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Distinguished Professor Radhik Coomaraswamy delivered the 16th Annual Grotius Lecture, unofficially launching the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law. The annual Grotius Lecture discusses important issues, by important voices in international law. This year’s Lecture discussed Women and Children: The Cutting Edge of International Law.
Professor Coomaraswamy is currently a Global Professor of Law at New York University and is the Former United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and Violence Against Women. Professor Diane Marie Amann, University of Georgia Law School and Special Advisor to the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor, delivered the Distinguished Discussant’s remarks. American University Washington College of Law Dean and Chair of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, Claudio Grossman opened the proceedings.
Professor Coomaraswamy opened her esteemed lecture with an anecdote about one of her last days in the United Nations System. An Ambassador approached her before a Security Council Meeting and told her that she was leaving the United Nations at the right time, because the human rights movement was dying and it was nothing more than a tool of the West. But Professor Coomaraswamy has remained undeterred.
The highly intellectual and enjoyable Grotius Lecture was structured into three parts. First Professor Coomaraswamy outlined five ways that the women’s and children’s rights movements have impacted the substance and procedure of traditional international law. Prof. Coomaraswamy then discussed the backlash against the women’s and children’s rights movements. Finally, Prof. Coomaraswamy closed with her optimism for the future.
The women’s and children’s rights movements have impacted the substantive and procedure of traditional law in five key ways. First, these rights movements completely changed the process of creating international law, especially in relationship to state practice. Up until the CEDAW and CRC drafting process, most international treaties merely codified existing norms, but the CEDAW and CRW attempted to transform the behavior of states and individuals. Second, the women’s and children’s rights movements helped pierce the veil of state sovereignty, specifically by altering sovereignty of people within a state. Third, women’s and children’s issues have lead to a rethinking of how the international community and states interact with non-state actors. Fourth, international criminal law has developed new and innovated doctrines for crimes committed against women and children. Finally, the role of NGOs involved in creating women’s and children’s rights has been unprecedented at the international level.
When discussing the backlashes against the human rights movement, Prof. Coomaraswamy outlined two particular arguments attempting to counter the women’s movement. First, Western invasions in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan have effected the way the Global South perceives human rights, particularly as a cover for neo-imperialism. However, Prof. Coomaraswamy reminded the packed audience that all of these mechanisms are based on state consent. Next, Prof. Coomaraswamy discussed the impact of sexuality on the women’s rights movement. In the end, Professor Coomaraswamy expressed hope over the future of the women’s and children’s movements.
Professor Amann delivered her responding remarks on the “Post-Post-Colonial Woman and Child”. Prof. Amann spoke on five key points from Prof. Coomaraswamy’s lecture. First, she noted the concern at the post-colonial theorists rejecting the principles of the human rights framework, arguing that we are all post-colonial now. Next, she noted that the international legal system reacts to the situation around it, and the system now needs to react to the post-post-colonial world. Then, Prof. Amman spoke about the consideration of women and children in international law, and how Grotius portrayed them as passive objects, not actors. Next, Professor Amann noted that post-post-colonial international law should honor the actual human beings and not the state sovereign system. Finally, Prof. Amann closed her remarks with noting hesitancy about the recent accountability mechanisms.
Finally, ASIL President Donald Donovan concluded the annual Grotius Lecture by thanking American University Washington College of Law and all of the ASIL’s academic partners, and he welcomed everyone to the 108th Annual Meeting.
R. Carter Parét is a Contributing Editor with ASIL Cables 2014 and a second-year law student at American University Washington College of Law.