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Journal of Women's History 14.2 (2002) 9-25

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Peace as a Human Right
The Invasion of Women into the World of High International Politics

Sandi E. Cooper

In February 2001, under United Nations (UN) auspices at The Hague, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found three Serbian men guilty of rape and sexual enslavement for their violent abuse, forced impregnation, mutilation, and murder of Muslim women in Foca during the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995. 1 In the mid-1990s, for the first time in history as well, similar charges were lodged against generals in the gruesome Rwandan war in a trial (Prosecutor v. Akayesu) presided over by South African jurist Navanetham Pillay under the jurisdiction of the UN-sponsored International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Their guilty verdicts were delivered in 1998, concluding what has been described as the worse human rights abuse case and genocide since World War II. 2 That these cases were even brought before the international tribunals can only be attributed to the relentless determination of an international community of feminist crusaders who haunted diplomats at the UN meetings on human rights in Vienna in 1993 and in 1995-1998 in Rome and the Netherlands, where they had assembled to negotiate a treaty to establish a standing International Criminal Tribunal. These activists, the Women's Caucus for Gender Justice, comprising feminists from every continent, lobbied to insure that the protocols establishing the tribunals included women prosecutors and judges; that the war crimes charges moved well beyond the familiar definitions of genocide used in Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II; and that high crimes and human rights abuses of a broad sexual category be understood to fall under the definition of torture. 3 In the United States, feminists such as Jessica Neuwirth of Equality Now, Rhonda Copelon of the Law School at the City University of New York, Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Global Women's Leadership at Rutgers University, among many, many others, adopted a strategy aimed at criminalizing behavior which had hitherto been defined, dismissed, and tolerated as private expression. The implementation of a feminist agenda in which definitions of torture and crimes against humanity would routinely encompass sexual exploitation, rape, murder, and mutilation of women was a sea change.

So far about 42 nations have ratified the Rome agreement to establish a standing criminal tribunal. Sixty signatories are needed to establish the [End Page 9] tribunal as a permanent organization, a tribunal which does not have to be created anew each time violations occur and one whose very existence might deter the Pinochets, Kissingers, or Milosevics from playing fast and loose with human life. The United States is not only absent from the signatories; here, the Senate has held hearings on the probable dangers of such a tribunal to the freedom of action of U. S. diplomats and soldiers abroad—in short, the dangers to sovereignty. The irony of U. S. hostility in 1999 was that in 1899, it was a U. S. diplomat who saved the first Hague Conference from a certain diplomatic death plotted by the German Kaiser. 4 In 1899 came the first hesitant step toward the creation of permanent tribunals to resolve international differences and prevent international bloodbaths.

The work of today's international feminist campaign is by no means complete, but its achievements in one astonishingly short decade are worth pausing to consider, particularly in light of the long silence on the topic. Charges of rape against military leaders have been few and far between. One such trial occurred in 1474, for instance, when 27 judges of the Holy Roman Empire condemned Peter von Hagenbach, a German mercenary officer, for allowing his troops to rape and kill innocent civilians. The modern humanitarian campaigns for restricted violence against civilians can be traced to the Geneva Convention in 1864, which produced the International Red Cross; the Hague conferences of 1899 and 1907; the creation of the World Court in 1921; and, after World War...