The Hague has always been an important place for women activists. The famous Bertha von Suttner was welcomed as a visitor of the Hague Peace Conferences and in 1915, in the midst of World War I, more than a thousand women from Europe and North America gathered in The Hague to discuss their possible role in bringing about peace. The result of this meeting was the creation of the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace. And in 2002 the Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan argued for the full involvement of women in negotiations of peace agreements at national and international levels.

Scholars The Hague Academy of International Law has since quite some time invited women in the field of international law to lecture in its summer courses. Suzanne Bastid (1906-1995) was one of the first. She lectured on the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice in 1951. She was also the first woman ad hoc judge (chosen by Tunisia) at the ICJ. Many other women have since followed, e.g. Lea Brilmayer, Genevieve Burdeau, Rosalyn Higgins (the first woman judge elected for the ICJ), Helene Gaudemet-Tallon, Elisa Perez Vera, Lori Fisler Damrosch, Liudmilla Galenskaya and Sarah Wambaugh.


The Hague also hosts the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR). In these tribunals, too, women play important roles as advisors and judges.

During the last decade the international legal framework has expanded to address crimes experienced in particular by women in armed conflicts. The Statutes of the two International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda do so, but also the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Elizabeth Odio-Benito and Gabrielle Kirk McDonald were judges at the ICTY when it commenced in 1994. In 1996 the Security Council appointed Louise Arbour as the new prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. Three years later she was succeeded by Carla Del Ponte (who in due course has become the recipient of dubious 'hate mail').

Of the eighteen judges of the new International Criminal Court, established in The Hague in 2002, seven are women.

Witnessing the struggle Type in the keyword 'femmes' or 'women' in the Peace Palace Library catalogue and you will find more than 1300 hits. This long list of books, journals, articles, brochures, pamflets and documents, reflects the struggle of women from the 18th century until the present. It shows the many fields of activities where women were involved and still are, at first mainly on a national, but soon also on an international level. The results range from the first suffragettes to the feminist activists in international law of the last two decades of the 20th century and reflect the achievements of women within a score of international organizations, e.g., article 7 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, articles 1, 8, 13, 55 and 76 of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) ("All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood"), the 1949 Geneva Conventions for the protection of victims of war and their two Additional Protocols of 1977, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 1979), the decade for Women from 1976 till 1985 launched by the UN, and the equality directives of the European Community.

In 1993, the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights devoted particular attention to the question of gender inequality in the full enjoyment of human rights. The Conference clearly acknowledged that women's rights are human rights and that the human rights of women are an inalienable part of universal human rights and form an integral part of the human rights activities of the United Nations, including the promotion of all human rights instruments relating, directly or indirectly, to women.

One of the first books dealing with women's rights was written by Mary Wollstonecraft. HerA Vindication of the Rights of Women: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects was published in 1796. (The third edition owned by the Peace Palace Library was bought from the publisher Martinus Nijhoff for 15 Dutch guilders in 1955). Wollstonecraft argued that to obtain social equality society must rid itself of the monarchy as well as the church and military hierarchies, and that the rights of man and the rights of women were one and the same thing. For her revolutionary ideas one critic described her as a "hyena in petticoats".

Not Frankenstein
A "hyena in petticoats" and her book, and Karen Knop's Gender and Human Rights.

Since the rather modest list of publications in 'The Bibliography: The International Right to Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex', in the Yale Journal of International Law (1989, pp. 161-181), the number of publications in this fieldhas grown extensively. The collection of articles compiled in Women and International Human Rights law (1999-2001) reflect the thoughts of women writers on specific subjects.

The Peace Palace Library has a policy of actively acquiring literature in the field of human rights, including women's rights. The most recent acquisition is Gender and human rights, edited by Karen Knop (2004). It is a collection of articles touching the fundamentals of women's international human rights.

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