Gendering the Law of Occupation: The Case of Cyprus

Fionnuala Ni Aolain

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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 Cyprus by Turkish forces, emphasizing the experiences of women during hostilities and the ongoing occupation. Based on field work conducted in Cyprus in the autumn of 2016, the article draws on interview data, field observations, and secondary sources. Part I of the article addresses the history of the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974. Part 2 outlines the protracted process of peace negotiations on the Island, and the consistent failure to reach a comprehensive peace settlement among the parties. The failure to substantively include women in the negotiation process, as well as the lack of a gender dimension to the negotiation content is also highlighted. The article then proceeds in part 3, outlining the history of gendered violence during the invasion of the Island and after. This sets the stage to discuss the gendered exclusions that shape women’s experiences of the occupation since 1974 in part 4. Here the focus is on private and family life, demonstrating how the law of occupation fails to regulate the private sphere, thereby creating significant regulatory gaps for women. 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. Part 5 concludes the substantive analysis by addressing the ongoing complexity of violence and harm against women in the occupied territory, with a focus on trafficking under occupation. The gaps in the regulatory scope of the 4th Geneva Convention allied with the lack of international recognition for the territory demonstrate the ways in which the limits of the law itself can be a deep impediment to engaging the rights and protections due to women during occupation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-141
Number of pages35
JournalMinnesota Journal of International Law
Issue number1
Early online date5 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished online - 5 Oct 2017


  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • War
  • Sexual Violence
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Military
  • Ceasefire


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