Online harassment of women journalists and international law: not “just” a gender issue, but a threat to democracy

Democracy

Image by ydant (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Online harassment of women journalists hinders the free press from operating as it should, which negatively affects the democratic process. Silencing journalists stifles the free flow of information and our ability to exercise our democratic rights; a pluralistic media landscape needs to include women’s voices. Silencing women journalists therefore constitutes an attack on democracy itself. States should address the issue with the gravity it deserves and live up to their international obligations to put in place domestic legal systems capable of responding adequately to these attacks.

 

The problem

When a 14-year-old girl was raped in Finland, journalist Linda Pelkonen covered the case on the news website Uusi Suomi. In her report, she mentioned that, contrary to regular practice, the police had referred to the suspect’s ethnicity: allegedly a Finnish citizen of immigrant background had been involved. A post smearing Pelkonen appeared on the anti-immigrant MV Lehti website, after which she received a host of rape and death threats. After a reader published Pelkonen’s personal phone number in the website’s comment section, encouraging others to inform the journalist of their discontent, she received threatening text messages from 18 different phone numbers, and a phone call telling her she would be raped. Pelkonen reported the threats to the police, informing them that she was scared. Declining to investigate, the regional prosecutor argued that journalists, due to the public nature of their work, needed “to be able to endure more criticism than others.”

UK think tank Demos estimates that women journalists receive three times as many abusive comments on Twitter as their male counterparts

Sadly, Pelkonen’s case is hardly an exception. No comprehensive study on the pervasiveness of online harassment of women journalists has been conducted yet, but the data available paint a gloomy picture. UK think tank Demos estimates that women journalists receive three times as many abusive comments on Twitter as their male counterparts. A survey conducted by the International Women’s Media Foundation showed that over 25% of “verbal, written and/or physical intimidation including threats, to family or friends” took place online.

This week, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media organised its second workshop this year on the safety of female journalists online. In addition to discussing issues such as digital security and civil society initiatives like HeartMob, the workshop addressed the international legal framework within which the online harassment of women journalists should be placed.

“Online” harassment

What are we talking about when we say “online” harassment of women journalists? It covers a broad range of actions, including threats of (sexual) violence, the spreading of falsehoods about a person asserted as facts, the posting of sensitive information online (home address, personal phone number, social security numbers), technological attacks such as falsely shutting down social media accounts, (sexist, racist) insults, and swatting.

The distinction between the “online” and “offline” world is artificial. That the medium used for the harassment is digital, does not mean that actual fear and anxiety do not follow from it.

The distinction between the “online” and “offline” world is artificial. To the extent that any separation between these dimensions of our lives could still be made today, any “online” harassment will always have a “real world” effect. That the medium used for the harassment is digital, does not mean that actual fear and anxiety do not follow from it.

This is underlined by UN Human Rights Council Resolution L.13  on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, which affirms that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression”. Similarly, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media issued recommendations in 2015, stating that “online abuse must be dealt with in the broader context of gender discrimination and violence against women to ensure that the same rights that people have offline must be protected online.”

International legal standards: at the intersection of freedom of expression and gender

The issue of harassment of women journalists needs to be framed from all relevant perspectives: as a freedom of expression issue and as an issue of gender-based violence against women.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is further elucidated by the UN Human Rights Committee in General Comment 34, makes clear that the right to freedom of expression is a key right that can only be restricted under a limited set of circumstances. It is both an individual right of personal self-fulfilment and a collective right, allowing all members of society to receive information and ideas and inform themselves on matters of public interest. Journalists have a special role to play in this democratic process. As the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees compliance with the ICCPR, frames it: “A free, uncensored and unhindered press or other media is essential in any society to ensure freedom of opinion and expression … It constitutes one of the cornerstones of a democratic society.”

For the States that are party to the ICCPR (or one of its regional counterparts, the European Convention on Human Rights, American Convention on Human Rights or African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights), this also entails an obligation to ensure a diverse media landscape, both online and offline.

Attacks on women journalists are attacks on democracy itself.

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, often referred to as the “international bill of rights for women” defines discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end it. The CEDAW Committee, which oversees States’ compliance with the Convention, stated in General Recommendation 19, recently updated by General Recommendation 35, that gender-based violence against women constitutes discrimination against women. The Committee defines it as: “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.” Online harassment of women journalists falls squarely within this definition, as is explicitly

6 February 1998 - Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, United Nations Headquarters, New York addressing journalists at a press briefing

6 February 1998 – Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, United Nations Headquarters, New York addressing journalists at a press briefing.

mentioned in the General Recommendation: “Harmful practices and crimes against women human rights defenders, politicians, activists or journalists are also forms of gender-based violence against women.”

The interlinkage between the right to freedom of expression and women’s right to be free from discrimination is also made explicit: “Women’s right to a life free from gender-based violence is indivisible from and interdependent with other human rights, including the right to … freedom of expression.”

This is where the crux lies: the online harassment of women journalists hinders the free press from operating as it should, which negatively affects the democratic process. Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 of the Committee of Ministers on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors sums this up succinctly: “[acts of online harassment of women journalists] which in practice are committed by both State and non-State actors, have a grave chilling effect on freedom of expression including on the ability to access information, on the public watchdog role of journalists and other media actors and on open and vigorous public debate, all of which are essential in a democratic society.”

In other words: attacks on women journalists are attacks on democracy itself.

States’ obligations to create conditions for effective investigation, prosecution and protection

When signing on to a human rights treaty, a State takes it upon itself to respect, protect and fulfil its obligations under that treaty. The obligation to respect means that the State must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of the human rights contained in the treaty; the obligation to protect means that the State must protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses; and the obligation to fulfil means that the State must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment these human rights.

These obligations are applicable to all branches of the State and all public or governmental authorities, at all levels that are in a position to engage the responsibility of the State. They also require the State to ensure that persons are protected from acts by private persons or entities that impair the enjoyment of the relevant human rights.

There is an obligation of the State to put into place a domestic legal system that is capable of responding adequately to threats, ensuring that perpetrators are prosecuted.

Specifically, there is an obligation of the State to put into place a domestic legal system that is capable of responding adequately to threats, ensuring that perpetrators are prosecuted. CEDAW General Recommendation 35 stipulates that “[S]tates parties have to adopt and implement diverse measures to tackle gender-based violence against women committed by non-State actors. They are required to have laws, institutions and a system in place to address such violence.”

Failing to do so constitutes a human rights violation in and of itself: “The failure of a State party to take all appropriate measures to prevent acts of gender-based violence against women when its authorities know or should know of the danger of violence, or a failure to investigate, prosecute and punish, and to provide reparation to victims/survivors of such acts, provides tacit permission or encouragement to acts of gender-based violence against women. These failures or omissions constitute human rights violations.”

National law and online harassment

What recourse can national legal systems offer to those targeted by online harassment? Generally, there are two possible tracks: civil proceedings or the criminal justice system.

Bringing a civil case can be time-consuming, expensive and emotionally draining. It can also have the unwanted effect of drawing additional public attention to the case, which can aggravate the harassment.

Under the civil law system, the target of harassment can initiate legal action against the attacker, suing them for a civil wrong. In some cases, for example if personal photos have been stolen and published, a copyright claim is also an option. The outcome of civil proceedings can be monetary compensation for the claimant and personal vindication for having won (or even pursued) the case. But bringing a civil case can be time-consuming, expensive and emotionally draining. It can also have the unwanted effect of drawing additional public attention to the case, which can aggravate the harassment.

Adequate follow-up by the authorities is not a given. Many legal systems operate with laws that have not been updated to meet the demands of the digital age.

Remedies in the criminal justice system can be a restraining order against the attacker, a criminal penalty, and in some systems also monetary compensation. Pursuing a case within the criminal justice system entails filing a complaint with the authorities, after which prosecution can follow. In most systems, the prosecutor will have discretionary powers to decide whether or not to pursue a case. As illustrated by the case of Pelkonen described above, adequate follow-up by the authorities is not a given. Many legal systems operate with laws that have not been updated to meet the demands of the digital age. Combined with a lack of understanding of modern technology by both law enforcement and judges, this can lead to a frustrating experience for those wanting to file a complaint about harassment. Journalist Amanda Hess described this aptly in her account of trying to file a report on death threats she received, upon which a police officer asked her “What is Twitter?”. In addition, law enforcement can be too under-educated and under-resourced to properly follow up and investigate even if they are willing to register a complaint.

When the regional prosecutor failed to follow up, Pelkonen did not give up. She filed a complaint at the prosecutor’s office together with the Union of Journalists in Finland, arguing that failing to prosecute her case would set a dangerous precedent. Finland’s Prosecutor General then decided to take up the case, which resulted in three men being charged in May 2017. The first hearing in the case is scheduled to take place in early 2018.

