Guest Contributor: Dr. Aisling Swaine
I recently participated in a conference organized by Durham University Law School in the United Kingdom on Law and Negotiation in Conflict: Theory, Policy and Practice which took place from March 20th and 21st. The aim of the conference was to explore the relationship between law and negotiation processes that take place in relation to situations of armed conflict.
Key issues arise when examining the role of law during mediation and negotiation processes. The relationship between law and politics is a key consideration, particularly in ensuring the adoption of a peace agreement that holds legitimacy and which in the longer term post-conflict terrain, adequately addresses the diverse concerns and needs of the affected population.
A specific theme addressed by the conference was the status of women in conflict and post-conflict environments, and how considerations of gender are relevant to the role of law in negotiations. I was privileged to share a panel with Ms. Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and Dr. Sari Kuovo, Afghanistan Analysis Network. Ms. Manjoo provided a wonderful overview of the key international legal frameworks that provide for women’s rights and equality in the context of peace negotiations, and evolving norms such as those provided by the UN Security Council women peace and security resolutions. Dr. Kuovo talked about the realities of the situations faced by women in such contexts as Afghanistan, and the barriers that present to women’s participation in negotiation processes, not just by national actors, but the failure on the part of international interlocutors such as the UN and international governments to take actions regarding women’s rights. My contribution focused on the potential that the transitional moment offers to advancing women’s rights, and the relevance of the concept of ‘transformation’ which underpins gender equality policy norms, to considering whether negotiation processes work for women. Key considerations are how issues such as ‘security’ are framed and conceived in negotiations, and whether both those broad negotiations at macro levels, as well as those that play out at micro (community) levels, take transformative approaches, and ensure that key factors affecting men and women are considered and addressed. For example, ensuring that such processes capture and are based on gendered concepts of security in important, particularly in addressing the relevance of the constancy of gendered violence in women’s lives, both during and after conflict.
A really interesting angle tackled by the conference was the relationship between theory and practice. A range of academic scholars and practitioners in the field of international law and conflict resolution were present. Debate revolved around how the differing standpoints and experiences of scholars and practitioners contribute to advancing approaches to utilizing law in negotiation processes. Evident was a set of differences as well as much complementarity that each set of actors brings to both understanding as well as practically advancing the relevance and application of legal norms in negotiation processes. A key point for me was considering how women’s rights norms can secure enhanced legitimacy in negotiation processes globally, and how scholarship and practice can work in tandem to concurrently critically examine as well as tackle the barriers that continue to exist.
Aisling Swaine is Associate Professor of Practice of International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs, GW. Aisling has spent over 14 years working on issues of violence against women, women, peace and security and transitional justice at programming and policy levels internationally. She teaches on gender and conflict and on global gender policy.