Feminist International Law of Peace and Security

Are we asking the right questions? Reframing peace and security

Reflecting on the LSE Library exhibition ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and a public conversation with Madeleine Rees and Louise Arimatsu, Christine Chinkin questions the basis on which we talk about war, conflict and women’s experiences.

The LSE library currently has an exhibition Give Peace a Chance: From the League of Nations to Greenham Common.  Much of the exhibition traces the history of women’s peace activism from the creation of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in 1915 to the founding of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1957 and the establishment of the Greenham Common Peace Camp in the 1980s.

Unknown member of WILPF, 1930s

On display are written records, photographs, including of those indomitable women founders of WILPF and items, such as the wire cutters that were used at Greenham.  Inspired by the exhibition, the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project co-hosted a public event in the form of a conversation between the current Secretary-General of WILPF, Madeleine Rees, Louise Arimatsu and myself. It took place against the backdrop of a picture of the women who convened in The Hague in 1915 to protest against the war, to ask how it could be brought to an end and to share their insight that war could never be made safe for women.

Turning to the picture Madeleine remarked that she was always looking over her shoulder to those amazing and somewhat stern looking women, worrying if she was doing the right thing by them, whether WILPF was realising their intrepid start in  ‘working for peace by non-violent means and promoting political, economic and social justice for all.’ Her comment led us to ask other questions including whether the different lived experiences of men and women in conflict meant that different questions were asked and what important implications followed. For example, in the lead up to World War II Virginia Woolf responded to the question ‘how in your opinion are we to prevent war’ not with an answer, but with another question drawn from women’s lived experience: ‘Why fight?’

At the end of World War I the women of WILPF would have found this to be the right question. At Zurich in 1919 they expressed their deep regret that the terms of the peace ‘should so seriously violate the principles upon which alone a just and lasting peace can be secured’, that is militarism as a way of thought and life, the privatised arms industry and recourse to war rather than dialogue. Perhaps the question should be reframed: ‘why maintain the means to fight?’

The war had further divided women whose unity over seeking the vote had already been broken by the crucial question of the use of violence; violence at the instance of the state was rejected by the women founders of WILPF who were clear that there could be no reason to fight. Indeed the support to the war effort given by many women who had been active proponents in the struggle for the vote is illustrative of what happens when a feminist movement is hijacked by militarism and nationalism and women are co-opted by the patriarchal structures of power to provide legitimacy and support to men’s wars. We saw this repeated pattern again in 2001 when the invasion of Afghanistan was presented as good for Afghan women. (And indeed, the rationale behind the engagement in the first place- which it so obviously was not). The Taliban was undoubtedly inimical to women’s rights but it takes a mind-set imbued with militarism to move to supporting military action, which is invariably bad for women. Nearly two decades later Time magazine could call Afghanistan ‘the Worst Place in the World to Be a Woman.’ And the US is now negotiating ‘peace’ with the Taliban, whilst women struggle to find ways into the process. No change!

Following World War II the question at the diplomatic level at Geneva was again focused on how war could be fought safely, or at least how to minimise unnecessary harm, although this was limited with respect to women to the single provision in Geneva IV protecting them from rape in international armed conflict. In 2000 WILPF members asked the Security Council to take account of women’s experiences in war. Again what is the right question? Is Security Council Resolution 1325  ‘a real instrument of peace capable of development’? Or is it one that through the guise of women’s protection sets up ‘conditions tending to produce war’?. What is lost by again asking how women can be protected in war rather than how war can be prevented? Madeleine remained true to her WILPF predecessors. Women, she said, had been sold out by Resolution 1325, which, even as it was being negotiated, moved away from its human rights and feminist origins. For instance the language of disarmament was omitted, there is no commitment to economic and social rights and militarism remains squarely within the Council’s ambit but is parked outside this Resolution, except impliedly in the presumed use of military means by ‘good’ men to protect women from ‘bad’ men. We achieved other goals, in particular recognition of the need for women’s meaningful participation in decision-making about conflict and in field operations to prevent further violence. But this has been poorly implemented and moreover presupposes participation in the pre-existing structures that are themselves not challenged. Again we are asking the wrong question. We should not ask how the participation of more women in peace-making processes and peacekeeping missions can be achieved but rather participation in what? In the structures of patriarchy? And how can those structures be transformed to deliver a sustainable, feminist peace? Feminists need to reclaim the discussion, to reject structures that are not fit for our purposes and seek to bring like-minded states and men on board. That this is possible  is shown by the campaign for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It took more than five years to engineer with countless interventions in multiple fora including a brilliant performance by a WILPF representative  who spent almost two hours at the UN General Assembly responding to questions by States, eloquently denouncing nuclear weapons and vividly describing the impact of their use.  The Security Council will never agree but the General Assembly can move to isolate those countries that support weapons of mass destructions and who will not even comply with their obligation under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty to ‘to pursue negotiations in good faith … on general and complete disarmament.’ Getting the Nuclear Treaty proves that the language of militarism can be rejected in favour of that of humanitarianism, environmentalism and life.

But what about gender? How do we collapse the gender binary between women and men and further binaries between ‘good’ men and ‘bad’ men, (and who decides who are the good and who are the bad?) female victims and male perpetrators of violence, ‘straight’ persons and those defined (and targeted ) by their sexuality and gender identity. And the binaries of law: non-intervention and intervention, aggression and self-defence, right and wrong, peace and war. Legal categories maintain the lines of authority and power and create obstacles which prevent us from moving forward. Instead we need to see the fluidity between the multiple inter-related factors that go into the fault lines leading to conflict – neo-liberal economics and the policies of the international economic institutions, imposed identities, the structures of power. We need to look beyond the toxic masculinity sustained by militarism and see the men supporting women, helping others, listening to their consciences and resisting war. We need to ask these men, women, children, gay men and lesbian women what they want and what steps need to be taken to achieve their goals. The current Security Council WPS resolutions are framed around the wrong questions. In the 20th anniversary year of Resolution 1325 in 2020 feminists must seek to ensure that the Council is asked the right questions in the drafting of any follow up Resolution.


About the author

Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads three major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC, ‘Gendered Peace’ funded by the ERC and the UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub. 

CEDAW, WPS and the UK Government

Reflecting on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s consideration of the situation of women’s human rights in the UK at CEDAW 72, Keina Yoshida explores the synergies between CEDAW and WPS.

UK Government representative of the Gender Equalities Office answering CEDAW members’ questions 


It has been such a significant week for human rights and WPS, and for what some have termed Brexit and Chexit.  It is a week in which an international treaty body, an international court and the UK Supreme Court all affirmed the need for greater respect by the UK Government for human rights. The Chagos Island advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down case on the 25 February 2019, the CEDAW Committee’s examination of the UK, the Women and Equalities Committee oral evidence session of abortion in Northern Ireland and the Pat Finucane decision of the Supreme Court all indicate the UK government’s failures to uphold human rights law, and highlight the determined fight for justice by families, activists, lawyers and women from around the world.


The examination of the UK government’s eighth periodic report by CEDAW in particular is likely to be of interest to readers of this blog given the Committee’s specific questioning of the UK about the arms trade and the UK’s 4th National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP). As WPS scholars and practitioners will know, following General Recommendation No 30 on the situation of women in conflict and post-conflict situations, the CEDAW Committee monitors States party compliance with the WPS framework.  This blog and the WPS Working Paper series have hosted discussions about the shortcomings of the UK’s approach to the WPS framework particularly in relation to the lack of reproductive rights and GAPS have done important work (here) to highlight how the NAP does not extend the UK Government’s WPS commitments to Northern Ireland, refugee, asylum seeking, and migrant and trafficked women. Instead the plan is outward looking, ignoring the UK’s domestic responsibilities under the WPS framework.

On the 25 February 2019, approximately 50 NGOs from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland travelled to Geneva to address the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the situation of women’s human rights in the United Kingdom. Through a procedure known as the periodic review, the CEDAW Committee examines the extent to which the UK is complying with its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). During an informal meeting, NGOs have an opportunity to address the Committee members and to highlight concerns set out in their shadow reports such as indefinite immigration detention, austerity, Brexit, and lack of abortion in Northern Ireland.  Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) for example made important contributions about militarisation and highlighting increased military spending during a time of austerity and also the UK’s role as having second place in the global rankings of defence exports. The many Northern Irish NGOs present in the session highlighted that the Northern Irish Assembly has been suspended since January 2017 and that there has been no movement since the CEDAW Inquiry report finding violations of the Convention in relation to the lack of sexual and reproductive services and education in Northern Ireland, and that the 4th NAP excludes Northern Ireland.

