Greetings fro1024px-old_riga_buildingsm charming Riga, Latvia, where I’ve just arrived to attend the European Society of International Law’s Annual Meeting.  Happy to see some IntLawGrrls representation on the program, from Anne van Aaken moderating the first panel (How International Law Works in Times of Crisis) to Alice Edwards moderating a panel entitled The Refugee (Law) Crisis.  Perhaps of greatest interest to IntLawGrrls readers will be an Agora moderated by one of our newest members, Bérénice Schramm, on The Gendered Imaginaries of Crisis in International Law, at 11 am on Friday in Diena Hall.  Speakers on this bilingual Agora include Marion Blondel and Zeynep kıvılcım, who will be presenting in French; in English will be the wonderful Diane Otto (who is somehow not yet an IntLawGrrl, but I’ll work on it!) and yours truly.  In her capacity as the coordinator of OLYMPE, which offers a forum for francophone feminist voices in international law, Bérénice has organized a lunch co-sponsored by IntLawGrrls after the Agora.  We encourage IntLawGrrls readers and contributors to come to find me or Bérénice at the end of Agora 8 if you’d like to join us!

También de este lado hay sueños

With protestthe arrival of the Democratic National Convention, protesters have converged on Philadelphia.  At least for the moment, the historic selection of the first female presidential candidate in U.S. history seems to have been overshadowed by yet another e-mail debacle.  The New York Times reported yesterday on backers of Bernie Sanders who surrounded City Hall, making their voices heard.  Today, another protest (pictured at left) marched past my front door, chanting, “Not one more deportation!” and asking the Democrats to be the anti-Trump party.  As one woman’s sign read, “También de este lado hay sueños” — there are also dreams on this side.  President Obama and his Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, have shamefully trampled on too many of those dreams.  Here’s hoping that Hillary Clinton continues to propound more humane immigration policies, and that immigrant voters can make their dreams count in the November election.

The Future of Women’s Engagement with International Law


I’ve just returned from sunny Brisbane, Australia, where I had the pleasure of participating in a two-day expert workshop hosted by IntLawGrrl Susan Harris Rimmer of Griffith University Law School (pictured left) and co-organized by Kate Ogg of the Australian National University College of Law (pictured below right).  True to the organizers’ description, the conference featured “the most excellent cast of characters a production could ever hope for.”  We were welcomed by Griffith Law Dean Penelope Mathew, a feminist international law professor (like an IntLawGrrl’s dream come true!), who participated throughout the first day.  The first order of business was a lively debate on terminology: feminist, gender, or women.

kate oggWhile I’m not sure that we reached consensus on that question, the panelists presented a feast of terrific projects, ranging from efforts to quantify women’s presence in the legal academy to examining whether fields such as global constitutionalism can be reconstituted as a feminist project.  Participants also represented a range of levels of seniority and a mix of academics and practitioners, from Kamala Chandrakirana of the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice, IntLawGrrl Hilary Charlesworth, and Dr. Sima Samar of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, to Siobhan Airey, currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa, writing on consent in international law; Saptarshi Mandal, an Assistant Professor at Jindal University in New Delhi, writing on global governance and local feminisms, and IntLawGrrl Gabrielle Simm, currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Technology in Sydney, writing on gender and disasters.  All of these projects and more will constitute the Research Handbook on Women and International Law to be published by Edward Elgar in 2017 .

This was just the first of a series of workshops that will take place around the edited volume, which aims to “define the research agenda for women’s engagement with international law over the next 50 years.”  While the participant list is largely complete, the editors are still seeking chapters that present TWAIL and/or masculinities theories, as well as those that discuss technology issues and methodologies.  If you’re interested in authoring such a chapter, please contact Prof. Sue Harris Rimmer at




Rethinking International Law’s Responses to Refugee Flows

portrait of Tendayi Achumie

Over the past year, the international refugee system has proven itself incapable of managing massive movements of human beings throughout the world, from Syria to Myanmar to Honduras, and of adequately protecting those in flight.  Most commentators agree that the system is either irretrievably broken, or on the precipice of breakdown.  Just this morning, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt expressed the latter sentiment in an interview by the BBC — part of a full day of reporting on “how mass migration is changing our world.”  Critiques of the system are commonplace; creative solutions in much shorter supply.

