Gendering the Law of Occupation: The Case of Cyprus

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Abstract: The law of occupation can rightly be considered a highly specialized sub-division of the law of armed conflict. Its genealogy is long, and its content, like much of the law that regulates the conduct of hostilities between states, and between state and non-state actors is routine, pedantic and highly ritualized. Despite its long history, the law of occupation has received much less scholarly and policy attention than other parts of the law regulating war. While the law of armed conflict has historically ignored the experiences and challenges faced by women in situations of armed conflict whether as civilians or combatants, the law of occupation has been distinctly bereft of scholarly and policy interest. Thus, there is little sustained legal analysis of women’s rights, obligations and challenges under occupation as well as no lasting analysis of the structural limits and gender capture of the law of occupation. This article addresses that gap with a focus on the long-term occupation of Northern Cyrus by Turkish forces, emphasizing the experiences of women during hostilities and the ongoing occupation. Based on fieldwork conducted in Cyprus in the autumn of 2016, the article draws on interview data, field observations, and secondary sources. In particular, the article addresses issues of sexual violence, the regulation of family life, as well as marriage and divorce in situations of transformative occupation. This focus is on private and family life, demonstrates how the law of occupation fails to regulate the private sphere, thereby creating significant regulatory gaps for women, with consequent and measurable effect on women’ status and participation in public life as well as in peace and negotiation processes. The lack of regulation is compounded by the transformative and sustained nature of the occupation impinging on every aspect of public and private life. In exposing the centrality of the public/private divide to the structure of occupation law, the article underscores the exclusion and marginalization experienced by women living under occupation as well as opening up a discussion around necessary revisions and reinterpretations to fully and equally protect women living under occupation.

Keywords: Gender, Occupation, War, Sexual Violence, Marriage, Divorce, Military, Ceasefire

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