A threat to democracy itself

While the prosecution in Pelkonen’s case is a positive (interim) outcome, this by no means is an example of what should happen in these scenarios. The onus should not be on the targeted person to force the justice system into action: justice should be administered as a rule. States can and should do better in this regard.

The onus should not be on the targeted person to force the justice system into action: justice should be administered as a rule.

There is often a tendency to brush gender issues aside as “niche”. Given that women make up about half of the world’s population, this is a questionable argument as such, but it also simply isn’t true.

Silencing journalists stifles the free flow of information and our ability to exercise our democratic rights. There is a clear obligation of States to protect these rights and guarantee a pluralistic media landscape – a media landscape that includes women’s voices. Silencing women journalists is an attack on democracy itself and it should be dealt with, with the gravity it deserves.

This post has been cross-posted on Medium.

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More Than Fair: GQUAL Campaign Mobilizes Law to Change Picture of International Justice

Globally, women occupy only 33% of the 599 seats found on the 91 adjudicatory bodies of international law. But when one excludes the committees and working groups on the rights of women and children, that number drops to 24% of the remaining 533 seats. Only one woman sits on each of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the appellate body of the World Trade Organization, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The paucity of women on international bodies reveals a gross imbalance of power that tips against a community that makes up roughly half the world’s population.

During the first week of October, ambassadors, legal experts, practitioners, and activists from around the world gathered in The Hague to strategize changing this male-dominated picture of international justice during the GQUAL Campaign’s international conference marking its second anniversary. The Action Plan adopted at the conference begins with an important reminder that achieving gender equality on international bodies is not solely a policy of fairness and institutional legitimacy but an action mandated by law. Together with the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, GQUAL released at the conference a working paper that identifies the international legal basis for the Campaign’s aim of realizing gender parity.

States establish the nominating and voting procedures that apply to any particular international body, making them ultimately responsible for this state of affairs. Though political will is needed to remedy the stark and pervasive gender imbalance on international bodies, reform should be guided by international law and State practice, both of which support the fair representation of women in global governance.

The positive obligation to eliminate sex-based discrimination is deeply rooted and widely reflected in international human rights law. Numerous instruments, most notably the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, not only prohibit States from adopting discriminatory laws but also require that States work to dismantle obstacles that result in discriminatory outcomes for women. The working paper looks beyond CEDAW for additional support to further strengthen the legal foundation of the GQUAL Campaign.

We identified several human rights treaties and policy statements that embody the non-discrimination principle and which enumerate three international human rights norms that require gender equality within different contexts relevant to the GQUAL Campaign—the right of access to decision-making within public bodies; the right of access to equal opportunity in employment; and the right of access to justice. In short, women on equal terms with men, are entitled to shape our governments, to employment that reflects our capabilities, and to the protection, recognition, and advancement of international law. Continue reading

IFC report on business case for workplace childcare reinforces maquiladora workers’ campaign in Central America

MSN 2016

MSN 2016

Lack of quality, affordable child care is a significant concern for working parents in every region in the world, regardless of country or socioeconomic status.  According to the 2017 OECD report The Pursuit of Gender Equality An Uphill Battle, single parents – usually working moms – in the U.S. and Ireland pay up to 45% of their disposable income for affordable childcare.  In countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the lack of quality, affordable child care is just one of several challenges to leveraging working people and entire countries out of poverty.  Other challenges include the lack of adequate social security provisions and inadequate or non-existent early childhood education programs.  Authors of the 2016 IADB study Cashing in on Education: Women, Childcare and Prosperity in Latin America and the Caribbean argue that the key to boosting Latin American countries out of poverty is female labor force participation – and that child care and early childhood education are key policy measures to move more women into paid work outside the home.  Social security contributions made by working women and their employers strengthen social security systems in poorer countries.  Reducing pay gaps between women and men would strengthen social security systems even more.

Maquiladora workers, trade unions and women’s rights activists in Honduras and El Salvador made workplace funded child care a key platform in their workplace advocacy campaign in 2014.  With the collaboration of Canada-based Maquiladora Solidarity Network, they have focused their advocacy efforts on international apparel brands, industry associations and governments to develop and implement viable childcare solutions.

As outlined in MSN’s  guide to legal requirements and international conventions Childcare in Central America, labor laws in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala require employers to provide child care facilities for their employees.  In 2014, the Government of Honduras, Honduran trade unions and the Honduran Manufacturers Association entered into a tripartite agreement to work on establishing some form of employer-provided child care program for textile manufacturing workers.  Employers have been slow to fund child care centers due to cost and capacity factors as well as lack of clarity in Honduran law – stalling the process.

