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Women and International Human Rights Law

Women and lnenational Human Rights Law (vol. 3). Edited by Kelly D. Askin and Dorean M. Koenig. Ardsley NY: Transnational Publishers, 2001. Pp. xxvi, 967. Indexes. $115.

The third and final volume in the landmark set, Women and International Human Rights Law, completes the editors' comprehensive treatment of the development and enforcement of human rights law as it pertains to women.1 Kelly Askin is a human rights lawyer, scholar, and activist currently affiliated with the War Crimes Research Office, Washington College of Law, and Dorean Koenig teaches at Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Contributors to this third volume- "Toward Empowerment"-offer insights on monitoring and enforcement of rights from a variety of perspectives. In the introduction, Patricia Viseur Sellers sets a benchmark for measuring the application and enforcement of gender norms at the international level.

The problem is the "S" word: sensitivity.... Sensitivity is not enough.... Neither states nor individuals are "sensitive" to torture under humanitarian or human rights law; rather their compliance is mandatory, absolute and non-derogable.... We must no longer be satisfied with mere awareness of or sensitivity to women's human rights. We must not even ask whether women's rights are part of human rights; rather individual actors must achieve and maintain competence in the field. (Pp. xxv-xxvi,2)

Askin and Koenig's work provides the strategies for enforcing women's human rights and also the fundamental components by which to measure competence at all levels of government.

This volume opens with an examination of personal rights and freedoms, including abortion and reproductive health in the context of existing and evolving human rights law; sexual rights; and freedoms often taken for granted in the West, such as freedom to drive, to travel unaccompanied and at will, and to choose modes of dress. The volume's second section analyzes human rights law as it pertains to specific groups of women: those who are children, refugees, widows (particularly in developing countries), disabled, or involved in armed conflicts. The third section, which addresses religious issues affecting women's human rights, includes chapters that examine Christianity and human rights, and others that analyze the effects on women of Islamic law and custom. This section closes with a lengthy examination of Baha'i teachings as a model for gender equality. The fourth section, which focuses on regional issues, includes chapters on the legal status of women in central and eastern Europe, in Palestine, and in Ukraine, and features a comparative study of self-determination and development in five Middle Eastern countries. Women of the South Pacific, as well as aboriginal women in Australia, are given special notice here. The book closes with an examination of overarching policy and historical issues: the impact of international financial institutions on poor women in developing countries; historical social movements that have advanced women's human rights; women and land rights; the influence of nongovernmental organizations; and critiques of how governments use ethnic, racial, and religious differences to justify deviations from international human rights standards.

The contributors to this third volume include leading scholars and practitioners familiar to the American legal community, as well as others from around the world whose analyses, particularly on regional and cultural issues, enrich the volume immeasurably. Selections from this volume's eminently readable chapters would be useful in courses on human rights law, international law and legal theory, international and regional organizations, international relations, and women's studies.

Women and International Human Rights Law should be considered a basic reference work for every international law collection. Editors Askin and Koenig have been able to achieve a coherent style throughout the three volumes, while preserving the distinctive voices of the cavalcade of contributors. Texts of the major human rights instruments directly involving women are included in the earlier volumes. The thorough index accompanying each volume adds to the research value of the set, as does the cumulative index appearing in the third volume. Taken together, the three volumes not only enrich our understanding of what we mean by human rights, but serve as a guide to the reconstruction of international law to ensure a more just and equitable world for all people.


Dean Rusk Center

©Copyright 2001, The American Journal of International Law

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