For those interested in reading a provocative and thoughtful proposal for reform, I recommend highly Prof. Tendayi Achiume’s article, Syria, Cost-sharing, and the Responsibility to Protect Refugees.  Achiume, pictured above left, offers a novel approach to the Responsibility to Protect, leveraging it as a toolkit to improve coordination and equitable cost-sharing around refugee flows.  The article itself is well worth a read, but for those looking for a shorter take, my review of her article was posted on Jotwell this morning.

Beyond Survival: Livelihood Strategies for Refugees in the Middle East

What can be done static1.squarespace.comto improve the lives of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey?  A terrific interdisciplinary conference I attended last November at Cornell Law School, entitled Beyond Survival: Livelihood Strategies for Refugees in the Middle East, engaged with that question from a variety of perspectives, focusing on the pressing issues of employment and education.  Jointly organized by the Prof. Chantal Thomas of the Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa, Dean Eduardo Penalver and Associate Dean Laura Spitz of Cornell University Law School, Dr. Josyann Abisaab and Dr. Satchit Balsari of Weill Cornell Global Emergency Medicine Division, and Prof. Mostafa Minawi of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative, this was the first extended academic conference at a U.S. university to focus on the situation of Syrian refugees.  The conference brought together anthropologists, demographers, doctors, economists, education experts, historians, legal academics, public health experts, technologists, and UN headquarters and field staff from the region to discuss the current situation on the ground and potential strategies for improving access to jobs and schools.  Several speakers, including the UNHCR Representative in Jordan, had recently worked in and/or conducted research in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, and were able to provide timely, detailed, and comprehensive information about the numerous challenges facing the refugee populations in those countries.  A report summarizing the conference proceedings, including this information and expert analysis from a variety of fields, has just been made available here.  The goal of the report is to set research priorities for academics and research institutions “seeking innovative, evidence-based solutions” and to encourage dialogue and engagement among students and faculty at university campuses to meet the urgent needs of Syrian refugees, and to think more broadly about “our obligations to people beyond our borders.”

Read On! Gender and Violence in Haiti

IntLawGrrl benedetta-faedi-duramy book photoBenedetta Faedi Duramy‘s book, Gender and Violence in Haiti: Women’s Path from Victims to Agents, offers a rich and nuanced description of the complex forces that entangle impoverished Haitian women in cycles of violence, both as subjects and as perpetrators.  Her clear and powerful writing explains in detail the historical evolution of this violence, situating it within a climate of deep gender inequality and desperate poverty.  It is a worthwhile read for that history alone, but goes on to describe in depth the complexities of contemporary Haitian society and the situation of women within it.  Prof. Faedi Duramy catalogues the relevant human rights law and offers practical suggestions as to how it might be applied to ameliorate the condition of Haitian women.  I’ve posted on SSRN a full review of her book, forthcoming next spring in Human Rights Quarterly.  But don’t stop there — the book itself is an engaging and informative though deeply troubling read.

Foreign Life Valuation

How should wexlerU.S. policymakers value foreign lives?  The University of Illinois Law Review Online recently published a symposium issue exploring a variety of perspectives on this question.  The pieces respond to Valuing Foreign Lives, published last year by IntLawGrrl Lesley Wexler (pictured right) and her colleague Arden Rowell (pictured below). That article offers a theoretical framework to guide government officials in determining when and how to value foreign lives in domestic policymaking.  It tees up several policy puzzles that this symposium begins to address, bringing together different disciplinary approaches and case studies.  Foregrounding the state’s potential duties and obligations to foreigners, philosopher Colleen Murphy explores three moral questions involved in valuing foreign lives.  Law professor Jonathan Masur enters the discussion from the other side, focusing on foreign individuals’ accountability to other states, and offering rationales that favor a less transparent and more ad hoc approach.  Yours truly presents immigration law as a case study that highlights some of the challenges of foreign life valuation.  Both psychologist Paul Slovic and law professor Lesley Wexler explore humanitarian interventions and the impact of the psychological bias known as the prominence effect oardenn foreign life valuation in this context.  Slovic looks to psychological studies to test the power of this effect in foreign life valuation and offers countering techniques.  Wexler uses the case study of the United States’ Atrocity Review Board to examine the interaction of international and domestic legal institutions with foreign valuation practices and psychological biases, again offering prescriptions to address the prominence effect.  Law professor David Dana expands the scope of the discussion beyond life valuation to protection of communities and cultures, and explores the role of psychological biases in directing policy decisions.  He suggests studies of domestic preferences as a first step to reallocating resources more appropriately.  Law professor Arden Rowell ties together the strands of the discussion on guidance and challenges for studying foreign life valuation, arguing that the current atheoretic and opaque approach is problematic.

