Global Justice Center Blog

Open Letter to United Nations Secretary General on UN Operations in Myanmar

Reference: TIGO ASA 16/2019.001
Index: ASA 16/0113/2019

António Guterres
UN Secretary General

25 March 2019

Excellency,

We write to welcome your initiative to review United Nations operations in Myanmar, and to strongly urge you ensure that the review is open, transparent and that its findings and recommendations are made public.

Given the gravity of the abuses in Myanmar, the review offers an important opportunity to establish “whether everything possible to prevent or mitigate the unfolding crises was done, identifying lessons learned and good practices, making recommendations as appropriate, including on accountability, and enabling more effective work in the future”, as recommended by the International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.1 To this end, we urge you to ensure that:

  • The review is open and transparent, and its terms of reference, final report and findings are made public;
  • The review team has sufficient resources – human, financial and technical – to conduct its work. We encourage you to instruct all UN agencies to cooperate fully with the inquiry, including by providing access to relevant information and documents;
  • The review team consults with a wide range of stakeholders, both inside and outside of Myanmar. Any current and former UN staff, as well as other organizations including INGOs and local NGOs, who provide information to the inquiry must be able to do so without risk of reprisal.
  • The UN reaffirms its commitment to the Human Rights up Front initiative and takes immediate action to develop a comprehensive plan to more effectively mainstream human rights protection among all UN staff working on Myanmar, both in country and at headquarters. This should include detailed timelines for implementation, clearly identified indicators of successful implementation of the initiative, and the development of a plan for UN agencies to warn the UN Security Council to prevent and respond to serious human rights violations.

As you know, a similar inquiry was undertaken in 2012 on events in Sri Lanka. The public report that came out of that inquiry set an important precedent, and sent a strong message on the UN’s commitment to transparency and accountability within its own system. It also led to the Human Rights up Front initiative, which was an important step towards strengthening the UN’s human rights pillar and making the body more responsive during crises. We believe that the review on Myanmar offers an important opportunity to assess progress since 2012 and to look at the UN system as a whole to ensure that it is fit for purpose and able to respond quickly and effectively to prevent grave abuses. At a time when the protection and promotion of human rights around the world is under increasing threat, a strong, transparent, effective and accountable UN is essential. We would be happy to discuss these important issues with you further.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurance of our highest consideration,

Yours sincerely

Veronique Andrieux, Chief Executive Office, Action Against Hunger

Debbie Stothard, Coordinator, ALTSEAN-Burma

Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General, Amnesty International

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19

John Samuel, Executive Director,  Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Anna Roberts, Executive Director,  Burma Campaign UK

Caroline Kende-Robb, Secretary-General, CARE International

Meg Gardinier,  Secretary General, ChildFund Alliance

Dimitris Christopoulos, President, FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Fortify Rights

Simon Adams, Executive Director, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Saman Zia-Zarifi, Secretary General, International Commission of Jurists

Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chairman, Justice for All/ Burma Task Force

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children International

Adrianne Lapar, Program Director, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict

Sarah Costa, Executive Director, Women’s Refugee Commission

1. Report of the detailed findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, A/HRC/39/CRP.2, 17 September 2018, para. 1706.

 

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US Abortion Restrictions Violate Women’s Human Rights

Excerpt of PassBlue op-ed by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and CHANGE President Serra Sippel. 

Every year, 25 million women across the world are forced to obtain unsafe abortions. The United States, through its foreign policy, is deeply complicit in the violation of these women’s right to life and equality under international law.

International human-rights frameworks guard against these violations and hold the US and other countries accountable. The International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), for instance, details the basic rights and freedoms guaranteed to all people worldwide, including the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to equality. Such rights are not symbolic: they are grounded in the dignity of each human being and protected by international law.

Since 1966, 172 parties — including the US — have signed the ICCPR. It is one of the few human-rights treaties that the US has ratified. But today, the US imposes illegal abortion policies that brazenly violated its obligations under the Covenant and other binding provisions of international law.

Read the Full Op-Ed in PassBlue

Why I Support the Global Justice Center

Happy International Women’s Day!

My name is Jelena Pia, and I am thrilled to serve as a new board member for the Global Justice Center, an organization that embodies my feminist principles and passion for gender justice.

Every day, but especially today, I am grateful to be a part of the GJC family. As a diplomat and activist, I have seen firsthand how GJC has fundamentally shifted the global conversation on issues relating to justice and accountability for sexual and gender-based violence in conflict.

As a representative of a small country, Andorra, at the United Nations, I was at the forefront of negotiations of international norms and treaties that set new standards for gender justice. The experience taught me the power of access and the injustice that comes with not allowing those who most need it to have a voice.

Joining GJC's board member allows me to continue my journey and stay true to my values. Throughout my career, I made sure to always remember what it means to be a woman from a small country. I know that strengthening women’s leadership and supporting the work of activists is critical to the women, peace and security agenda.

