Monday, June 28, 2010

R. Charli Carpenter's "Forgetting Children Born of War"

R. Charli Carpenter is assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, specializing in international relations, gender and political violence, transnational advocacy networks, human rights, and the laws of war. She is the author of Innocent Women and Children: Gender, Norms, and the Protection of Civilians and editor of Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book Forgetting Children Born of War doesn't exactly capture the argument of the book - but then again it isn't a full page, as it's the start of the introduction to Chapter 6:
I arrived on the doorstep of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 3, 2007, five years and two days after the court came into force, on the first day of the month after the sixtieth day after the sixtieth government ratified it. My hope was to interview someone from the prosecutor's office about the likelihood of including indictments for forced pregnancy into any charges leveled against members of the Khartoum regime, said to be behind campaigns of extermination and genocidal rape in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Stories of women and girls forcibly impregnated with "Janjaweed babies," some of whom were reportedly killed or stigmatized in the refugee camps of western Darfur and Chad, had helped galvanize international attention to the humanitarian crisis in the region and small waves of interest in the vulnerabilities of the babies by aid organizations. The subsequent investigation into atrocities in Darfur was an early opportunity for the court to leverage new language regarding gender crimes. I was curious about the extent to which this was happening and about whether by 2007 the consciousness of ICC prosecutors about the crime of forced pregnancy had come to include concern for the babies born as a result.

Judging by how difficult it was to get an interview with anyone from the ICC once I explained the topic of my book to a public relations officer, it seemed unlikely that such concerns were on the radar screens of the international civil servants staffing the new court...
Since each chapter begins with an anecdote from my field research into why the human rights community has paid so little attention to children born to war rape survivors, the page is written more in narrative from rather than the analytical style prevalent in the book. At the same time it does give you a clear sense of the human rights problem whose neglect I'm studying - stigma and mistreatment of children born of war rape. Although the example given on the page is about Darfur, compared to most of the book which focuses on Bosnia, the issue - and its neglect by the human rights community - are truly global phenomena. The page also gives a sense of what my fieldwork was like - poking around various sites in the human rights network, in this case the international criminal tribunals based in the Hague - in search of information on how these children's rights might fit on the agenda, and how instead they fell through the cracks in the process of constructing rape against women as a war crime and "children in armed conflict" as a vulnerable category.

Chapter 6 itself is a good representative look at the argument of the overall book. Skipping ahead to excerpt other bits from the rest of the introduction to this chapter on the following two pages, we learn the following:
On paper, the ICC is one of the most gender-inclusive multilateral institutions in the global system... largely because of the dedicated advocacy of women's organizations during the treaty negotiations, its statute includes a comprehensive list of gender crimes, including the first codified definition of the crime "forced pregnancy" in international legal history... But the concept seems unlikely to ever be used in the court... and if it were, the frame of reference would be the female rape survivor, not her child. Wrongful procreation claims aside, long-term harms to children of rape "are not within the reach of the court," according to the Gender and Children Unit. When I finally met with a representative from the Office of the Prosecutor, I was told, "That goes well beyond our area of expertise." This is in large part because forced pregnancy has been defined as a crime not against children but against female rape victims, for whom the existence of the child itself is part of the trauma of war.

Language - or its absence - is of crucial importance in constructing or foreclosing the possibility of new human rights claims. I argue in this chapter that the international criminal regime missed an opportunity to promote the rights of these children as part of its response to gender violence precisely because of the function images of the children played in constructing gender violence as a weapon of war. Rather than the long-term harms they face being front and center alongside those of their mothers, the babies were situated as tools of genocide, weapons of biological warfare, members of the perpetrating group, and signifiers of their mothers' trauma. By the time the ICC came into force the idea that forced pregnancy is a crime against a woman, not a child brought to term, was well established in international law... the chapter concludes by considering whether punitive justice makes sense when taking into account the human rights of children born of war.
Thus Chapter 6 is sort of a microcosm of the broader argument, which covers not just the tribunal system but human rights advocacy, humanitarian programming, post-conflict reconstruction, human rights reporting and human rights fact-finding. I argue that attention to issue by human rights advocates is conditioned by political, organization, structural, coalitional and economic factors, and in particular that the social construction of rights claims is contingent upon the social construction of wrongs - a factor that has so far prevented the full protection of children born of war.
Learn more about Forgetting Children Born of War at the publishers' website.

Visit R. Charli Carpenter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue