State Responsibility Goes Private: A Feminist Critique of the Public/Private Distinction in International Human Rights Law
Human rights discourse is a powerful tool within international law to condemn those state acts and omissions that infringe core and basic notions of civility and citizenship. "To assert that a particular social claim is a human right is to vest it emotionally and morally with an especially high order of legitimacy."1 Violence is an egregious form of such an infringement of the core and basic notions of civility and citizenship. Violence assaults life, dignity, and personal integrity. It transgresses basic norms of peaceful coexistence.
Women are everyday subjects of a system of familial terror that includes diverse modalities of violence. Yet the human rights discourse of protection has not been available to women. Women are the paradigmatic alien subjects of international law. To be an alien is to be another, to be an outsider. Women are aliens within their states, aliens within an international exclusive club that constitutes international society.
This chapter is an indictment of the human rights discourse, in the hope that this discourse will become responsive to the most basic rights of women.2 It condemns a human rights framework that construes the civil and political rights of individuals as belonging to public life while neglecting to protect the infringements of those rights in the private sphere of familial relationships. It condemns such a framework for not making the state accountable even for those violations that are the result of a systematic failure on the part of the state to institute the