On 26 February 2019, the Committee had the opportunity to question the UK Government representatives from the Gender Equalities Office, a summary of which can be found here.  While this note is helpful, it is not a complete reflection of the dialogue, as it omits the discussion on the arms trade and environmental concerns around fracking. The Government representatives were asked many questions by Committee members who ask have a number of timed minutes to ask  questions about the rights set out in the Convention. As per the usual process, questions were asked article by article and the Government had an opportunity to respond orally and in writing.


Palais De Nations, UN, Geneva

The UK delegation were asked inter alia, about the lack of a gender assessment in relation to rural women and the effects of fracking, about the case of Shamima Begum and the UK’s nationality laws, the lack of a children’s rights perspective in respect of Universal Credit,the export of weapons and the lack of implementation of 1325 in Northern Ireland. While the Government were congratulated in taking a leading role in tackling sexual violence in conflict, the Committee raised concerns about the narrow approach, specifically with respect to how the government was engendering peace in Northern Ireland. The Government were also asked about women’s participation and leadership in Northern Ireland, and its policies in relation to paramilitaries. The UK government’s response on WPS was to maintain the status quo and insist that WPS is an outward facing policy.


The exclusion of Northern Ireland in the NAP is very difficult to justify given its recent history and the ongoing struggles for truth and justice. Just one day later, the UK Supreme Court held on the 27 February 2019 that the inquiry held into the death of Pat Finucane, a lawyer who was shot dead in front of his family 30 years ago by loyalist gunmen in circumstances of state collusion was insufficient. The Finucane judgment underlines Northern Ireland’s post agreement/conflict context. The CEDAW72 session and the examination of the 4th NAP was a real opportunity for the UK government to indicate to the Committee that it was listening to women who have pushed for NI’s inclusion. The Government’s basis of the “outward facing” stance was that 1325, in the context of Northern Ireland “UK armed forces were deployed in support of civil power, so 1325 does not apply. We do however recognise the important role of Northern Irish women.” This is an extraordinarily narrow interpretation of the WPS agenda, as Fionnuala Ni Aolain wrote in International Affairs, while the conflicts considered to fall within the scope of the WPS agenda were narrowly defined,

“…the most recent WPS resolution portends to a widening of the range of conflicts and insecure settings to which the WPS agenda might apply by expanding the agenda to include the context of terrorism and counterterrorism. Despite this apparently inclusive move, I argue that the shift brings with it real risks of creating greater insecurity and gender essentialism in the management of war, conflict and security for women.”

In other words the criteria is narrow when it comes to domestic policy and accountability but wider in scope when the terms of inclusion suit the purposes of the UK’s governments foreign policy, rather than their commitment to rights set out in CEDAW30 or the WPS pillars in relation to women’s participation.


While the responses on the WPS/CEDAW nexus were disappointing, the procedure underlines the importance of the synergies between GR30 and the WPS framework as highlighted by Aisling Swaine and Catherine O’Rourke. The session was another opportunity for NGOs and civil society to push the Government into taking a more holistic stance to WPS and to highlight the ongoing gaps in the 4th National Action Plan. The contrast of the impact of the austerity policies on women and children, and the increase in military spending and profit of private security companies operating immigration centres, illustrated the clear links between violations of women’s rights and securitisation. The Concluding Observations (expected in March) are eagerly awaited.

About the author

Dr Keina YoshidaKeina Yoshida is a research officer on the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security research project at the Centre for Women Peace and Security and a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. She attended the #CEDAW72 sessions along with Centre member Lisa Gormley and many other members of civil society.
Keina thanks Lisa Gormley for her comments on this post.

Inter-American Court reaches landmark decision on torture and sexual slavery

Christine Chinkin, Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana and Keina Yoshida with the first in a series of posts analysing Lopez Soto and Others v Venezuela, a ground-breaking case concerning gender based violence in Venezuela.

Linda Loaiza López Soto giving evidence at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights © Inter-American Court of Human Rights


In a series of posts we provide a summary and analysis of the ground-breaking case of Lopez Soto and Others v Venezuela. This first post provides a brief overview of the facts and sketches out the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. A second post provides an analysis contextualised more broadly within the international women’s human rights framework. A third post looks specifically at the Court’s decision on sexual slavery in the broader context of the legal framework on trafficking. We have written this series together as part of the feminist methodology of collaboration.

