Querelles : Jahrbuch für Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung
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In 2008, I spent a year as a Rule of Law specialist in Thailand with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), as part of a fellowship program for human rights lawyers. I was assigned the task of facilitating the development of a comprehensive legal code for the refugee camps along the border between Thailand and /Burma. As part of my work, I also sought to increase gender-based protection under the law through the incorporation of Thai and international human rights norms. This paper is a reflection on the processes that occurred during my time at IRC. The reform project approached the transference of contentious international norms for protection of women and girls in two ways: a) through the inclusive design of the law reform process and b) the establishment of a prohibition on rules that clearly violated international or national law. By forming a representative drafting committee and placing an emphasis on community consultation as a precursor to code finalisation, refugee perspectives, particularly female perspectives, were given scope to inform interpretations of national and international legal standards. By requiring international and national legal compliance and placing an emphasis on explanation and clarification of international and national standards in discussions, the project supported downward transference of international norms to a specific community context. We hoped that, as a product of these two normative flows, the resulting legal code would be a sustainable mechanism for gender-based protection and redress in cases of sexual and gender-based violence. During negotiations, it became evident that the inclusive design of the law reform process had a more positive impact on the success of norms transference than the actual substance of the norm. The norms that were most readily accepted were those introduced by law reform committee members themselves. Local norm translators played a pivotal role in the norms diffusion process. Though it is too early to draw conclusions about the overall success of the project, I believe that the observed process provides an instructive example of norm transference in the context of development and humanitarian interventions.
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