WASHINGTON – Yesterday I had the honor of serving as Distinguished Discussant for the 16th Annual Grotius Lecture, a keynote event at the ongoing joint meeting of the American Society of International Law and the International Law Association. Delivering the lecture was NYU Global Law Professor Radhika Coomaraswamy, whose former posts include Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on Children & Armed Conflict and U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. (event video here) Her talk was entitled “Women and Children: The Cutting Edge of International Law.”
Below is a version of my remarks in response, prepared and delivered in my personal capacity. The final, fully footnoted article is set to appear in due course, along with that of Professor Coomaraswamy, in the American University International Law Review, thanks to the lecture’s cosponsor, American University Washington College of Law.
The Post-Postcolonial Woman or Child
“‘Let the child be excused by his age, the woman by her sex,’ says Seneca in the treatise in which he vents his anger upon anger.” So wrote the namesake of this lecture, Hugo Grotius, in his masterwork entitled The Law of War and Peace. With this quotation, “Let the child be excused by his age, the woman by her sex,” Grotius traced to the writings of an ancient Roman philosopher the injunction against harming women and children in time of war. Grotius’ reiteration of Seneca’s words tacitly admitted that as late as 1625, armies still were violating the injunction. Sadly, the same is true 389 years later. Today neither women nor children are excused from wartime assaults, violence, and upheaval. In Syria alone, three years of conflict have left well over 100,000 persons dead, and forced another 2.5 million persons to flee their country. Women and children are included in those statistics. Conflicts elsewhere generate similarly grim numbers, as Professor Coomaraswamy indicated by her references to the Central African Republic, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and to her own homeland of Sri Lanka. Indeed, outrage at the persistent violation of laws protecting women and children undergirds the Grotius Lecture that we have just heard.
Commensurate with her distinguished career in international law academia, policy, and practice, Professor Coomaraswamy has presented a vast and intricate tapestry of global developments. It would be impossible for me to comment in full in the time allotted. Instead, I propose to pull five strands out of the fabric of her lecture and to weave them anew, as a means to invite the imagining of a possible future, that of “the post-postcolonial woman or child.”
My first strand addresses Professor Coomaraswamy’s statements of concern about postcolonial theorists prevalent in the global south. These scholars, she said,
‘reject the human rights framework as part of the ‘liberal’ ‘imperialist’ project especially when it comes to cultural practices. … [They] rejec[t] the dominance of the European Enlightenment and the sacredness of the power of reason.’
My response might raise hackles among some of those scholars, for it begins with this claim: We are all postcolonials now.
By way of example, both of my own countries of citizenship are postcolonial states. Continue reading ““The Post-Postcolonial Woman or Child””