The Impact of Armed Conflict on Women's Rights

» by Kamala Janakiram

Much of human suffering in the modern world occurs as a result of armed conflict, civilians paying an increasingly steep price in that respect. While the majority of casualties during WWI were members of the armed forces more than 90% of today's casualties are civilians. The vulnerability of civilians during armed conflict has particularly exacerbating consequences for women who, at the outset, mostly occupy subordinate positions in societies that are generally patriarchal or male dominated.

Armed conflict is governed by international humanitarian law, within which the IVth Geneva Convention of 1949 specifically deals with the protection of civilians in time of war. However, because both war and the law exist in a predominantly male domain, the law of armed conflict incorporates a gendered hierarchy. Indeed, while the protection of women during armed conflict is the focus of thirtyfour provisions of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols women, unlike men, are dealt with primarily in their relationship with others and not as individuals in their own right. This has resulted in the marginalization of women's welfare and needs and rendered insignificant the infringement of their rights. It is only recently that gender-specific crimes committed during armed conflict have been prosecuted at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

It is the purpose of this paper to examine what impact war has on women's lives both during conflict and in its immediate aftermath, what protection is afforded women by international humanitarian law, and how international criminal law has responded to crimes committed against women during the Bosnian and Rwandan armed conflicts in the 1990s.

© Kamala Janakiram 2004.

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