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Conference on Gendering Conflict and Post-Conflict Terrains Attracts Global Human Rights Community

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Kristin Kalla and Peter Van der Auweraert

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Veronica Eragu and Cybèle Cochran

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Dr. Aisling Swaine and Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin

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Marsha Freeman, Arvonne Fraser, and Professor David Weissbrodt


On May 18-19, 2012, nearly 35 human rights scholars from multiple disciplines across the nation and around the world gathered at the Law School to discuss the issues women face during and after situations of armed conflict, in "Gendering Conflict and Post-Conflict Terrains: New Challenges and Opportunities." The conference was organized by the Law School and the University of Ulster's Transitional Justice Institute (TJI), Belfast, Northern Ireland, where Law School Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin serves as associate director. The American Society of International Law co-sponsored the conference, and the Robina Foundation funded it through its faculty-research support.

Panel discussions
The first panel led off with a discussion of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women's (CEDAW) 2010 decision to adopt a general recommendation on women's rights in conflict and post-conflict settings by Zohra Rasekh, an elected member of CEDAW. Catherine O'Rourke of TJI described women's participation in peace and security decision-making, and Professor Pamela Scully of Emory University spoke on "the tyranny of indicators" in Liberia's plan to address gender-based violence. George Washington University of Law Professor Naomi Cahn served as moderator.

The next panel addressed measuring sexual violence in armed conflict. Dr. Amelia Hoover Green of Drexel University discussed the difficulties in collecting and interpreting data, TJI's Dr. Aisling Swaine described how to better understand the variations that occur in sexual violence across different conflicts, and Professor Andrew Mack of the University of British Columbia's Liu Institute of Global Issues presented his assessment of five predominant myths about wartime sexual violence. Humphrey School of Public Affairs Professor Dara Cohen led the discussion.

Barbara Frey of the University's Institute for Global Studies led a panel on the significance of reparations in the lives of victims. Kristin Kalla, Senior Program Officer with the International Criminal Court's (ICC) Trust Fund for Victims described the Fund's reparation activities, and Professor Ruth Rubio Marin of the European University Institute discussed reparations from a transitional justice viewpoint. Peter Van der Auwraert of the International Organization for Migration in Geneva told of his experience implementing reparations for displacement in Timor-Leste, and anthropology professor Kimberly Theidon of Harvard University described the aftermath of gendered violence in Peru.

Day 2 opened with an examination of the complexities and limitations of gendering in conflict space by Professors Helen Kinsella of the University of Wisconsin, Susanne Buckley-Zistel of the University of Marburg, Mark Drumble of Washington and Lee University School of Law, and Neha Jain of the Law School, moderated by Law School Professor Jessica Clarke. Among the issues discussed: imprisonment of Afghan women, labeling of women as victims without discerning their role as perpetrators and men's experiences as victims, the Rwandan genocide conviction of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, and the ICC's characterization of gender crimes.

A panel on enforcement reviewed the effectiveness of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 and ensuing National Action Plans. Led by Humphrey School Dean Eric Schwartz, the discussion featured Law School Professors Ní Aoláin and Jennie Green, Cybèle Cochran of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Professor Dina Haynes of New England Law, and Professor Cahn.

Law School Professor Chris Roberts chaired a panel discussion on sanction, criminal law, and gendered accountability. Law professors Valerie Oosterveld of Western Law, Doris Buss of Carlton University, Johanna Bond of Washington and Lee, and senior fellow Veronica Eragu of the U.S. Institute of Peace talked about legal accountability for forced marriage and circumcision, patriarchy in international criminal law, other gendered harms, and recovery strategies.

The significance of having women represented at the negotiating table was the topic of a panel discussion among TJI Professor Monica McWilliams, Robin Phillips of the Advocates for Human Rights, and Nahla Valji of U.N. Women, moderated by Professor Haynes.

The final panel, moderated by TJI's Catherine O'Rourke, addressed the intersection of culture, religion, and context in gendering conflict. Professor Siobhan Mullally of University College Cork and the European University Institute discussed issues involved in negotiations in Pakistan, and TJI researcher Eilish Rooney described the problems of agreements' disappearance in the "long grass." Professor Ní Aoláin summarized gendered harm, women's rights, and accountability in armed conflict under the law of occupation.

Additional events
Publication of a new book, The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: A Commentary, was celebrated at the conference in a reception. This first detailed analysis of the articles of the Convention and its optional protocol was co-edited by Marsha A. Freeman, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center and director of the International Women's Rights Action Watch.

The May 18 dinner in Auerbach Commons honored Arvonne Fraser, a senior fellow emerita of the Humphrey School and co-founder of its Center on Women and Public Policy. In 1985 she helped start the International Women's Rights Action Watch, which reported on countries ratifying CEDAW, and in 1993 she served as ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. She is the first non-lawyer to receive the Prominent Woman in International Law award from the American Society of International Law's Women's Interest Group.