and gender-based violence under the Geneva Conventions: A New Commentary

The 1949 Geneva Conventions, A Commentary (A. Clapham, P. Gaeta, M. Sassòli, Eds. OUP, October 2015), is a mammoth effort to update the interpretation of the Conventions to take account of the significant developments in international law, especially international human rights and international criminal law, since the ICRC published Jean Pictet’s edited commentaries* in the middle of last century.

As the editors point out, since Pictet’s commentaries were published the international legal landscape has dramatically shifted. For one thing, the 1949 Conventions have been universally ratified and their application interpreted in hundreds of cases. International human rights law (IHRL) has developed enormously since the 1960s and its intersection with IHL is more commonly acknowledged. Recently concluded human rights treaties expressly address their application to situations of armed conflict (e.g., Istanbul Convention on violence against women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). International criminal law has become something of a growth industry since the 1990’s when the tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) were established with jurisdiction over IHL violations.

Since Pictet’s day, the worldview of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and IHL has also radically changed. Due to the persistence of feminists over many decades, there is greater awareness of the prevalence of SGBV during armed conflict and a growing intolerance of it as an inevitable part of war. There have been numerous convictions for SGBV crimes as a violation of IHL (e.g., at ICTY, ICTR and ICC). In this context, SGBV has also evolved from its arcane conception in the Conventions as an attack against the honour of a female person, focussed on forced sexual intercourse, to encompass a wide range of acts against the sexual integrity of a person of any gender.

Patricia Viseur-Sellers and I wrote the chapter on protections from rape and other sexual violence and we start from the principle that humane treatment, the fundamental tenet of the Conventions regime, prohibits these acts against any person in every circumstance. We look in detail at Article 27, Fourth GC on civilians as the only article in the Conventions to refer expressly to sexual violence. It requires that female civilians “be protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, forced prostitution and indecent assault”.

None of these terms are defined in the Conventions. We examine each one drawing on a range of sources, including international jurisprudence where available (e.g., Nuremberg, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, the ICTY and ICTR), the Rome Statute and Elements of Crimes of the ICC, as well as leading critical feminist analysis, especially the work of J. Gardam & M. Jarvis in Women, Armed Conflict and International Law (Kluwer, 2001).

Much of the discussion focuses on a critical assessment of the imprecise and out-dated approach in Article 27(2) that protects women from sexual assault as “attacks on their honour” rather than against their person and sexual integrity. We agree with Gardam and Jarvis that IHL is a “thoroughly gendered system” and that equating female honour with chastity and modesty mischaracterises sexualised violence and perpetuates the discriminatory gender stereotype which sees women’s honour as belonging to her family and community, especially its male members. We point out that it also perpetuates the myth that sexual violence, especially rape, can only be committed against females. Continue reading

Welcoming back Indira Rosenthal

Indira RosenthalIt’s our great pleasure today to welcome Indira Rosenthal back to IntLawGrrls. Indira is an Australian lawyer working in the fields of gender and international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law. She has worked with international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and as a government lawyer and a legal adviser on human rights to parliament. She was an adviser on gender, human rights and international justice to Amnesty International’s International Secretariat from 2011-2015.

As well as her work on gender and international justice, Indira works on issues of access to justice for women and people with disabilities. Her first post will discuss a new commentary on protections against sexual and gender-based violence under the Geneva Conventions. Heartfelt welcome!

Trouble? Remembering the Belfast Agreement in the Brexit Aftermath

Although Brexit resurfaced in the weekend’s newspapers with the revelation that Britain’s exit from the EU could be delayed until 2019, the referendum has largely taken a backseat to other news. Even at the height of the Brexit fervour there was little to no substantive debate on the effect a potential EU exit would have on Northern Ireland (which voted remain by a majority of 56%).

