(Women’s) human rights: paradoxes and possibilities
Such is its pervasiveness that human rights discourse is used to legitimise humanitarian and military intervention in the affairs of other states, provide a rationale for ‘ethical’ foreign policy, justify the punishment of war crimes, and validate the formation of international coalitions mandated to eradicate terrorism wherever its is found. At grass-roots level, human rights talk is deployed to lobby governments and to press for socioeconomic and legal change, to combat the dehumanising treatment of specific populations, to ground educational initiatives and spawn local, national, international, and sometimes global networks oriented to its advancement, and to induce the patient and meticulous documentation of its violations. In terms of women, human rights activism has been instrumental in problematising violence against women, prompting the recognition by the UN Human Rights Commission in 1992 of rape during war as a form of torture, and as a war crime or crime against humanity in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (which came into force in 2001). It also led to the appointment in 1994 by the UN Human Rights Commission of Radhika Coomaraswamy as the first Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and its Causes and Consequences. Activities centring on human rights produced the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1979 and became operational as an international treaty on 3 September 1981 when it was ratified by its twentieth signatory.(Published Online January 26 2007)
1 An earlier version of this article was presented at the ‘Negotiating Difference/Negotiating Rights’ workshop organised by the BISA Gendering International Relations Working Group. Thanks to all those who participated in the workshop and, in particular, to Marysia Zalewski and Roberta Guerrina for their helpful feedback.