Global Justice Center Blog

Justice for Victims of Sexual Violence in Conflict: Is It Possible?

By: Sofia Garcia

Just last week, the United Nations Security Council held two Arria-formula meetings open to UN member states, observers, NGOs, and the press. On both occasions, the room felt heavy; men tiptoed around their words and women sat upright, listening intently, almost in indignation. The meetings were titled “Moving from a Culture of Impunity to a Culture of Deterrence: The Use of Sanctions in Addressing Sexual Violence in Conflict” and “On Children Born of Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones”. For both of these meetings, I was in attendance to represent the Global Justice Center and listen to advocates present firsthand accounts of why these issues must be addressed by the international community. These topics have been gaining attention in the media and the international community after the Nobel Committee’s decision to jointly award Yazidi activist Nadia Murad and Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege with a Nobel Peace Prize, honoring their work to end sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war.

Over the past year, the world has borne witness to the Rohingya genocide in Burma. This sparked a conversation among activists and leaders about how the crimes perpetrated against Rohingya women, including torture, rape, and sexual abuse, are inherently gendered (read GJC’s legal brief in which we discuss why a gendered analysis of the Rohingya genocide is paramount, particularly when talking about impunity for sexual and gender-based crimes). However, only after sitting in a room with civil society speakers who presented their lived experiences was I able to understand the severity and urgency of the matter.

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Profile of Akila Radhakrishnan in Atlas Women

GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan was profiled in Atlas Women, a community of female-identifying lawyers with expertise in international law.

What drew you to working in international law? And what were your first steps?

I knew from a young age that I wanted to work on issues affecting the rights of women. I was born and spent my early life in India where I saw a different world to that I would see after my family moved to the United States. My mother was widowed with two children before she was 30 years old. She made the decision to move to the States by herself - a tremendous act of bravery and a leap of faith in her own abilities to create a new life for her and her children. I am very fortunate to have a strong female mentor in my mother. Through her, I developed a keen understanding of the particular challenges that women face, and why it is important to empower and support women as they move through the world.

In college, I specialised in political science and international affairs, which gave me the opportunity to go abroad to study as part of my degree. I spent a year at Sciences Po in Lyon, which exposed me to a range of ideas, to a non-US focused world, and to different conceptions of the role that governments, and political life more broadly, could play. I had already decided to go to law school, but gradually my attention was turned to the international dimensions of law.

At the time I applied to law school, I had already worked for two years in a corporate law firm as a paralegal  and I knew that wasn't for me. I applied to University of California at Hastings because it offered a concentration in international law and would allow me to study abroad and to take specialised courses in various facets of public international law. As part of my degree, I spent a semester at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands and while there, I undertook an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It was a privilege to be able to go abroad and have that experience. 

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October News Update: Spotlight on Gender-based Violence

Earlier this month, our partners Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work to end sexual violence in conflict. Sexual and gender-based crimes are in the international spotlight, and GJC is working overtime to make sure that these crimes are investigated and punished.

We just sent ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda our analysis of the crimes committed against the Rohingya, along with a letter urging her to prioritize sexual and gender based violence in the Court's investigation.

Photo: Frank Schwichtenberg / Own Work / CC BY-SA 4.0


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Why the US Needs CEDAW: Abortion as a Human Right in the United States

By Jessica Pierson

This year marks the 42nd anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision barring the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in extreme circumstances. The Hyde Amendment has been a key way in which conservative lawmakers have been able to systematically deny a large portion of women their constitutional right to an abortion. Even though the right to abortion is the law of the land, U.S. constitutional law does not affirmatively guarantee that every person must be able to access an abortion. A case in point being that the Supreme Court has ruled twice that the Hyde Amendment is constitutional, even though its effects have been detrimental to American women.

A human rights framework, on the other hand, requires that government respect, protect, and fulfill the right to an abortion. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the international treaty on women’s rights that has been ratified by nearly all the United Nations member states except for the U.S. In contrast to the U.S. Constitution, CEDAW imposes an equality standard that requires all laws that disparately impact women be scrutinized to secure de jure and de facto equality for women. The CEDAW Committee, the monitoring body for the treaty, has repeatedly made clear that it considers restrictive abortion laws incompatible with the human rights of women. Therefore, the Hyde Amendment would violate a human rights framework, which would require that the state ensure that every woman, regardless of her income or race, could access the same rights. As the founder of the Global Justice Center, Janet Benshoof, has argued, ratification and full implementation of CEDAW in the U.S. would radically change the basic equality rights of American women, including the right to an abortion.

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It's Time for Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Latin America

By: Sofia Garcia

In 1990, women in Argentina declared September 28th to be the Day for Legal Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. 28 years later, we now recognize it as International Safe Abortion Day, a day where women and men all over the world take to the streets to demand access to legal and safe abortions. This day is commemorated only two days after World Contraception Day on September 26th, a day intended to improve awareness of contraception and increase sexual education among young people. Coincidentally or not, this week in September crystallizes the intersectional nature of sexual and reproductive health and rights.  In regions like Latin America and the Caribbean where women are often left behind on legislation, days like International Safe Abortion Day and World Contraception Day serve as a crucial call for governments to recognize the importance of expanding access to sexual and reproductive health and rights in tandem.

In recent years, the staggering lack of access to abortion services in the region has resulted in a greater push for the decriminalization of abortion as well as the expansion of abortion services. Six countries in the region still do not allow abortions to be performed under any circumstance. The draconian laws that govern abortion in the region have not only stigmatized discourse about abortion and sexual and reproductive health--they have also created a greater push for legalized abortion. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that, as of 2017, more than 24 million women in Latin America and the Caribbean have an unmet need for modern contraception. This means that women in the region who are having sex are either doing so without any contraception, or are using traditional methods such as the “pull out” method, which are much less effective at preventing unintended pregnancies. This, naturally, leads to a high number of unintended pregnancies. The sheer lack of access to contraception or other sexual and reproductive health services has resulted in the highest numbers of unintended pregnancies in the world, about 14 million each year. This creates a great demand for abortion services, but many countries in the region still do not allow women to make decisions regarding their bodies without legal roadblocks, stigma, or discrimination.

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