UK Passport

The passport for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

This oversight notwithstanding, Northern Ireland’s ties to the European Union are significant and merit consideration, especially in the context of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Europe has paid £1.3 billion to the Northern Irish PEACE programmes alone since 1995. This figure does not include farm subsidies or the economic gain from Northern Ireland’s food and agricultural exports to the EU. Monetary ties aside, I will focus on the proliferation of the European Convention on Human Rights in the Belfast Agreement, the important role it plays in the peace process, and the right to citizenship and self-determination in the context of a post-Brexit border poll. Continue reading

Symposium to Celebrate the work of Professor Dianne Otto

The SOAS Centre for Gender Studies is thrilled to be hosting a symposium to celebrate the contribution of Professor Dianne Otto – Francine V McNiff Chair in Human Rights Law, Director of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities (IILAH) and Co-Director of its International Human Rights Law Program at Melbourne Law School – to international law, collective security, queer approaches and feminist thinking.

The one day symposium will see key scholars engage with Professor Otto’s work under the themes of security, rights, methods and queer before closing with an address from Di.

Professor Otto was an original international law grrl – in the sense of publishing from the mid-1990s on feminist approaches to international law and, by the mid-2000s, contributing key scholarship on the emerging collective security structure on women, peace and security, including the seminal piece A Sign of “Weakness”? Disrupting Gender certainties in the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325  in Michigan Journal of Gender and Law.  The article was arguably the first critical feminist engagement with the emergent women, peace and security framework as it developed in the work of the UN Security Council. Professor Otto’s tremendous contribution also places her at the forefront of approaches to queering international law and a long time contributor to the development and critique of international human rights law, having edited the three volume set on Gender Issues and Human Rights published in 2013. Her recent publications on Queering Gender Identity in International Law and Decoding Crisis in International Law are must reads for anyone with an eye on cutting edge developments in critical engagements with international law.

Professor Otto was was a member of the Expert Panel at the Asia-Pacific Regional Women’s Hearing on Gender-Based Violence in Conflict held in Phnom Penh in 2012 and has a long history of NGO collaboration and activism: too long to list here! Do come along on September 2nd in the Khalili Lecture Theatre at SOAS, University of London to help us celebrate a wonderful international law grrl Prof. Further event details here or contact Di Otto at CGS

Job Announcement: Global Advocacy Adviser (Geneva)

The Center for Reproductive Rights (the Center) is the premier global legal organization dedicated to advancing women’s reproductive health, self-determination, and dignity.  Its mission is straightforward and ambitious: to advance reproductive health and rights as fundamental human rights that all governments around the world are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.  Headquartered in New York City, the Center has regional offices in Bogota, Geneva, Kathmandu, Nairobi, and Washington, DC and a staff of more than 130 diverse professionals.  Its annual operating budget is approximately $23 million, the result of an extraordinary growth trajectory; the Center is now poised for a new phase of significant expansion through its next Strategic Plan.

The Center’s game-changing litigation and advocacy work, combined with its unparalleled expertise in constitutional, comparative, and international human rights law, have transformed how reproductive rights are understood by courts, governments, and human rights bodies worldwide. It has played a key role in securing landmark legal victories in the U.S., Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe on issues including access to life-saving obstetrics care, contraception, safe abortion services, and comprehensive sexuality information, as well as the prevention of forced sterilization and child marriage.  It has brought groundbreaking cases before national courts, U.N. Committees, and regional human rights bodies, led the development of historic, proactive legislation advancing robust protections for reproductive rights, and has built the legal capacity of women’s rights advocates in more than 55 countries.

The Center seeks a Global Advocacy Adviser to support the work of the Global Advocacy team in the Global Legal Program and will report to the Director of Global Advocacy. The Global Advocacy Adviser will conceptualize and implement robust advocacy strategies to advance reproductive rights through UN bodies and human rights mechanisms in Geneva. Working under the supervision of the Director for Global Advocacy and in collaboration with program staff based in Geneva, New York, and across the globe, the Global Advocacy Adviser will advance advocacy initiatives to strengthen international human rights norms, draw greater attention to the status of women’s reproductive rights globally, and leverage UN mechanisms to push for law and policy reform globally.