IFC Tackling Childcare p. 21

IFC 2017, p. 21.

Reinforcement for Central American maquiladora workers’ campaign for employer-provided child care has come from an unexpected source.  The IFC’s new report  Tackling Childcare The Business Case for Employer-Supported Childcare uses case studies to show that not only is sponsoring child care programs the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do to succeed in business.  As expected, the case studies examined include white collar employers in the IT, financial services, and healthcare industries in wealthy countries like the United States, Japan and Germany.  More to the point to maquiladora workers in Central America, the case studies include blue collar employers in garment manufacturing, agriculture and heavy manufacturing industries in low- and middle-income countries like Jordan, South Africa, Turkey and Brazil.  In fact, the IFC report emphasizes the heightened need for high quality employer-sponsored child care in low income countries, where lack of access to quality early education and care programs can have a long-lasting negative impact on the growing minds of children – and where the economic security of families is threatened when parents must choose between working to provide for their families or staying at home to care for their children.

The report shows that investing in child care improves employee performance by reducing absenteeism, enhancing worker productivity, and increasing employee commitment and motivation.  The positive impression and improved  company reputation resulting from providing quality child care can help companies recruit and retain good employees.  In countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where employer-sponsored childcare is a legal requirement, companies can attract more international business by showing their compliance with local laws.  Thus, making an investment in child care programs can be an income generator for companies.

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U.S. Government Sued Over Illegally Turning Away Asylum Seekers

Today several groups filed suit against the U.S. government’s Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency for turning away asylum seekers, contrary to domestic and international law.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, asylum seekers arrived from all over the world to present themselves to CBP to ask for protection. The right to seek asylum is enshrined in Article 33 of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, which came into being in 1951 and was expanded by the 1967 Protocol. The United States signed the Protocol in 1968, enacting domestic law to implement the international agreement in 1980.  The U.S. is thus bound by the terms of the Protocol and the Convention itself, including, critically, the principle of non-refoulement — non-return of individuals to a place where they would  face persecution on account of one of the five protected grounds.

In recent years, however, CBP has been routinely turning away vulnerable asylum seekers, forcing them to return to Mexico without allowing them to pursue their right to claim asylum.  This illegal practice has worsened as CBP officers became emboldened following the election and inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. President. Indeed, in January 2017, several groups filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Offices of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Inspector General, alleging systemic abuses at the border. In March, the U.S. government failed to even show up to defend their practices before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, a session which included testimony from multiple groups on the illegal turning away of asylum seekers at the border.

To challenge the unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers, today the American Immigration Council, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Latham & Watkins LLP filed suit in federal court in California’s Central District. The plaintiffs are Al Otro Lado, a “national, direct legal services organization serving indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico” and six of their clients. The lawsuit alleges that DHS and CBP have violated asylum seeker’s rights to seek protection, along with their due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and violations of international law.

The plaintiffs’ stories are all too familiar to asylum lawyers based in the U.S. Personally, I Co-Direct the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. Our current clients include several mothers fleeing violence in Central America who eventually made it into the U.S. after being illegally turned away. We work with survivors of extreme domestic violence and persecution at the hands of transnational criminal organizations, known as “maras,” were turned away at the border by officials with statements such as “There’s no asylum for people from Honduras…” or “You can’t get asylum because you’re scared of your husband.” These statements are patently false, of course, and the precedential Board of Immigration Appeals decision, Matter of A-R-C-G-made clear that individuals fleeing domestic abuse can meet the asylum definition.

As Karolina Walters of the American Immigration Council summarizes from the Complaint today, on their blog, “[o]ther examples of the tactics used by CBP officers against asylum seekers, include:

  • Misrepresenting that visas are required to cross at a POE or that asylum seekers must obtain a “ticket” from a Mexican government agency before they will be allowed to enter the United States to seek asylum;
  • Yelling profanities at an asylum-seeking mother and her 5-year-old son, throwing her to the ground, and forcefully pressing her cheek into the pavement; and
  • Coercing asylum seekers into recanting their fear on video and into withdrawing their applications for admission to the United States.”

The Washington Post quotes legal fellow, Katie Shepherd, also with the American Immigration Council  “‘[CBP officers are] getting very creative; we keep hearing new ways they’re turning people away. . . ‘If a single asylum seeker is denied in a day, that’s one too many.’”

