Global Justice Center Blog

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Friday, Missouri is moving toward passing a bill that would allow landlords and employers to discriminate against women who have had abortions or use contraception. The House passed an expanded version of the bill, known as SB 5, which the Senate first passed on June 14 during a special session called by Governor Eric Greitens. The session was intended to overturn an ordinance that prevents employers and landlords from discriminating against women because of their reproductive health choices. While the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against women who have had an abortion, it makes no mention of discrimination based on birth control.

Thursday, the United States rejected a United Nations resolution against gender-based violence because of a paragraph calling for access to reproductive health services, including abortion where it is legal. U.S. official Jason Mack said that while the United States agrees with the “spirit” of the resolution, it cannot endorse the paragraph on reproductive services because t the U.S. does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

Monday, the Polish government passed legislation restricting access to emergency contraception. The president signed a bill that classifies the “morning-after pill” as a prescription drug, meaning that women will now have to make a doctor’s appointment to obtain it. Polish doctors are allowed to refuse treatment based on religious grounds. 

Monday, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered a speech criticizing Western countries for undermining human rights, arguing that “the dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real.” He warned that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s threat to abandon human rights if they hinder terrorism investigations would encourage authoritarian regimes.  He also condemned the Trump administration’s travel ban and “flirtation” with torture.

Photo credit: Yassie CC-BY-SA-3.0

U.S. Continues to Prioritize Anti-Abortion Policy Over The Wellbeing of Women

By Marie Wilken

The United States recently rejected a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on violence against women because it contained language calling for access to abortion in countries where it is legal. This is yet another example of the Trump administration using international aid and laws to limit access to abortion around the world. Like the Global Gag Rule, this rejection ignores that in addition to infringing on reproductive rights, these actions have many negative ramifications that are unrelated to abortion.

After a resolution aimed at eliminating violence and discrimination against women, introduced by Canada, was adopted by consensus, the United States dissociated from the consensus because of a sentence about abortion.  While abortion was not a primary focus of the resolution, it stated that all women should have access to “comprehensive sexual and health-care services” including “safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law.” U.S. First Secretary to the U.N. in Geneva Jason Mack delivered a statement saying that the U.S. agrees with the “spirit” of the resolution but cannot endorse the paragraph on reproductive services because the U.S. does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

This is not a singular action; its motivations and effects parallel other Trump administration policies. Congress’s new health care bill defunds Planned Parenthood—a policy that, though driven by anti-abortion sentiment, will have a much broader impact on women’s health care. This year President Trump reinstated and greatly expanded the Global Gag Rule. The administration refuses to fund international aid even loosely related to abortion, and its rejection of the UN resolution suggests it is adopting a similar approach toward international law. Because of the Gag Rule, organizations are afraid to even reference abortion out of fear of losing their U.S. funding. There is now fear that the same chilling effect to mentions of abortion and other reproductive rights will spread to international law. The Global Gag Rule, health care bill, and rejection of the UN resolution not only violate women’s reproductive rights, but all also deny women unrelated services and protections.

The United States’ resistance to international reproductive rights is dangerous. By denying women around the world safe and accessible abortion, it risks the lives of women and girls. Approximately 830 women die from preventable pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes per day. U.S. policy forces some of the world’s poorest women to choose between giving birth to a child they cannot afford to care for and seeking an unsafe abortion. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 225 million women in developing countries want to prevent pregnancy but are not using contraception, mostly due to the limited reproductive health services available.  The administration’s policies are also dangerous because of the message they send the international community about abortion and U.S. ideals. Abortion is a reproductive right, and reproductive rights are an essential aspect of women’s rights—but Mack’s statement separated abortion from other rights and reproductive health services and demonized it. He wielded United States influence over international norms to push them backwards, away from progress toward equal protection of rights.

Because of one sentence on abortion, the United States obstructed the entire resolution. In addition to attacking women’s reproductive rights, the U.S. missed its opportunity to show commitment to improving the lives women through preventing violence and eliminating discrimination. By doing so, the Trump administration reaffirmed its willingness to sacrifice women’s rights, health care, and even lives.

Q&A: Torture and International Law

What is the history of international laws against torture?

Akila: The prohibition on torture, at least in modern international law, began with the universal declaration on human rights that was passed in the 1960s and contained a general prohibition on torture and cruel and inhumane treatment. This prohibition was replicated in the 1970s in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Prohibitions on torture were also contained in the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Around this time, in the 70s, Amnesty International began a campaign to get a declaration through the UN or another binding treaty body prohibiting torture.  Due to this campaign, in 1975 the UN passed a non-binding declaration on torture.  In the ten years after it passed, Amnesty did important documentation and individual reporting that found the declaration wasn't serving its purpose. This began the push and process of advocating for a stand-alone convention against torture. The Convention Against Torture was formally drafted in the early 1980s and was ratified by a number of states somewhere between the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Grant: It was opened up for ratification in 1988 and I believe it came to force in 1994, so it took six years for a critical mass of states to accept it and for it to become enforceable, which is pretty typical of any international treaty.  In writing the Convention the drafters very much had a traditional view of torture in mind. They were thinking of what we might think of as a James Bond-esque type of interrogation where there is one person under the control or custody of another person who wants information from that person either to use that information against them in a court of law or for whatever government purposes. So, when you read the Convention you see a lot of that type of language, regarding, formal interrogation by a state.

A: Yes, they were considering issues around the French engaging in torture against the Algerians in the 1950s, the British using torture against the Irish in their civil war, those were the recent experiences in people's minds, ideas of the state trying to elicit information. This is also what we see in the US today, when people think of the torture they think of Bush Administration, of water boarding, etc.

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