George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Civilians Under the Law: Inequality, Universalisms, and Intersectionality as Intervention

by Susan F. Hirsch

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  • Published Date: March 26, 2012
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • ISBN: 9780415693936


In Chapter 12, “Civilians under the law: Inequality, universalisms, and intersectionality as intervention,” Susan F. Hirsch examines the tacit assumptions underpinning the category of civilians in war as constructed by the architects of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international criminal law (ICL). According to Hirsch, while these legal regimes distinguish civilians from combatants, they also differentiate among civilians, both explicitly (through substantive law) and implicitly (through legal processes). Specifically, she proceeds to examine assumptions about gender and age identity and difference underpinning the legal definition of civilians, assumptions that promote inequalities among various society groups. Drawing on the concept of intersectionality from critical legal theory, Hirsch shows that gender, age, and military status combine to construct multiple, particular, and irreducible subject-positions and identities that arrive from them (e.g., minor female noncombatant, adult male combatant). An intersectional approach exposes the assumptions about gender, age, and military status underlying each of these subject positions and, in so doing, helps to explain why certain individuals find that their status as civilians is contested, particularly in relation to legal processes. The chapter focuses on legal proceedings involving several African conflicts (Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo) to explore the particular ways in which contestations over civilian status play out in conflicts characterized by (1) a high incidence of gender violence and (2) the extensive use of “child soldiers.” 

This book explores the issue of civilian devastation in modern warfare, focusing on the complex processes that effectively establish civilians’ identity in times of war.

Underpinning the physicality of war’s tumult are structural forces that create landscapes of civilian vulnerability. Such forces operate in four sectors of modern warfare: nationalistic ideology, state-sponsored militaries, global media, and international institutions. Each sector promotes its own constructions of civilian identity in relation to militant combatants: constructions that prove lethal to the civilian noncombatant who lacks political power and decision-making capacity with regards to their own survival.

Civilians and Modern War provides a critical overview of the plight of civilians in war, examining the political and normative underpinnings of the decisions, actions, policies, and practices of major sectors of war. The contributors seek to undermine the ‘tunnelling effect’ of the militaristic framework regarding the experiences of noncombatants.

This book will be of much interest to students of war and conflict studies, ethics, conflict resolution, and IR/Security Studies.

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