Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace

Human Rights Beyond Borders: A Call for International Solidarity

8 February 2016
The rise of corporate power

Globalisation is reshaping traditional notions of territoriality and sovereignty, which are associated with States in the realm of international law. At the same time, economic actors such as transnational corporations (which structures and activities are transnational in nature) have become increasingly powerful actors on the global scene, using their economic weight to influence States and to shape regulations.

Transnational corporations (TNCs) through their business activities also directly affect the enjoyment of human rights by individuals, including women. This transnational character results in a situation in which the operations of a TNC existing under the laws of one State may impact the lives of communities located in other states hosting the operations of the TNC.

The challenges to accountability

This “power shift” and the transnational character of business activities have made it increasingly difficult for States, in particular for poorer States, to regulate and control the acts of non-state actors such as corporations. As a result, TNCs responsible of human rights violations often escape liability for abuses that occur within their global corporate structures and supply chains. This is particularly a challenge for countries of the Global South that may be unable to effectively regulate acts of transnational corporations, due to the strong economic bargaining power of TNCs, to unbalanced trade agreements they have entered into or to the weak rule of law and governance in the country.

The limits of international human rights law

Under international human rights law, States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights both within their territories and extraterritorially. However, most States continue to think of human rights with a national mindset, thus overlooking their obligation to avoid causing harm and to protect human rights of people outside of their borders. As a result, the current international human rights regime suffers from major gaps and most importantly, many victims of human rights violations remain deprived of their right to justice and reparations.

In addition, while the international trade regime and investor protection have been strengthened over the last decades with the advent of economic globalisation, human rights have increasingly been excluded from consideration to the benefit of corporate interests. For instance, investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in trade agreements enable foreign investors to sue States when governments seek to regulate for public interest reasons and where such measures have a negative impact on the value of the investment. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which have recently stirred major outcry in the public opinion due to their opacity and lack of democratic oversight, are just the latest examples of trade agreements overlooking any human rights impacts.

Which solutions?

A number of human rights experts, civil society organisations worldwide, as well as an increasing number of United Nations Treaty bodies have been calling for and shaping the recognition of extraterritorial obligations of States to respect human rights. Extraterritorial obligations aim at ensuring that States, when making policy and deciding on new laws, also consider their impact on the enjoyment of human rights of people outside their own country. WILPF considers that the recognition of extraterritorial obligations would acknowledge that the negative impacts of globalisation cannot be regulated by one State alone and would contribute to realising international solidarity and human rights for all. Such recognition would also strengthen in international law the due diligence obligation of States to respect and protect human rights, both within their territories and extraterritorially.

What is WILPF doing on this topic?
Click on the image to read the report.

WILPF’s Human Rights Programme has been active in its reporting to UN Human Rights bodies (and in particular to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW) in order to stress the extra-territorial responsibility of States regarding their impact on women’s rights due to arms sales and to the activities of transnational corporations. Our latest report on this topic is published today, on the occasion of the review of Sweden by the CEDAW Committee, which will take place on 18 February 2016.

This report aims at drawing the Committee’s attention to Sweden’s state of compliance with its extraterritorial obligations under the CEDAW Convention in particular with regards to the consequences of Sweden’s arms exports on women, Sweden’s human rights due diligence obligation with regards to the activities of Swedish multinational companies operating outside Sweden and Sweden’s implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.

WILPF will continue to advocate for extraterritorial obligations and global solidarity in this manner towards the UN Treaty Bodies and the Human Rights Council.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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