The complainant, Ms Linda Loaiza López Soto, is lawyer and human rights defender who has fought for 14 years to obtain justice for herself, her family and for women in Venezuela, where there are incredibly high levels of violence against women and impunity for those acts. For example, Venezuela is currently ranked 101 on the Gender Inequality Index and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has expressed its deep concern “that violence against women and girls is widespread and on the rise”.

The decision is currently only available in Spanish, and became public on Friday 16 November, 2018. It forms part of the growing corpus of the Inter-American Court’s important jurisprudence on gender-based violence against women and girls (VAWG) following decisions such as Campo Algodonero (Gonzalez v Mexico), Penal Castro Castro v Peru, Rosendu Cantu v Mexico and Velasquez Paiz v Guatemala.

The decision is the first against Venezuela on the issue of violence against women and girls (VAWG). It is also the first decision to find a State responsible for torture and sexual slavery perpetrated by a so-called ‘private actor’. As such, the reasoning of the Court in relation to these aspects is especially significant.

The Facts

When Ms Lopez Soto was 18 years old she was kidnapped, held captive, continually raped, tortured and kept in conditions of sexual slavery over a period of almost 4 months (27 March until 19 July 2001). She was threatened by her assailant with a firearm and moved from place to place, from hotels to apartments. As well as physical violence and sexual abuse she suffered multiple other forms of violence, including psychological, verbal and cyber-abuse as he forced her to perform sex acts on camera. The perpetrator told her that he had powerful connections and that he would never be arrested for these acts. He also posed as her partner and explained any resistance on her part as ‘domestic’ or presented them as ‘relationship difficulties’.

On 19 July 2001, Ms Lopez Soto was able to escape. In addition to her horrific injuries, she testified to further continued suffering at the hands of the State. It took the authorities 5 hours to provide her with medical assistance during which time she remained in the apartment where she had been held fearing the perpetrator’s return (she had managed to attract attention while he was away). Ms Lopez Soto underwent 14 surgeries for the injuries that he had inflicted. Police investigations were from the outset inadequate as they favoured the account of her assailant – a person of high social standing – and his false assertion that she was a “prostitute”. Over the next 5 years, the complainant fought to obtain justice including going on hunger strike. Despite all her efforts, a drawn out judicial process failed to convict her assailant for sexual violence, thereby impugning her credibility and leaving her without remedies for an integral part of the violence that was perpetrated upon her. This process was plagued by irregularities and tainted by gender stereotypes, explored further in our second post.

The case was also brought by members of the complainant’s family. At the time, Ms Lopez Soto’s sister had immediately and repeatedly reported her absence to the police, but the authorities did not admit any complaint in relation to her disappearance, on the basis that the assailant was ‘her partner’. The police had both the name and telephone number of the kidnapper and yet nothing was done to protect her from the months of violence that she would suffer.

On 2 November 2016, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights referred the case before the jurisdiction of the court.

Decision of the Court

The unanimous Court found that Venezuela had violated a plethora of Ms Lopez Soto’s rights under the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights; the Convention of Belém do Pará and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. Rights violated were:  to juridical personality, to personal integrity, the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments; the prohibition of slavery, to personal liberty, to a fair trial, dignity, autonomy and private life; freedom of movement and residence; to judicial protection and equality before the law, all in conjunction with the State’s obligation to respect and guarantee the rights without any discrimination as well as the obligation to adopt domestic provisions.

The Court also concluded that the State had violated her family’s rights to personal integrity due to the uncertainty experienced and the treatment that they received at the hands of the State.


An important part of the Inter-American Court’s jurisprudence relates to its decisions on reparations, which are binding upon the State party and more substantial and transformative than the jurisprudence of the European Court on Human Rights. The Court ordered inter alia, the State to carry out an effective criminal process to punish those responsible for the torture and sexual violence that Ms Lopez Soto suffered; pay financial compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, create a national database on violence against women, carry out legislative and institutional changes, perform a public act in recognition of its responsibility for violations of international law and adopt and implement protocols on investigation of violence against women.

The reparations go beyond just satisfaction in pronouncing the violations, making it clear that Ms Lopez Soto and her family must be provided with medical and psychological support for the harms they have endured, by professionals of their choice. This is important since many organisations have highlighted the re-victimisation of victims by services which are only provided by the very people who have abused them or have caused trauma. The reparations are also transformative in the sense that they order the State to provide Ms Lopez Soto with a scholarship so that she can finish her professional education in a local or foreign university to which she gains admission. The Court also ordered the State to create an educational programme under Ms Lopez Soto’s name to be taught in the national curriculum.