The position will be based in Geneva, Switzerland.


The Global Advocacy Adviser’s primary job responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Support the Director of Global Advocacy with the implementation of the Center’s new Strategic Plan;
  • Monitor events, developments and initiatives within the UN Human Rights Mechanisms (in particular the Treaty Monitoring Bodies and Special Procedures) and UN agencies, and identify upcoming advocacy opportunities and legal developments in Geneva;
  • Identify strategic entry points for advocacy initiatives around the development of international human rights law on reproductive rights, and together with GA Director, set priorities, plan and execute advocacy strategies with UN human rights bodies and other relevant mechanisms in Geneva;
  • Draft legal submissions and advocate on behalf of the Center’s input to UN agency reports, Treaty Monitoring Body General Comments and other technical documents as needed;
  • Engage with Treaty Monitoring Body members, UN agency staff, and relevant missions to advocate for inclusion of reproductive rights within initiatives at the international level;
  • Build and deepen contacts with key stakeholders at the UN in Geneva, including Treaty Monitoring Body members, Special Procedure mandate holders, and UN, permanent missions and NGO staff, and institutionalize these contacts;
  • Promote collaboration on reproductive rights and related issues through outreach and relationship-building with NGOs in Geneva order to create greater awareness and stimulate positive collective action;
  • Oversee the planning and implementation of events in Geneva hosted by the Center, in particular briefings for Treaty Monitoring Bodies and Special Procedures, as well as others as needed;
  • Support the development of communications, materials, and updates of GA activities for press releases, social media and e-mail listservs;
  • Draft and review Center publications on key and emerging reproductive rights issues;
  • Conduct research and integrate information received from pro bono services on global legal developments related to reproductive rights;
  • Liaise and collaborate constructively with other regions and departments in the Center as needed, including Communications, Development, US Legal and Advocacy Programs, and Pro Bono Services;
  • Represent the Center at meetings and events in Geneva and elsewhere as needed;
  • Collaborate closely with the other Global Advocacy Advisers and Fellows;
  • Report regularly and effectively to the Director of Global Advocacy and assist with the supervision of fellows, interns, volunteers and pro bono lawyers, as needed;
  • International travel is required.


  • Strong commitment to the Center’s mission, purpose, and values.
  • Knowledge of and documented commitment to international human rights, women’s rights and UN human rights system. Experience in reproductive rights work is a plus.
  • Significant experience working with international and/or regional human rights mechanisms, such as through international litigation and other legal submissions. Experience designing and/or implementing strategies to strengthen human rights norm development preferred.
  • Advocacy experience and relationships relevant to advocacy on human rights in Geneva or in regional human rights mechanisms, including as part of NGO coalitions.
  • Exceptional legal writing, editing, research, oral advocacy and interpersonal skills.
  • Experience in project management and strategic planning.
  • Fluency in written and spoken English required, Spanish or French language ability preferred.
  • Self-motivated, strong work ethic and attention to detail.
  • Have the ability to organize and drive projects to a timely completion.
  • Must be outstanding in analytical, problem-solving, and creative thinking abilities.
  • Ability to work collaboratively, to multi-task, and to work under pressure.
  • Degree in law (Juris Doctor or LLM) required, preferably with a focus in human rights.
  • Minimum 5 years related professional experience.

Compensation: The Center offers a competitive salary commensurate with experience and a comprehensive benefits program.

How to Apply: Please click on the link below to apply.  A cover letter, resume, legal writing sample, and contact information for three references must be included in your application in order to be considered for this position.  Please include these application materials as attachments.

Deadline for applications: Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until the position is filled. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

Call for Papers: The Canadian Journal of Women and the Law/Revue Femmes et droit

Call for Submissions

 The Canadian Journal of Women and the Law/ Revue Femmes et droit is Canada’s oldest and only feminist legal periodical. Since it began in 1985, the journal has provided a forum in which feminist writers from diverse backgrounds, speaking from a wide range of experience, can exchange ideas and information about legal issues that affect women. We are looking to build on this tradition and remain committed to reflecting a diversity of political, social, cultural, and economic thinking, unified by a shared interest in law reform.

