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Why Is Implementation of the Principle of Non-Discrimination within the UN Delayed?

By Cecilia M. Bailliet, Professor, PluriCourts, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo

Cecilia Bailliet is Professor, Director of the Masters Program in Public International Law, and coordinator of International Criminal Law for PluriCourts at the University of Oslo.  She has a doctoral degree in law from the University of Oslo and a combined JD/MA degree from the George Washington University Law School & Elliott School of International Affairs.  Her research addresses the cross-fields of international public law, human rights, women’s law, refugee law, humanitarian law, counter-terrorism, and peace.  Among her publications are Promoting Peace through International Law (co-edited with Kjetil M. Larsen, Oxford 2015), Non-State Actors, Soft Law and Protective Regimes (Cambridge 2012), Cosmopolitan Justice and its Discontents (co-edited with Katja Franko Aas, Routledge 2011), and Security: A Multidisciplinary Normative Approach (Brill 2009).

 Article 8 of the UN Charter sets forth: “The United Nations shall place no restrictions on the eligibility of men and women to participate in any capacity and under conditions of equality in it is principal and subsidiary organs.”  In their commentary, Sabine von Schorlemer & Anja Papenfuß explain that there was resistance during the drafting process due to fear of potential limitation of state’s freedom of selection, but that the that this standard prevailed on account of support by a group of feminists from the Inter-American Commission on the Status of Women. [1]  Nevertheless, in spite of this guarantee, the Gender Gap within UN principal and subsidiary organs remains problematic. Indeed the appointment of UN special envoys to new heads of agencies in the period April-June 2015 revealed a gender disparity of 18:2.(

Many may be familiar with the campaign to elect a woman as UN Secretary General, given that in the past 70 years there have been 8 male Secretary-Generals:!catalog/c24vq.  It is also important to note the recently launched campaign, GQUAL!, which seeks to promote gender parity within international tribunals:  It has a Declaration which is open to signature by academics, government and IO representatives and staff, and others.

This initiative originates from scholars active within the Inter-American Human Rights system, Viviana Kristivic and Claudia Martin.  The campaign supports the identification of best practices to ensure gender parity in the nomination and election of judges to international tribunals.  It calls for transparency of proceedings related to dissemination of open positions, identification of candidates, and selection.   Indeed, the fact that only 3 out of 15 judges on the ICJ are women is of concern.  There is a need to review to what extent women are actually able to participate, given that the majority of ICJ judges have backgrounds in either the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or academia, both of which are pools with high levels of gender disparity.  It is true that Article 8 is phrased as a negative formulation rather than a positive obligation to promote equality; nevertheless it may be argued that the lack of transparency regarding the nomination and election of ICJ judges leaves verification of whether de facto restrictions exist difficult.  Hence, there is a need to conduct research on implementation of Article 8, what has been past practice in relation to the ICJ what improvements can be made to ensure fulfillment of this standard.

[1] “Article 8” in Bruno Simma, Daniel-Erasmus Khan, Georg Nolte, Andreas Paulus & Nikolai Wessendorf (Eds), The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary (3rd Ed. Vol. 1 Oxford 2012).

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