It is, of course, a sad state of affairs that a lawsuit to protect the rights of asylum seekers is necessary. We can only hope that the Court will hold the government to account and the government will honor their legal obligations to protect refugees.

 

Write On! The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstrual Studies

backlit_keyboardThis installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes a call for suggestions as follows:

The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstrual Studies, is an ambitious endeavor undertaken by Chris Bobel, Breanne Fahs and Katie Ann Hanson, among others in the United States. The focus is to “establish[] a field of ‘critical menstrual studies’ as a coherent and multi-dimensional transdisciplinary subject of inquiry and advocacy.” Suggestions for chapters by potential authors and other possible lines of inquiry are welcomed and encouraged. Deadline is June 20, 2017.


Why Wonder Woman matters

WW courage

What, you may wonder, is a blog about a super hero film doing on IntLawGrrls? Well beyond my own personal excitement about the newly released Wonder Woman film, I think there’s an important symbolism that anyone committed to the Women, Peace and Security agenda of UN SC Resolution 1325 will appreciate. And a narrative that anyone committed to raising the profile of women’s voices in international law and international security will value. The film did a superb job of presenting the 75 year old comic book character the way she was intended by her creator William Moulton Marston, as a champion for peace, truth and equality at a time of conflict. He invented her during the Second World War, based on his belief that we need heroes in times of instability and conflict, and the retelling in the DC movie released just this weekend not only stays true to her origins, but reminds us that we all have capacity for war and for love within us.

In the height of the Second World War, Marvel Comics had just created a new character to raise the spirit of a fighting nation, Captain Marvel. He was dressed in the American flag and was a super soldier, and his comics were an immediate hit. Desperate to compete, DC Comics approached Marston, a psychologist who had been writing about why we need heroes in times of war;

Wonder Woman Sensation Comics Issue no. 1

as symbols to galvanise our beliefs. They asked him to create a character that would sell as well as Captain America, and he answered that what they needed was a female superhero. Marston was a staunch feminist, and believed that if women were in positions of leadership there would be more diplomacy and less war. Though many of us today would question this essentialism, there is no doubt that having more women at the decision-making table makes a difference to pre- and post-conflict negotiations, and that women are disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Marston wove the story of Wonder Woman around his classical education, drawing from Greek mythology stories of the Amazon warriors, who in his origin story were entrusted by the gods to protect Pandora’s Box and keep peace in the world. When “the world of men” finds itself caught up in a world war, Wonder Woman is sent as their champion to teach men the ways of peace and justice. She is incredibly strong, but she fights only to defend, never to attack, and she carries the Lasso of Truth, which forces anyone she ensnares to tell the truth. Marston is credited with also having invented the lie detector, so Wonder Woman was a multi-layered creation of his commitments. He even created an alter-ego for her as a military intelligence officer, granting her a status higher than the inevitable title of “secretary”.

In the film, director Patty Jenkins (who may just have broken the Hollywood glass ceiling for female directors with the sweeping box office success of Wonder Woman’s opening weekend) presents the origin story true to Marston’s values, with one small difference that it is set during the First World War, the War to End All Wars. This allowed for interesting commentary about women being completely politically disempowered at the time, still fighting for the vote, and being hustled out of any room where political negotiations were taking place. Placed in a period of history when we knew women were politically disenfranchised, it’s easier to understand, but it’s a mirror of the way women are still absent and underrepresented at the most powerful tables in the world today. The impact of the mass weaponry of the First World War was also the perfectly devastating background for depicting  how civilians are targeted and affected by war. Women and children are highlighted as the innocent victims, and an entire village is decimated by a deadly gas. One is reminded painfully of Syria today. As she begins to understand how power relations play out, Wonder Woman becomes the voice of the civilians, and fights for what she believes in: the possibility of peace. She is the representation of women in leadership positions, and the importance of women’s participation in decision-making.

The complexity of her character is beautifully portrayed. She is shocked at the corruptibility of humans, at our capacity to destroy each other, but she learns that it is not a simple question good versus bad people. Instead she sees that we are all just as capable of warring (as we know from non-state armed groups, from civilian participation in conflict, and from horrific war crimes and crimes of torture perpetrated by highly trained members of the military) as we are of love. She comes to the conclusion that she cannot save the world, but she can continue to bring love, peace, justice and equality to everything she does. That is her mission as Wonder Woman.