This is yet another ground-breaking decision on state responsibility for acts of gender-based violence against women by non-state actors from the Inter-American system. In the second part of this blog we will provide an analysis of some of the key sections of the Court’s reasoning specifically in relation to the sexual slavery and torture. These are the most significant parts of the judgment with regards to their importation to the VAWG landscape.


Read more

Further information on the case is available in English on CEJIL’s website. Information about other landmark cases concerning acts of gender-based violence against women can be found on the LSE WPS ‘Tackling Violence Against Women’ Resource site.

About the authors

Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads two major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC and ‘Gendered Peace’, funded by the ERC.


Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana is a Spanish human rights lawyer who specialises in human trafficking, violence against women and sexual and reproductive rights. She is managing attorney at Women’s Link Worldwide.


Dr Keina Yoshida (@intlawninja) is a Research Officer in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security and a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. As part of the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project Keina is researching the links between the environment, the Earth, the gendered causes and impacts of violence against women, and structural inequalities in the context of international legal conceptions of peace and security.


Preventing and punishing sexual violence in war post-Bemba

Following the acquittal of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo by the International Criminal Court, Louise Arimatsu reflects on what steps might be taken to more effectively address sexual violence in conflict. 

The International Criminal Court (iStock.com/LIVINUS)

Preventing sexual violence in conflict has been a high priority for the international community for at least the last two decades exemplified by the myriad of policy, legal and institutional measures adopted by states at domestic and international levels.  While we might debate the extent to which prosecutions can deter sexual violence in armed conflict, they remain one, among many, preventative strategies and mechanisms that are at the disposal of states. Yet, given the prevalence of sexual violence in war and, notwithstanding significant advances in the field of international criminal law, the number of perpetrators who have been prosecuted for rape by courts and tribunals remains woefully low.

In a bid to remedy the poor record of the ICC the current Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has taken important strategic steps to surmount social, cultural and historical impediments and regularly reaffirms her commitment to addressing sexual and gender-based offences through her investigative and prosecutorial powers.  The conviction in 2016 of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo for rape as a war crime and crime against humanity was seen as a milestone for the Court, albeit a limited one given the scale of the problem in most, if not all, conflicts. For the survivors of the atrocities the decision represented a long-awaited acknowledgement by the law of what they had individually and collectively endured during a four month period in 2002-2003 when Bemba’s forces had been deployed to the Central African Republic (CAR).

The fact that Bemba was held responsible as a commander for failing to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent and punish the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops under his effective control for the sexual violence perpetrated against the civilian population was to recognise the locus of power and authority and the responsibilities that attach to positions of privilege. As the Military Commission in the Yamashita case noted over seven decades ago, “clearly assignment to command military troops is accompanied by broad authority and heavy responsibility… [W]here murder and rape and vicious, revengeful actions are widespread offences, and there is no effective attempt by a commander to discover and control the criminal acts, such a commander may be held responsible, even criminally liable, for the lawless acts of his troops, depending upon their nature and the circumstances surrounding them.”

The decision in June 2018 by the Majority of the Appeals Chamber (3-2) to acquit Bemba has generated a significant amount of commentary among the legal community.  Concerns have rightly been expressed about the lack of clarity that comes with the release of multiple opinions while other criticisms have been directed at the standard of appellate review and the inter-related broader question as to the scope of judicial authority to depart from previous jurisprudence since it was only by doing so that the Majority was able to find that the conviction had exceeded the facts described in the charges, the first of the two grounds upon which Bemba was acquitted. The disturbing consequence of the Majority’s reasoning is that prosecutions of sexual violence crimes will be that much more difficult as elaborated by Susana SaCouto.

If preventing sexual violence in conflict is a priority of states, it is the second ground upon which Bemba was acquitted that demands further reflection: namely, that Bemba had not failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent and punish crimes committed by MLC troops under his effective control.  As with their judicial predecessors, each of the appellate judges reflected, albeit to different degrees and with varying levels of comfort, on the doctrine of command responsibility. Despite being re-formulated in multiple texts, finessed by courts and dissected by academics over many decades, the underlying principles of the doctrine first set out in Yamashita remain unchanged and have subsequently been incorporated into military manuals across the world. In other words, although international criminal law has elaborated on the scope and content of command responsibility (most notably on the element of mens rea) the doctrine is one that is firmly grounded in the logic of the law of armed conflict, operational effectiveness, military ethos and the value of reciprocity. Importantly it is a doctrine that recognises the unique structure, distribution of power and chain of command system upon which military institutions rest and to that extent functions to set the minimum baseline expected of all commanders to maintain rule compliance.

