Wednesday 3 June 2009

R2P and women in conflict

The feminist Gunda Werner Institut (Böll Foundation, Berlin) convened an experts' meeting on 27 May on the Right to Protect (R2P), a fairly new concept in international law, and its implications on women. The bottom line: R2P is innovative in that it places human rights above State sovereignty, traditionally held inviolable in international law. But this political concept does not come with new enforcement mechanisms: it is still the UN Security Council that determines whether a State has proven incapable of protecting its citizens' human rights, in which case R2P can justify military intervention.
R2P is NOT an automatic license to invade; it is a looming threat or, phrased more positively, an invitation to governments to strengthen national mechanisms protecting human rights.
Women's rights have served as an excuse for military intervention, e.g. in Afghanistan. Have international invaders taken any targeted measures to enhance Afghan women's rights? The experts are sceptical. There is little evidence of international efforts to have women's voices heard - arguably, armies are not the place where you would expect that to happen (even though one participant in the meeting called for gender training for military personnel).

Recently, R2P has been invoked in connection with the Darfur conflict. Annette Weber, Horn of Africa specialist at SWP (German government think tank) points out that the nature of the conflict and the sheer size of the territory involved make military intervention an unlikely path to protecting civilians' lives. Meanwhile, classical diplomatic instruments have been underused.

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