Although I was a fan of the 1970s series with Lynda Carter, which was fun and campy, it was a hyper-sexualised representation, and a long way off the character Marston intended her to be. WW Lynda Carter

In the film she is played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli woman who has trained in the armed forces and understands the warrior mentality just as well as she understands the feminine mother energy of the character she plays. (Stunningly, Gadot was 5 months pregnant during final shooting of the film, and they used digital effects to edit out her rounded belly. I have to admit I was moved to even greater excitement to learn that Wonder Woman was carrying life while fighting the god of war!) WW Gal Gadot

The film also does a great job of referencing the classical education which informed her creation, and the feminist role she was created to play. Gadot’s Wonder Woman speaks hundreds of languages, ancient and modern, and when confronting the German General Ludendorff, she cites Thucydides – in such a way that reminds us of today’s competing powers.  She refuses to have men of high rank tell her what to do, even her love interest Steve Trevor, and when she questions the assumptions about obedience in marriage, she cites Sappho, reversing the wartime assumption that women’s bodies are for men’s pleasure: rather, men are necessary for reproduction, but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary. (Let’s not debate the truth of that statement! The point was her challenge to the mainstream assumption.) Marston himself was polyamorous, living with two women, who stayed together as partners after his death. He believed marriage was a patriarchal institution which subordinated women and treated them as property. His comic book character defied men’s superiority but still sought partnership between the sexes, which is a subtlety maintained in her film portrayal.

Wonder Woman is unafraid to use force when that is necessary, but she believes in the possibility of all of us being released from “the grip of Ares, god of war“. In the comics she used to go to great efforts to turn Nazi characters – particularly, but not only, the women – back towards good, and would release them rather than kill them if she saw a possibility of remorse. Marston reminded us that women also play the role of perpetrator in many conflicts, and one of his female villains, Dr Poison, has a key role in the film, inventing the chemical weapons used against civilians. Yet even when Wonder Woman has the chance to kill her, she sees the humanity of Isabel Moru behind the mask of Dr Poison, and decides to let her go, rather than be corrupted herself by the desire to destroy. At the same time, Wonder Woman is not naive: there are times when force is called for, as long as it is proportionate and there is a distinction between lawful and unlawful targets.

Which is why Marston was so committed to us understanding the importance of super heroes. It’s not that we should look to these non-existent fantasy figures who have indestructible (and highly sexualised) bodies as models, it’s that we need something to believe in when the world becomes politically unstable, unpredictable and violent. And given his commitment to women’s political participation, and his understanding of the complexity of human nature regardless of gender, anno 2017, Wonder Woman is a hero for our times.

Launching the Spring Issue of the Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper Series on SSRN

Catherine O’Rourke and Elise Ketelaars

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new issue of the Ulster University Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper Series on the Social Sciences Research Network. This exciting new issue engages both with highly-topical contemporary questions, as well as long-standing challenges in international law, peace, human rights and gender equality. First off, Thomas Obel Hansen considers the Policy Paper of the ICC on preliminary examinations and its potential to advance ‘positive complementarity’ between the operation of the court and the domestic pursuit of justice for conflict victims. At a time of apparent crisis for the court, scholarship such as Hansen’s that addresses this critical relationship between its operation and broader domestic impacts is critical. Aisling Swaine, the leading global expert in National Action Plans (NAPs) for Women, Peace and Security, examines relevant practice to date in the Asia-Pacific region. She demonstrates an exciting new methodology for gender-responsive planning, which has relevance well beyond the specifics of Asia Pacific, namely the ‘Gender Needs Analysis Tool’. Likewise, the findings, conclusions and recommendations offer immediate policy relevance to the current 63 UN member states with NAPs on Women, Peace and Security, as well as those currently developing or reviewing NAPs.

Contributions by Catherine O’Rourke and the joint article by Anne Smith, Monica McWilliams and Priyamvada Yarnell both address the question of international human rights obligations and their current and potential impact on Northern Ireland. Catherine O’Rourke, in research from the DFID-funded Political Settlements Research Programme, considers the recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparations and Guarantees of Non-recurrence on his country visit to Northern Ireland. She identifies the potential for the report to positively re-shape both the diagnostic (defining the problem) and prognostic (identifying the solutions) framing of the vexed issue of how to deliver accountability for past conflict killings and harms in Northern Ireland. Finally, Anne Smith, Monica McWilliams and Priyamvada Yarnell engage with the highly topical challenges of protecting human rights in Northern Ireland as the UK advances its withdrawal from the European Union. In a timely and important contribution, the authors consider how the long-promised Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland might finally be advanced as part of broader efforts to ensure continued human rights protections in the midst of Brexit.

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