The Borders of Human Rights

1-RSD13_085_0232aWhat is the relationship between international human rights law and migration? Though many might assume a simple one – human rights protect migrants – the reality is much more complex, raising profound questions about state sovereignty, politics, and the nature of international law. In her new paper, Between the Kingdom and the Desert Sun: Human Rights, Immigration and Border Walls, Moria Paz maps out the central tension of this relationship, providing an insightful and balanced description of deep structural problems with the current human rights approach to migration.

Paz defines clearly for the reader the tension between sovereignty and individual rights that underpins the relationship between human rights and migration. She argues that the two normative doctrinal approaches available to resolve questions of migration necessarily clash. According to Paz, the human rights approach locates the right to a minimum level of human dignity in the individual, whether or not that individual has complied with formal immigration requirements. Yet these rights exist in a statist international legal regime that provides states with absolute authority to decide who can enter, “under what conditions, and with what legal consequences.” In other words, states and their members have the right to decide who can become a member of their political community and how the state’s resources will be allocated. This tension is, of course, grounded in age-old questions about international law’s ability to constrain state behavior. Yet the highly politicized nature of migration law sharpens this perennial conflict, leading to interesting and unexpected outcomes.

Paz argues that human rights courts and treaty bodies have increasingly resolved this tension in favor of human rights by expanding substantive protection standards in the direction of more absolute rights for migrants. The heart of her paper, and a terrific contribution to the literature, is here. She highlights an important structural problem with this approach: courts have extended the reach of human rights protection by grounding jurisdiction in theories of territory and effective control. In the context of migration, these theories are of course self-defeating, and Paz explains lucidly why they are so problematic. Here her paper steps beyond international law, and asks important questions about law itself and its ability to constrain politics. Paz offers a cautionary tale of overreach and backlash. Continue reading

In Cambodia, a Time for Reflection

angkor watToday’s convictions of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan brought relief and a sense of closure for many survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime.  Thirty-five years after the downfall of the Khmer Rouge, these senior leaders have finally been sentenced to life imprisonment for their brutal crimes.  Fifteen years ago, I surveyed a cross-section of Cambodians about their opinions on accountability for the Khmer Rouge.  For many interviewees, international criminal trials were important not only to ensure the legitimacy of the process, but also to ensure that the international community, which had let Cambodia down so many times, was finally focusing its attention on the atrocities Cambodians had suffered.

Today is a moment to reflect on that suffering and mourn with Cambodians for their losses.  But it is also a time to remember that the struggle for justice in Cambodia continues.  Among many others, my friend Kalyanee Mam continues that fight, making documentary films that expose the ongoing struggles Cambodians face in protecting their land and way of life from expropriation and corrupt, cronyistic development.  Her most recent film, “A Threat to Cambodia’s Sacred Forests“, featured as an “Op-Doc” in last week’s New York Times, details the experience of just one community standing up to such a threat. 

In the words of my dear colleague Youk Chhang, Executive Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, “We knew that the court would not resolve everything.”  It is but a first step in a much longer battle for equality and democracy in Cambodia.  Let us hope that the international community can sustain its attention to Cambodia, whose civil society is in dire need of support in addressing the deep-rooted problems created by the destruction of the Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent decades of corrupt governance.