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  • The Gender of Reparations: Unsettling Sexual Hierarchies While Redressing Human Rights Violations
  • Dinah Shelton (bio)
The Gender of Reparations: Unsettling Sexual Hierarchies While Redressing Human Rights Violations. (Ruth Rubio-Marin ed., Cambridge Univ. Press2009) 416 pages, ISBN 9780521517928.

Publications addressing current issues and problems in the field of human rights are a good reflection of the state of the law. In this regard, numerous authors have begun to explore the right to a remedy and reparations for human rights violations over the past decade. It is an issue that presupposes a degree of agreement on the content of human rights and the scope of responsibility, while also assuming the existence of national or international institutions capable of affording redress. The conclusion of the United Nations fifteen year effort to draft Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparations for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law is both a consequence of and further stimulus to analysis of this important topic.1

The Gender of Reparations makes a very significant contribution to the developing law of reparations. The book is in many respects a sequel to the editor's earlier volume What Happened to the Women? Gender and Reparations for Human Rights Violations, which published case studies from six different countries documenting the disparate impacts of human rights violations on men and women.2 Readers of this volume will probably benefit from reading the earlier book first, because the case studies set out the factual background to the normative conclusions drawn in the Gender of Reparations. Moreover, the cases studies are often (sometimes repetitively) referred to by the authors of the various chapters. Readers may also find it beneficial to evaluate the extent to which the conclusions drawn from the half dozen examples are valid in all situations.

Rather surprisingly, the authors do not appear in agreement on the existence of a right to a remedy in its two dimensions: access to justice and reparations or redress. While several of the contributors affirm that international human rights guarantees oblige states to provide remedies, others, including the editor, see only "some textual support but no conclusive evidence."3 The authors are all primarily concerned with the substance of reparations and not with the procedural dimension, although it is noted in the introduction that "probably the greatest obstacle for victimized women to access to reparations has to do with procedural [End Page 447] hurdles."4 Perhaps a third volume could explore the problem of access to justice from a gendered perspective.

The book's emphasis is on women, but to its credit, the choice of title is an indication that it examines the consequences to all persons of gendered human rights violations: i.e., those violations that target men and boys as such or in ways exclusive to them, and women because they are women. The greater emphasis on the problems of women reflects the greater disparity in power, opportunities and rights experienced by women during armed conflicts and periods of repression, and the lack of attention to the specific harms they suffer.

The main value of the book is in the contributions that review the many ways in which gender plays an important role in the types of human rights violations that take place, as well as the differential consequences suffered by men and women from such violations. Margaret Walker's initial chapter is a tour de force in analyzing the nature and varieties of gendered violence and harms that occur in armed conflict and periods of political repression. She provides a compelling look at underlying factors that are relevant to conceptualizing reparations for these harms. The chapter then proposes nonexclusive categories of gender-normative violence. Other chapters focus on specific topics within these categories, including sexual and reproductive violence, grave violations committed against girls and boys, and the harm that befalls families when one member of the family is subjected to gross human rights violations.

The book rightly criticizes many reparations programs and human rights tribunals for failing to take gender issues into consideration when designing reparations. It also aims to identify the best practices and...


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pp. 447-451
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