Monday, March 2, 2009

Read On! The gender dimensions of terrorism

(Read On! ... occasional posts on writing we're reading) In writing an article addressing human rights advocacy on gender issues for the inaugural issue of a new publication that Oxford University Press will launch in March, the Journal of Human Rights Practice, I had occasion to re-read the stellar article "Terror/Torture" by another IntLawGrrl, Professor Karima Bennoune (below left.) This article has just been designated by Oxford University Press as one of the Top Ten Global Security Law Review Articles of 2008, and will be republished in a volume of that name.
In this article, Professor Bennoune examines discourses around the terror/torture paradigm, and calls for a human rights approach to both terrorism and counter-terrorism. As Bennoune points out, human rights law requires that states take steps to protect against violent attack, and not violate human rights in the process. Human rights groups have tended to focus largely on the rights violations that have come from the excesses of counter-terrorism:
[T]hose international lawyers who position themselves primarily as opponents of torture and other state counter-terror abuses often fail to fully reflect on or engage with the exigencies of terrorism. . . . [Though] they do not seek to justify terror, their understating of the impact of terrorism is . . . destabilizing. All too often, they overlook the fact that the actual struggle to end terrorism is itself a human rights struggle . . .

Bennoune rejects the state-centric model favored by certain traditional human rights approaches and argues that we should respond to non-state actor terrorism itself as a human rights violation, explaining that "[a] human rights analysis of terrorism centers the discussion on victims and human dignity, instead of only on national security":

Terrorism should be understood as a human rights violation, something which might shock only the most old-school international human rights lawyers who still defend the notion that only states can violate human rights. Terrorist attacks, depending on the nature of a particular incident, have the potential to decimate human dignity and to violate human rights across all categories: civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, as well as individual and group rights, women's rights, and children's rights.
As part of her exploration, Bennoune addresses the neglected gender dimensions of terrorism and the insufficient response of many states and human rights advocates to women victims of terrorist violence. To effectively address gender-based rights violations one must address conduct not only by states but also by non-state actors. Bennoune argues that these actors should be held accountable under human rights law, and that human rights groups should not perpetuate outmoded approaches that suggest only states are capable of violating human rights. To take human rights seriously, we need to recognize the gravity of the threats to human dignity from both what is called terrorism and what is called counter-terrorism.

Conference. On Friday March 6, a conference on "The Gender Dimensions of Terrorism: How Terrorism Impacts the Lives of Women" will take place at Rutgers School of Law in Newark. Keynote speakers are ACLU President Susan Herman and Professor Karima Bennoune, who is visiting this year at the University of Michigan Law School. Full panel and speaker information here.

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