While the Trial Chamber found that, all things considered, the measures taken by Bemba had been “grossly inadequate”, the Majority disagreed. This opens up the question as to what specific measures a commander must take to satisfy their legal obligation to prevent the commission of sexual violence whether as a war crime, crime against humanity or genocide and to punish those who have engaged in such criminality.  Is the geographical distance of the commander from the site of the alleged offence (especially if perpetrated in a foreign country) relevant to assessing the reasonableness of the measure taken, as suggested by the Majority?  Should the commander’s actions be assessed against the gravity of the offences alleged or is the number of offences alleged determinate?  Is a commander entitled to apply “a cost/benefit analysis” when deciding the measures to take in cases of sexual violence? Where the offence constitutes rape, has a commander discharged his responsibility simply by authorising an investigation without specifically insisting that the investigation should include an enquiry into the allegations of sexual violence?

Legal arguments aside, Bemba’s acquittal is nothing short of a failure on the part of the international community towards the victims and survivors of the atrocities perpetrated by MLC troops.  What steps can be taken to ensure against similar failings in the future?  One option is for states to agree to a set of guidelines including concrete measures that all commanders would be expected to take where sexual violence is alleged.  A far more radical and survivor centric measure would be for states to de-link reparations from convictions in a more comprehensive manner than is currently the case.  After all, if there was one issue upon which all the judges, appellate and trial, agreed, it was that sexual violence offences were perpetrated against women, children and men during the conflict in the CAR.

About the author

Dr Louise ArimatsuDr Louise Arimatsu (@larimatsu10) is Distinguished Policy Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she works on the AHRC project ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ and the ERC project ‘Gendered Peace’.




A Feminist Approach to the International Law of Peace and Security

With a snapshot from the first working group on a feminist approach to peace, Keina Yoshida introduces the new Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project.

FILPS project working group, 14 September 2018


“Why isn’t the Security Council called the Peace Council?”

Di Otto


On 14 September 2018, a group of international legal scholars met to discuss a new research project being undertaken at the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security. This new project, ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security‘, explores and addresses the conceptual ambiguities and normative indeterminacy that characterises the UN’s WPS agenda, with particular regard to the words – women, peace and security. The aim of the project is ‘to develop the theoretical foundations and normative content of an international law that can more effectively deliver on gender equality and sustainable peace’. Twenty years since the publication of the seminal text the Boundaries of International Law, the project is an opportunity to explore how far feminist approaches have come and how far they need to go to make good on international’s promise of peace and security. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Contemporary international law (both its fabric and institutions) is founded on the promotion and maintenance of international peace and security. Yet, despite its progressive claims, there is no accepted legal definition of either peace or security in international law. In fact, both concepts are understood variably within different regimes of international law. This ambiguity also extends to the relationship between the concepts notwithstanding the repetitive references to ‘peace and security’ in the law’s language.

In reflecting on the notion of ‘peace’ we ask whether the lack of an international legal definition of peace functions to undermine the progressive peace project of international law. That said, in the context of the WPS Agenda, ‘peace’ is treated as an expansive concept grounded in law and politics that means more than just an ‘absence of violence’; it is a positive state ‘an inclusive political process, a commitment to human rights … and an attempt to deal with issues of justice’ (UN Global Study, 2015). This raises a fundamental question: from a feminist perspective, should legal ambiguity be embraced or rejected? Further, would a gendered rights-based approach resolve this problem?

As part of the working methodology, we are organising a number of workshops and working groups to discuss key concepts such as ‘peace’, ‘feminism’ and ‘gender’ as they relate to and are understood in international legal terms. The first group meeting, held in Manchester on 14 September 2018, resulted in a very fruitful discussion of both feminist methodologies and epistemologies. Participants discussed a list of questions including:

  • How useful is it to approach the condition of peace as a world “not without conflict but without violence”? (Reardon, 1993)
  • Would a feminist reading of international law provide a more fruitful avenue through which to secure a ‘sustainable peace’?
  • How might we to understand what constitutes ‘a feminist international law of peace’?
  • What do we mean by conflict? Where is the line between conflict and violence?
  • What do we mean by security?
  • Where does power come into it?
  • Where is power in any concept of peace?

Discussion began with the Declaration on the Right to Peace and its aftermath and how this interacts and intersects with the WPS agenda. Anti-militarism and women’s activism around peace and the environment also played a prominent role in discussions particularly in light of the UN Global Study’s findings. As Christine Chinkin remarked at the European Society of International Law (ESIL) plenary the day before, one of the threads identified by the former Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Radika Coomaswarmy in her report, was the emphasis by women’s groups from across the world on the importance of anti-militarism. Other topics of discussion during the meeting included the relationship of peace to justice, and poverty.

Theoretical approaches to the project also formed an integral part of the conversation. Given the rich development of feminist thought and gender theories within legal scholarship since the publication of Boundaries, the project will explore how feminisms and different theories inform the international law of peace and security. During the discussion one participant remarked that given the gendered nature of international law ‘a feminist peace has to do gender differently’. Another questioned and highlighted the humanist foundations of the international regime, particularly in light of material humanist feminist scholarship.

Finally, the participants considered the challenges of carrying out feminist research including methodological considerations when carrying out field work (bottom up approaches, researches in conflict/post-conflict territories) and alternative legal methodologies.

Participants in the FILPS project working group on a feminist approach to peace, 14 September 2018

Undoubtedly, there are many scholars, activists, artists, poets and others working on this very issue from different positions, locations, disciplines and perspectives. We welcome collaborations and conversations and hope this post is a starting point to an on-going dialogue on this topic. For further information on the project, forthcoming workshops and events, see the FILPS page in the Research section of the LSE WPS website. The first public event under this project is on the 13 December 2018 on ‘Women and Weapons’.


About the author

Dr Keina Yoshida (@intlawninja) is a Research Officer in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security. As part of the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project Keina is researching the links between the environment, the Earth, the gendered causes and impacts of violence against women, and structural inequalities in the context of international legal conceptions of peace and security.

Kofi Annan’s legacy and the need for inclusive peace

On 2018 International Day of Peace, Ruby Weaver, Research Assistant on the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project, considers the legacy of Kofi Annan. 

Kofi Annan speaking at LSE 4 October 2012 (c) LSE

“Most nations have monuments or memorials to war, bronze salutations to heroic battles, archways of triumph. But peace has no parade, no pantheon of victory.” Kofi Annan, Nobel Lecture, Oslo, Norway, 10 December 2001

Since his death in August 2018 Kofi Annan has been revered as a hero for peace. His achievements made headlines as the international community considered his far-reaching influence on international relations and peacemaking. Whilst acknowledging his contributions to global peace and security, it is important to ask critical questions, such as: who exactly did he make peace for? And what lessons can be gained from his successes and failures in the pursuit of creating a more inclusive peace?

Despite widespread praise, reviews of Annan’s tenure are simultaneously mixed. While some commentators critique his passivity, his lack of assertiveness and his internalisation of deeply flawed UN norms, others admire his morality, his position as the “conscience of humanity” and his ability to mediate among the biggest world powers. This commentary stems from the nearly inseparable linkage between Annan’s career and the concept of peace. He was head of UN Peacekeeping, the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 and Secretary-General of the UN during ten of the most tumultuous years in international history. While many commentators have focused on his entanglement in power politics, far fewer have assessed his conceptualisation of peace, and his role in defining what peace and peacekeeping meant to the international community.

Annan’s time as the Head of UN Peacekeeping saw two of the worst peacekeeping failures in modern history. The 1994 Rwandan genocide and the 1995 Bosnian massacre both highlighted the failure of the international community’s ability to respond adequately. Many have argued that as a result of these failures, Annan’s approach to protection and humanitarianism shifted. In his 2000 report as Secretary-General, he argued that the sovereignty of nation states should not be prioritised over human rights and that humanitarian intervention was a necessary element in the international community’s responsibility to protect. This humanitarian and interventionist perspective shaped his approach to international relations and led to many commentators arguing that his was a unique approach to peace that represented a crucial shift in international politics. In 2006, Resolution 1674 cementing the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine was passed. This exemplifies both his interventionist and humanitarian approach, and also his understanding of the gendered dimensions of conflict. Whilst in line with the UN’s women, peace, and security agenda, which recognises the disproportionate and gendered impact of war on women, R2P ascribes a status of victimhood to women in conflict without acknowledging the crucial element of their participation in peace processes. He continued to support high-profile peacekeeping missions, such as in Sierra Leone and East Timor, despite fears of repeating past failures. After his term as UN Secretary-General, he was deployed as a mediator in the most complex of international power struggles and brutal conflicts, such as in Syria and the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar. That said, the Responsibility to Protect has fallen short in the case of these modern crises.

Annan’s career was one of great power politics, yet his approach and rhetoric professed to put civilians and their rights at the centre. It is this juxtaposition that frames the questions; what did Annan consider to be ‘peace’? And whose ‘peace’ did he work for?

In his first term as Secretary General, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1325, the first of eight resolutions constituting the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Commentators, such as Catherine Powell and Maiya Moncino, argue that the WPS agenda should be considered a success of Annan’s leadership. They argue that without buy-in from senior UN leadership, the resolution would not have passed, and its successful adoption can largely be attributed to Annan’s efforts. Indeed, in his 2002 study on Women, Peace and Security, Annan stated that, “[…] only if women play a full and equal part can we build the foundations for enduring peace — development, good governance, human rights and justice.” Whilst this rhetorical shift was significant, it seemed that both prior to 2000 and during the WPS era, however, Annan’s approach to peacemaking was starkly ‘ungendered’. For example, an independent report on the implementation of 1325 found that while Annan vociferously supported the WPS agenda and utilised gendered rhetoric regarding peacebuilding, both he and his successor failed to mobilise any significant resources to ensure its implementation.

His 2012 appointment as Special Rapporteur to Syria provides an opportunity to explore whether Annan began to truly integrate a WPS approach in his peacebuilding work, or whether his support of gender-mainstreaming and women’s participation in peace processes was limited to discourse rhetoric.

Annan’s six-point peace plan presented to the Syrian authorities in 2012 produced a temporary ceasefire agreement. It was clear, however, that the Assad government had little interest in pursuing a negotiated settlement, and that the international community was reluctant to provide the tangible support necessary to oversee the ceasefire or the political weight needed to incentivise parties to come to the table. The six-point plan seemed to be the pinnacle of his attempt at peace in Syria, yet it failed to mention gender or women, at all. Whilst it called for an “inclusive Syrian-led” political process, there was no integration of WPS language or approaches. The WPS agenda highlights the need to engage women at all levels of peace mediation, negotiation and implementation, suggesting that peace cannot be inclusive without the meaningful participation of women.

In fact, no deliberate and specific channel for women’s participation existed at the track one negotiation level for several years of the conflict. It wasn’t until Stefan De Mistura became the UN Special Envoy to Syria that a ‘Women’s Advisory Board’ was established in 2016. This Board remains limited in its purely ‘advisory’ capacity, but its establishment served to emphasise the lack of prior effort to include women in peacemaking and to take their roles seriously. Annan’s failure to acknowledge how integral women’s meaningful participation is to the durability and sustainability of peace in Syria highlights that he likely considered the WPS agenda as more of a rhetorical tool to be used in the political sphere, rather than a crucial element to long lasting peace.

The Syrian Women’s Political Movement was launched in October 2017

Annan’s legacy as a peacemaker lives on. His legacy also propels crucial questions with regards to an inclusive peace; one that takes gender into consideration beyond political rhetoric, and towards attaining peace for all. Contemporary conflicts have challenged our notions of peacemaking and peacekeeping; wars are protracted, complex, and inevitably tragic, requiring sustainable and innovative solutions. Annan’s shoes are difficult to fill, but his legacy reminds us that women’s meaningful participation in peacebuilding cannot merely be a ‘bolt-on’ or a rhetorical tool but must be a central part of any sustainable and inclusive peace process.


The Feminist International Law of Peace and Security (#LSEFILPS) project explores questions around the international legal conceptualisation of peace and aims to pave the way for a feminist international law of peace and security. The project is led by Professor Christine Chinkin in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

About the author

Ruby WeaverRuby Weaver (@RubyannWeaver) is a Research Assistant for the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project and recently completed a MSc in Women, Peace and Security at LSE. Her research focuses on the UN’s peacebuilding and countering violent extremism agendas from a gendered perspective.

This post was co-edited by Farah AlHaddad and Christina Holland, Research Assistants on the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project.