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CSW Side Event: Working Towards Greater Implementation of 1325 – Models of Best Practice States Parties and Civil Society

From March 11, 2019 10:30 until 12:00

At New York City Baha'i Center, 866 UN Plaza

Speakers:

  • Tia Bown, NAWO YWA
  • Grant Shubin, Deputy Legal Director Global Justice Center
  • WILPF activists from Cameroon and Niger
  • Rugya Muttawa, Founder Hope Organisation Libya

Overview:

UNSRC 1325 was passed and ratified in 2000, more than 18 years later and with numerous related resolutions since, there is still a way to go to ensure the full implementation of 1325.  Human Rights violations in conflict zones are well documented and much of the vision of 1325 remains unrealized.

Young women are often subject to double marginalization – as women, and as young people. In many societies and families, they are the last to eat, to speak, to receive an education. They do not have a voice, and only speak when spoken to. With little or no education or training, young women and girls are relegated to caretaking, cooking, childbearing, collecting firewood and fetching water – the unpaid labour, which is often not regarded as important by the society, and does not provide the women with financial means of their own. Conflict aggravates this situation. We will therefore have a voice of a young woman from the NAWO Young Women’s Alliance WPS network.

Civil society was active in the creation of 1325 and has remained committed and active since in its implementation despite lack of resources.  There are numerous examples from civil society from which we can learn to increase implementation elsewhere in addition to understanding better obstacles and challenges.  Representatives from civil society working at policy level and on the ground will share perspectives.

States Parties, have to varying degrees, supported and implemented 1325. Hearing from them their view of success and their learning in implementation, will take forward the discourse on this important issue.

The event will provide time for discussion to learn from the expertise in the room, especially in preparation for the 20th anniversary next year.

Roundtable: Legal Limits to the Use of the Veto

From March 8, 2019 9:00 until 17:00

At Foley Hoag, LLC

Question at Issue: Are there legal limits to the use of the veto by the Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council blocking action in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes? Or is the veto in such circumstances a carte blanche that can be utilized at the complete discretion of the permanent members?

Proposition: There are legal limits to the use of the veto power in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Three arguments support this conclusion:

  1. The veto power derives from the UN Charter, which is subsidiary to jus cogens norms. Thus, a veto that violates jus cogens norms, or permits the continued violation of jus cogens norms, would be illegal or ultra vires. The Charter (and veto power) must be read in a way that is consistent with jus cogens.
  2. The veto power derives from the UN Charter, which states in Article 24(2) that the Security Council “[in] discharging [its] duties” “shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.” A veto in the face of a draft resolution aimed at curtailing or alleviating the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes does not accord with the Charter’s purposes and principles.
  3. A permanent member of the Security Council that utilizes the veto power also has other treaty obligations, such as those under the Genocide Convention, which contains an obligation to “prevent” genocide. A Permanent Member’s use of the veto that would enable genocide, or allow its continued commission, would violate that state’s legal obligation to “prevent” genocide. A similar argument can be made as to allowing the perpetration of at least certain war crimes, such as “grave breaches” and violations of Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. (Given that under Article 103 of the Charter, the Charter trumps inconsistent treaty obligations, this argument may only apply where treaty obligations also embody jus cogens norms or accord with the Charter’s purposes and principles.) Alternatively, these treaties and the veto power could (and should) be read consistently, so that there is no conflict, making article 103 inapplicable.

Goal of Project: To ensure that the UN Security Council is able to act in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity and/or war crimes; therefore, to have the members of the General Assembly request an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ): Are there legal limits to the use of the veto power in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes?

Initial Goal of Initiative: To form a group of NGOs and States who support this initiative and would be willing to work to convince the General Assembly to make this request of the ICJ.

Alternative Concept: To put some of these legal concepts directly into a GA resolution that notes the legal obligations related to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and calls for veto restraint (and not ask for an Advisory Opinion).

    —Professor Jennifer Trahan, NYU Center for Global Affairs, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Supporting Individuals:

  • Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs
  • Richard Goldstone, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia & the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,
  • Navanethem (“Navi”) Pillay, former High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Andras Vamos-Goldman, co-founder & former Executive Director, Justice Rapid Response
  • David M. Crane, former Chief Prosecutor, Special Court for Sierra Leone
  • Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert, formerly International Court of Justice (ad hoc), International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and International Criminal Court; presently Kosovo Specialist Chambers (signing in a personal capacity)

Supporting NGOs:

  • The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  • The International Center for Transitional Justice
  • The World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
  • Parliamentarians for Global Action
  • Open Society Justice Initiative
  • Global Justice Center
  • Syrian Justice and Accountability Center
  • Moroccan National Coalition for the International Criminal Court
  • Lawyers for Justice in Libya
  • Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice