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Crossing the line : feminist international law theory, rape and the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina Buss, Doris Elisabeth


In recent years, feminist theory has turned its critical gaze to international law. By challenging the objectivity, neutrality and universality of international law, feminist international law theory offers a new way of thinking about the discipline. Feminist international law theory raises numerous questions not only about the male-centered discipline of international law, but also the scope and nature of its own feminist method. In this thesis, I situate feminist international legal theory in the context of developments within feminist theory generally, which demonstrate the need to ground feminist analysis in the particular experiences of different women. I consider the ways in which feminist international law theory employs theoretical constructs which generalize and essentialize women's experience of oppression along Western lines. By exploring the emphasis in this literature on the public/private divide and sovereignty, I demonstrate the ways in which gender is constructed as the principal site of oppression, missing the complex systems of oppression with which women interact including race/ethnicity, patriarchy, and nationalism. The mass rape of Muslim women in Bosnia-Herzegovina is presented as a case-study for understanding women's complex experiences of oppression and the implications this has for feminist international law theory. During war, different discourses, including law, converge to define particular gender identities, national character and dominant values. International humanitarian law defines how the international community views wartime rape and violence against women. Incorporating dominant ideologies about women, war and rape, international humanitarian law regulates, rather than prohibits, rape. In the context of mass rape in Bosnia- Herzegovina, the applicable international law framework is limited in application to rapes defined as an attack on a community rather than an act of violence against women. Violence against women is constructed as unfortunate but unavoidable. The example of wartime rape demonstrates international law's role in defining and reinforcing gender ideologies. While I conclude that feminist international law theory must continue the project of challenging international law, it must do so from an informed position about international law's complicity in women's global oppression.

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