“Calling in the Troops”: The Uneasy Relationship Among Women’s Rights, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Intervention

Authored by: Karen Engle

Categories: Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies
Sub-Categories: International Agreements, Mass Atrocities, National Security Forces and Armed Groups, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
Country: Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Region: South and Central Asia
Year: 2007
Citation: Engle, Karen, “Calling in the Troops”: The Uneasy Relationship Among Women’s Rights, Human Rights and Humanitarian Intervention." Harvard Human Rights Journal 20 (2007): 189–226.

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Executive Summary

Engle uses this article to discuss the “changes in human rights law and discourse and suggest that feminists have participated in, even contributed to, the shift in discourse on both the right and the left. For the most part, for example, women’s rights advocates opposed neither the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan nor the use of women’s human rights to justify the invasion. Moreover, some of the women’s rights advocates who sought intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina to respond to what they considered “genocidal rape” hoped to appeal to conservative hawks as well as liberal human rights advocates. Both of these appeals to or support for military force to respond to women’s rights in the 1990s participated in the development of an emerging consensus on humanitarian intervention. Part I uses the publications of the Harvard Human Rights Journal over the past twenty years to consider the developments within human rights scholarship and activism regarding women’s human rights and humanitarian intervention. Part II explores the consensus that is building around understanding humanitarian intervention as an “emerging norm,” and discusses how human rights and humanitarian non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations have increasingly embraced military intervention as the ultimate mechanism for enforcing human rights. Part III considers the international law surrounding that emerging norm, and what the norm might include. It examines the leading justifications for military intervention, noting the primacy of genocide in the hierarchy of justifications. Part IV returns to feminist debates of the 1990s over whether rape constituted genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, re-reading those debates in light of the emerging norm of humanitarian intervention. It then examines advocacy on behalf of intervention in Darfur as a recent example of the conflation of rape and genocide. Part V concludes by encouraging reconsideration of the potential consequences of increased calls for the use of force to protect human rights, not just for those involved in or directly affected by the military action, but for international law and policy more generally.”