Shouting from the Bottom of the Well: The Impact of International Trials for Wartime Rape on Women’s Agency


Mertus, Julie. 2004. “Shouting from the Bottom of the Well: The Impact of International Trials for Wartime Rape on Women’s Agency.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 6 (1): 110-28.

Author: Julie Mertus


This article critically examines the presumption that international adjudication of wartime rape cases advances the interests of survivors. It argues that just as national women's rights advocates recognize the futility of relying on court testimony alone for the production of a narrative that reflects women's experiences, promotes their agency and addresses their need for closure and healing, international women's rights advocates should explore the limitations of international tribunals and examine complementary and alternative mechanisms. Using the landmark 'Foca case' as an illustration, the author explains that although women may still exercise agency in the context of the adversarial process, their ability to do so is stunted. Moreover, I argue that, although witnesses may actively resist the legal meta-narrative of Woman Victim, adversarial processes serve to reinforce gender essentialism and cultural essentialism. This analysis has important implications for women human rights advocates seeking to bring cases before all international courts, including the permanent International Criminal Court.

Keywords: gender and conflict, wartime rape, human rights, humanitarian law, international criminal trial for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Bosnia, truth commissions, law and society, impunity

Topics: Gender, Women, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Sexual Violence, Rape

Year: 2004

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