Constructing Women Perpetrators of International Crimes: A Critical Discourse Analysis

Ellison, Lyn and Szablewska, Natalia (2020). Constructing Women Perpetrators of International Crimes: A Critical Discourse Analysis. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique



Recognising rape and other sexual and gender-based violence as forms of, rather than being peripheral to, international crimes has been instrumental in bringing to the forefront the impacts of, and motivation for, crimes committed against women, in particular in the context of war. However, the prevailing silence about women who commit crimes has stagnated the recognition of the diverse roles that women play in war, including being directly involved in the commission of (most serious) crimes. This study attempted to challenge some of the dominant positionalities on women in war by conducting a critical discourse analysis of the relevant legal court material relating to the high-profile cases of Biljana Plavšić at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Pauline Nyiramasuhuko at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Our findings indicate that it is necessary to recognise a multiplicity of personal, social, cultural and situational factors that might influence women’s exercise of agency and women’s propensity to engage in violence, including violence committed against other women. Consequently, law’s gender neutrality is little more than gender blindness if it does not take account of the social, cultural and personal embodiment of gender practices, including in crime.

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