We invite submissions from people who are engaged in feminist analysis of socio-legal issues that reflect a range of approaches, including multidisciplinary, action-focused, theoretical, and historical, and that reflect linguistic and regional differences in Canada. We particularly encourage submissions authored by women from different backgrounds, disciplines and jurisdictions who are doing new feminist work.

The CJWL/RFD is seeking papers for publication in the following sections of the CJWL/RFD: articles, review essays, commentaries, case comments, research notes, book reviews, and notes on Canadian and International events of interest to our readers. Comments on previously published materials are also welcome.

Full submissions information is available here

Appel à contributions

La Revue Femmes et droit/The Canadian Journal of Women and the Law est le plus ancien périodique consacré à des analyses féministes en droit au Canada. Depuis son lancement en 1985, la Revue offre aux auteures féministes de tous horizons un forum où échanger des idées et de l’information sur des questions juridiques qui touchent les femmes. Nous souhaitons renforcer cette tradition, en continuant de nourrir des réflexions politiques, sociales, culturelles et économiques diversifiées qui partagent un même intérêt pour la réforme du droit.

Nous accueillons les contributions de personnes engagées dans l’analyse féministe d’enjeux sociojuridiques. Les articles reflèteront à la fois des approches variées – multidisciplinaires, centrées sur l’action et historiques, notamment –, et les différences linguistiques et régionales du Canada. Nous recherchons, en particulier, des travaux de féministes issues de différentes formations, disciplines et juridictions qui renouvèlent les approches et analyses féministes.

La RFD/CJWL sollicite des textes relevant des catégories suivantes : articles, études de fond, commentaires de jurisprudence, études de cas, notes de recherche, recensions de livres, et observations sur les évènements nationaux et internationaux susceptibles d’intéresser notre lectorat. Les réactions à des textes publiés précédemment sont également bienvenues.

Vous trouverez tous les renseignements concernant les propositions d’articles ici

If you have comments or questions, please contact:

Natasha Bakht

English Language Co-Editor

Canadian Journal of Women and the Law

Annie Rochette

French Language Co-Editor – Corédactrice francophone

Revue Femmes et droit



  • Two positions are available at Physicians for Human Rights in their Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones.
  • The University of Dayton School of Law is seeking candidates for the position of adjunct professor of law for its collaboration with the University of Dayton Human Rights Center.  As a leader in the global human rights community, the Center searches for transformative solutions to systemic patterns of global injustice.

    This adjunct position affords a unique opportunity for attorneys with an interest and expertise in promoting human rights to teach, train and oversee law students working with the Center to research and analyze the legal aspects of real-world human rights projects.   For example, students may be asked to research the legal issues involved in a peace and reconciliation process or forced labor and produce memoranda outlining their findings and recommendations. The position requires intensive individual instruction and supervision of students and coordination with the Center. If the ideal candidate is not in the Dayton area, that person could work with students using distance learning technology.    If interested, please contact Associate Dean Lori Shaw (


  • Free Screening in the Global Women, War & Peace Series followed by a panel discussion at Southern Cross University, Gold Coast, 19 August 2016

    Southern Cross University (Australia) is hosting a free public event in the Women, War & Peace series on Friday 19 August 2016. The free screening of ‘Peace Unveiled’ (by PBS) tells a story of three women in Afghanistan who get engaged in peace-talks to ensure that women’s rights did not get traded away in the deal. As with other films in theWomen, War & Peace series, ‘Peace Unveiled’ explores and exposes the changing and powerful roles of women in peace buildingand in conflict. Come along and see and hear about the momentous courage and stories of these inspiring women.

    Please see attached poster with further details, including about the Panellists taking part in the discussion following the film screening. For further details please contact Dr Natalia Szablewska on .

    5937 Women War and Peace Poster A4 and A5_LO_RES_20160801


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