Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: Exploring Feminist Engagements with Law and Armed Forces
Bastick, Megan Louise
This thesis explores militaries’ efforts to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). As militaries around the world declare their commitment to gender mainstreaming and implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, CRSV tests the limits of what militaries can and should do. CRSV presents complex legal questions in view of the convergence between international humanitarian law and international human rights law in military operations. For critics of militaries, CRSV also raises dilemmas over whether to resist militarism or urge militaries to change. In examining both these aspects, this thesis opens a new dialogue between feminist approaches to international law and scholarship on gender and militaries. This study examines international law obligations applying to military action to prevent and respond to CRSV committed by third parties, proposing the relevance of a range of human rights standards. It uses NATO and the British Armed Forces as case studies to explore how militaries understand and integrate these obligations. Using interviews, observation of training, and review of policy, doctrine, directives and training materials, this research traces NATO and the British Armed Forces’ commitments and action concerning CSRV since 2006, identifying key progress, shortcomings and constraints. The analysis is guided by feminist methodologies of identifying structural bias within the law. This thesis proposes that, in certain circumstances, armed forces have an obligation of due diligence to prevent CRSV by third parties and to support the investigation of CRSV. What this requires in practice has been inadequately considered. It finds that NATO and the British Armed Forces have made strides in incorporating CRSV into policy, doctrine and training, in particular since 2012. NATO has established institutional structures to support gender mainstreaming and issued a series of operational directives. The British Armed Forces have delivered CRSV training to foreign forces and introduced policy on human security. In both contexts, however, there remain conceptual and cultural obstacles to effectively preventing or responding to CRSV. CRSV is framed with reference to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda: in political rather than legal terms. Exploring how militaries understand their possibilities for action concerning CRSV reveals how the primacy of combat in militaries’ strategic culture limits what they consider reasonable, and how this shapes and is shaped by understandings of legal obligation. In demonstrating the difficulties of and resistance to responding to CRSV, this study offers a sobering counterpoint to progressive visions for the transformation of militaries. It questions any expectation that adopting a human rights framework for armed intervention will be enough to orient militaries to human security. In exploring the place of international law in military understandings of CRSV and what militaries see their role in countering CRSV to be, this thesis contributes new insights to scholarship concerning law in armed conflict as well as to critical scholarship on gender, militaries, and security. It urges critical engagement with militaries and military organisations to deepen militaries’ commitment to human security goals.