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Defenders of the notion of jus cogens often explain its basis as the collective international, rather than the individual national, good. On this analysis, principles of jus cogens play a similar role in the international legal system to that played by constitutional guarantees of rights in domestic legal systems. Thus states, as national political majorities, accept the limitation of their freedom of choice "in order to reap the rewards of acting in ways that would elude them under pressures of the moment." Among those jurists who accept the category of jus cogens, however, continuing controversy remains over what norms qualify as principles of jus cogens.

Our concern in this article is neither with the debates over the validity of the doctrine of jus cogens in international law nor with particular candidates for jus cogens status. Rather, we are interested in the structure of the concept detailed by international law scholars. We aregue that the concept of the jus cogens is not a properly universal one as its development has privileged the experiences of men over those of women, and it has provided a protection to men that is not accorded to women.


Copyright © 2006 Human Rights Quarterly. This material first appeared in Women's Rights: A Human Rights Quarterly Reader, edited by Bert B. Lockwood, 87-100. Reprinted with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press.