Interview with Professor Christine Chinkin: Find Your Own Path in International Law

For our third profile for Women in International Law Month, we were honoured to interview Professor Christine Chinkin of the London School of Economics. She is a renowned Feminist scholar, particularly for her ground-breaking work on women, peace and security, in addition to her collaboration with Hilary Charlesworth and Shelley Wright on the gendered boundaries of international law.

Professor Chinkin, you have enjoyed a long and illustrious career in international human rights law. What first sparked your interest in international law, particularly as it relates to gender, security and post-conflict resolution?

No one thing or moment – it has been more a process and accumulation of interests. I was always interested in international affairs, and became involved in the feminist movement in the 1980s. This coincided with the time when human rights was becoming more of a force in the field of International Relations, so there was a natural linkage between these two aspects and to ask why women’s human rights were not as widely addressed. I met Professor Charlesworth, and together with Shelley Wright, we began questioning why women were so conspicuously absent from international law.

You have worked tirelessly on women’s rights and security around the world, from advising the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Peru to the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, and the Amnesty International “Stop Violence Against Women” campaign. What has been the most rewarding experience of your career?

I have been very fortunate and there have been many rewarding experiences. Perhaps two of the most rewarding, and very different, experiences have been, first, participating in the Tokyo Women’s Tribunal – an NGO initiative. And second, acting as a scientific advisor to the drafting Committee for the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. It was a sustained engagement over a couple of years, and I was able to see and influence international negotiations first hand.

Who has been the most inspiring woman in your career, and which feminist scholar has been most influential on your work?

There are too many inspiring women. Throughout my career I have been inspired by the hundreds – thousands – of nameless women who fight daily against injustice and discrimination. At an earlier stage of my career, Elizabeth Evatt was especially inspiring.

As for feminist scholars, it has to be Hilary Charlesworth through our many, many hours of discussion and working together.

What lessons do you think today’s generation of women can learn from the second-wave of feminists, and vice-versa? How will this help the development of international law?

I think the most important lesson is that we cannot take anything for granted, that what appear to be gains and successes are tenuous and can be lost. This is especially true in the current political climate and period of uncertainty. For instance in the UK, even the gains made for women under the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights are under threat and must be fought for. I am not at all sure how this helps the development of international law other than the continuous need to “ask the woman question” in writing, advocacy and teaching.

In addition to being a renowned feminist legal scholar, you are also an expert in post-conflict resolution. Whether in Kosovo, Gaza or post-conflict states in Africa, what role do you see for women in the post-conflict resolution process? Have you noticed a change in their role in recent years?

It is important that local women from a conflict area are included in all ways and at all levels in decision-making with respect to conflict resolution and subsequently. This is reiterated by the Security Council in its Women, Peace and Security resolutions but there has been too little attention given – except by women’s groups and agencies – to what this really means and how it can be sustained. Despite some limited successes, too often women remain absent from important meetings – and what can be more important than determining the future of a state or territory? The change is in rhetoric supporting this rather than in the reality of its eventuation.

What would you say is the single greatest challenge for upholding women’s rights in international law? What should be done to address it?

There is no one single challenge as too many factors are interlocked in the contemporary global order – in particular the continued neo-liberal economic order, militarism and the arms trade, extremism of all kinds, and patriarchy. Those are the big challenges because they undermine attempts at implementation and sustained commitment. Inadequate financial resourcing for instance of the UN human rights bodies including CEDAW remains frustrating.

What is one piece of advice you wish that you had received as a young international lawyer?

I don’t think I ever lacked advice including from some great international lawyers in the early stages of my career – Myres McDougal at Yale, Ian Brownlie at Oxford, and later James Crawford at Sydney. Of course I have received huge amounts of advice and support from feminist international lawyers, notably Hilary Charlesworth. Perhaps what I most needed early on was to be told that there are many ways of being an international lawyer and that I needed to find my own path.

Christine Chinkin is Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics and co-author of The Boundaries of International Law: A Feminist Analysis, 2000 (with Hilary Charlesworth), The Making of International Law, 2007 (with Alan Boyle) and International Law and New Wars,  forthcoming 2017 (with Mary Kaldor). She was a member of the Human Rights Advisory Panel established by UNMIK in Kosovo from 2010 – 2016; scientific adviser to the Council of Europe drafting committee for the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, and has been a member of UN Human Rights Council Fact-finding missions.