Rule 134. WomenRule 134. The specific protection, health and assistance needs of women affected by armed conflict must be respected.
Note: International humanitarian law affords women the same protection as men – be they combatants, civilians or persons hors de combat. All the rules set out in the present study therefore apply equally to men and women without discrimination. However, recognizing their specific needs and vulnerabilities, international humanitarian law grants women a number of further specific protections and rights. The present rule identifies certain of these additional protections and rights.
SummaryState practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts. The practice collected with regard to the specific needs of women is reinforced by and should be viewed in the light of the specific practice relating to the prohibition of sexual violence (see Rule 99) and the obligation to separate women deprived of their liberty from men (see Rule 119), as well as the prominent place of women’s rights in human rights law.
International armed conflicts The rule that the specific needs of women affected by armed conflict must be respected flows from provisions found in each of the four Geneva Conventions. The First Geneva Convention, for example, requires that “women shall be treated with all consideration due to their sex”. Additional Protocol I provides that “women shall be the object of special respect”.
Numerous military manuals refer to the obligation to respect the specific needs of women affected by armed conflict. Violation of this obligation is an offence under the legislation of some States. This obligation is also supported by official statements. Inspired by the terminology used in the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I, this practice is often phrased in terms of special protection or special respect to be granted to women, or in terms of treatment to be accorded “with due regard to their sex” or “with all consideration due to their sex” or other similar expressions. The formulation used in the present rule, namely that the specific needs of women must be respected, is based on the meaning of these phrases.
Non-international armed conflictsWhile common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II do not contain a general rule stating that the specific needs of women must be respected, they refer to specific aspects of this rule by requiring respect for the person and honour of each, prohibiting violence to life, health and physical and mental well-being, prohibiting outrages upon personal dignity, including humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault, and requiring the separation of women and men in detention. These specific rules indicate a similar concern for the fate of women in non-international armed conflicts.
The requirement to respect the specific needs of women is included in several military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts. Violation of this obligation is an offence under the legislation of some States. In addition, the requirement of special respect for women is contained in other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.
The UN Security Council, ECOSOC and the UN Commission on Human Rights do not distinguish between international and non-international armed conflicts with respect to the protection of women in armed conflicts. The UN Security Council, for example, has called for respect for the specific needs of women in the context of particular conflicts, such as in Afghanistan, but also in general. In a resolution adopted in 2000 on protection of civilians in armed conflicts, the UN Security Council expressed its grave concern at the “particular impact that armed conflict has on women” and reaffirmed “the importance of fully addressing their special protection and assistance needs”. The UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin on observance by United Nations forces of international humanitarian law provides that “women shall be especially protected against any attack”. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women have expressed concern at the violation of women’s rights in international and non-international armed conflicts. In 1992, the Committee stated that gender-based violence impairs or nullifies “the right to equal protection according to humanitarian norms in time of international or internal armed conflict”.
The Plan of Action for the years 2000–2003, adopted by the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999, called for “particular protective measures for women and girls”.
InterpretationThe specific needs of women may differ according to the situation in which they find themselves – at home, in detention or displaced as a result of the conflict – but they must be respected in all situations. Practice contains numerous references to the specific need of women to be protected against all forms of sexual violence, including through separation from men while deprived of liberty (see Rule 119). While the prohibition of sexual violence applies equally to men and women, in practice women are much more affected by sexual violence during armed conflicts (see also commentary to Rule 93).
The 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent indicated other specific needs when it called for measures “to ensure that women victims of conflict receive medical, psychological and social assistance”. Similarly, in 1999, in a report to the UN General Assembly, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women required States to ensure that “adequate protection and health services, including trauma treatment and counselling, are provided for women in especially difficult circumstances, such as those trapped in situations of armed conflict”.
Particular care for pregnant women and mothers of young childrenOne specific example of respect for the specific needs of women is the requirement that pregnant women and mothers of young children, in particular nursing mothers, be treated with particular care. This requirement is found throughout the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as in Additional Protocol I. These provisions require special care for pregnant women and mothers of young children with regard to the provision of food, clothing, medical assistance, evacuation and transportation. Such requirements are set forth in many military manuals. They are also found in the legislation of some States.
Additional Protocol I provides that the protection and care due to the wounded and sick is also due to maternity cases and “other persons who may be in need of immediate medical assistance or care, such as … expectant mothers”. Such persons are thus entitled to the rights identified in Chapter 34, including adequate medical care and priority in treatment based on medical grounds (see Rule 110).
Death penalty on pregnant women and mothers of young childrenAdditional Protocol I requires that parties to a conflict endeavour, to the maximum extent feasible, to avoid the pronouncement of the death penalty on pregnant women or mothers having dependent infants for an offence related to the armed conflict. Furthermore, the death penalty for such offences may not be executed on such women. Additional Protocol II prohibits altogether the imposition of the death penalty on pregnant women or mothers of young children. These rules are also set forth in some military manuals.
The prohibition on carrying out the death penalty on pregnant women is also set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights.