The Language of Human Rights
In That the World May Know (2007), James Dawes documents the complex organizational dynamics and communicative practices of some of the world’s most recognizable “humanitarian inquisitors”: the UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Human Rights Association (HRA). Dawes observes that these organizations aim to “eliminate physical suffering by using words,” relying on interviews, investigations and campaigning to “perform certain types of speech acts,” such as the UNHCR announcing “This person is a refugee” or the ICRC stating “You are guilty of violating international norms” (77). As Dawes explains, such interventions on behalf of rights advancement are linguistic acts within a discourse of activism, judgement and storytelling, and however well-intentioned cannot be value-neutral. The rights-testimonial context calls for semantic choices on the part of the interviewee in the act of telling, while the cultural and historical frames through which activists, bureaucrats and policy-makers listen to that testimony powerfully informs their ability to act upon that information.
The language of human rights activism from grass roots campaigns to state-mediated peace agreements thus describes and delimits the parameters and character of the spaces in which human experiences are spoken and heard. In a series of blogs, I will explore the workings of some of these discursive processes and practices by examining the development and later impact of a well-intentioned set of resolutions devised to increase women’s participation in International peace and security missions. These include the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and later resolutions devised to support the aims of 1325, the International Protocol for the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict (2014) and the greatly revised second edition of the Protocol (2017). As we shall see, while all of these international resolutions seek to advance the rights of women in conflict and post-conflict regions and enable safe spaces for them to share their concerns and experiences, the conceptual frames through which those aims are articulated are increasingly understood as posing obstacles to achieving those goals.
UNSCR 1325 (2000)
For the United Nations Security Council at the start of the 21st century, the political and economic status of women became “a matter for the most serious consideration” as its members generally agreed that “addressing chronic gender inequality could indeed lay the foundations for sustainable peace” (Kirby and Shepherd [a] 250). The tangible result was the passing of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 “Women, Peace and Security” in 2000. 1325 reaffirms the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict, in peacebuilding negotiations, peacekeeping, humanitarian interventions and responses, post-conflict reconstruction and sustainable peace initiatives.
In addition to calling for more widespread consideration of the needs of women in conflict and post-conflict settings, the resolution also calls for greater representation and participation of women in decision and policy making at national, regional and international levels; for an increase in their involvement in conflict negotiation and resolution, field operations, and consultancy on missions; greater funding and support measures for gender-based work; states’ increased commitment to upholding the rights and protection of women and girls under international law; and the creation of deterrents and other special measures to prevent sexual violence in armed conflict. At international institutional levels, the resolution has led to the appointment of a Special Representative of The Secretary-General on Sexual Violence and to the formation of an Inter-Agency Taskforce on Women, Peace and Security to facilitate its implementation.
Arguably, the passage of UNSCR 1325 is largely responsible for stimulating feminist interest in the work of the UN Security Council. Soumita Basu notes for example that the Council’s “procedures, practices and ideological leanings” feature prominently in scholarly research on the ‘adoption story’ of the resolution,” (255) much of which focusses on the seemingly new public/political spaces it carved out by listening to so-called women’s concerns. More recent scholarship from the field of feminist security studies, however, challenges the earlier consensus on the unalloyed benefits to women of 1325. As Maria Jansson and Maud Eduards contend, for example, the resolution can best be understood as “the outcome of political negotiations in a setting characterized by power relations” through which a “specific understanding of gender and security has been generated” (591-2). Critics like these argue that 1325 and later resolutions aimed at advancing the WPS agenda, uphold problematic traditional patriarchal divisions of the roles of men and women in war and peace. In the next blog I will be exploring the Background and context of the adoption of 1325 in 2000 and the impact that has had on Women, Peace and Security. For further information right now – have a look at the following videos, the first from the Inter parliamentary Union, and the second from UN Women.