Global Justice Center Blog

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett Supports False Claim of Nearly Nonexistent Pregnancy Rates Resulting From Rape

Once again, we are left speechless by the extreme rhetoric used to describe rape victims. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) added vitriolic fuel to the controversy sparked by Rep. Todd Akin’s comments regarding pregnancy rates resulting from “legitimate rape.” In addition to the offensive attempt to distinguish acts of rape – rape is rape; their claim of nearly nonexistent pregnancy rates resulting from rape is scientifically entirely false.

One would imagine that since Akin’s comments gained international scorn, politicians would be more prudent and rational when discussing the topic of abortion. The lesson to be learned clearly went amiss for Rep. Bartlett who, in a similar comment to Akins’ said, “There are very few pregnancies as a result of rape, fortunately, and incest — compared to the usual abortion, what is the percentage of abortions for rape? It is tiny. It is a tiny, tiny percentage.” The remark, was made at a town hall meeting when pressed to reiterate his stance on abortion. And while he recently modified his stance to include exceptions of life threatening situations, rape, and incest, his comment reflects an ignorance about the horrors of rape and its devastating consequences.

Yet despite immediate condemnation, the fact is US foreign policy does not stray far from Bartlett and Akin’s beliefs. The US currently places a blanket ban on abortion aid, denying abortion options to girls and women raped in war. According to the 1973 Helms Amendment, “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” USAID wrongly interprets this statement to include circumstances of rape. This inhumane policy does not even allow for abortion in the case of life-threatening circumstances. For women and girls in nations such as Burma, Sudan, and Congo where systematic rape is used widely as a weapon of war, this ban on abortion “twice tortures” them. Furthermore, this policy is in direct conflict with international law and the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee indiscriminate medical care for victims of rape. As America continues its national discussion of abortion laws, it is critical that we do not forget those suffering abroad from the horrors of rape and war. President Obama must seize this moment to act. Join the Global Justice Center in urging him to issue an executive order lifting the ban. It is a necessary step to help victims of rape in conflict areas and to show solidarity with rape victims everywhere.

As Aung San Suu Kyi Visits US, International Law Violations in Burma Constitution are Highlighted

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s is in Washington DC today to received the Congressional Gold Medal. She will also be meeting with President Barack Obama. This is a proud moment for the Burmese community and for the Global Justice Center, which has worked tirelessly on democracy issues in Burma.

However, we also recognize that Burma’s transition to democracy is far from complete. A major obstacle continues to be the country’s constitution, which entrenches military influence over Burma’s civilian government. Daw Suu Kyi said herself that amending the constitution must be a top priority, and we agree with her. The Global Justice Center calls for the international community to challenge the constitution as a violation of fundamental international law—including the UN Charter.

Burma has seen substantial change these past few years; a civilian government was formed, political prisoners were released (Suu Kyi herself being one example), and, this April, opposition parties were allowed to take part in the by-elections, carrying 43 out of 44 open parliamentary seats (but continuing to exert little influence overall). However, Burma has yet to fully commit to democracy. The Burmese civilian government still owes its parliamentary majority to the fraudulent elections of 2010, and the current constitution hinders further democratization and gives complete autonomy to the military. This makes it nearly impossible to prosecute Burma’s military rulers, who are guilty of egregious crimes—including the use of systematic rape of ethnic women as a weapon of war, torture, forced relocation and forced labor. All are rampant violations of fundamental international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter. The impunity accorded to the military under the current constitution leaves civilian victims, particularly those in the conflict areas of the Burmese border, virtually without legal protection. Activities of the Myanmar military are also in breach of a set of agreements that govern nuclear development.

The Burmese government and the international community must ensure that Burma is meeting international law requirements. Yet, because the constitution gives the military a “legal vacuum” the government would be legally unable to fulfill these obligations. Thus Burma’s new constitution stands in breach of core international commitments.

The Global Justice Center urges the international community to stand with the people of Burma and challenge the legality of the constitution.

(For an in-depth analysis of the constitution and restraint it puts on the civilian government, read GJC president Janet Benshoof’s report, co-written with the Burma Lawyers Council or see the Global Justice Center Project Page on Burma.)

Open Letter to European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva

An open letter written by the Global Justice Center to European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Kristalina Georgieva urging that EU humanitarian aid for women raped in armed conflict respect their rights to non-discriminatory medical care under international humanitarian law.

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Think Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remarks on “legitimate rape” went too far?

So do we. In fact, so does the Obama administration and the Romney campaign, both of whom were quick to condemn Rep. Akin’s ill-advised remarks that women who are “legitimately” raped rarely get pregnant.

Akin’s statements are particularly shocking as they ignore the fact that rape is routinely used as a weapon of war in areas of armed conflict, particularly in areas of ethnic conflicts as a way to redefine ethnic composition, as in Darfur or Rwanda.

Yet, despite both Presidential candidates proclaiming Akin’s remarks as unacceptable, the fact is the United States currently hinders access to safe abortions for thousands of girls and women raped in armed conflict every day.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers US humanitarian aid, puts a “no abortion clause” on every contract with NGOs, international organizations or even governments, preventing rightful access to safe abortion services for women – even in cases of rape or when the women’s life is in danger.

USAID’s position on this is clear and provides that “while USAID supports treatment for abortion-related complications, USAID does not support abortion as a means of family planning nor does USAID provide abortions in any circumstances.”

For this reason the Global Justice Center (GJC) launched the “August 12th” campaign last year – in commemoration of the anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. Under the Geneva Conventions girls and women raped in armed conflict are “protected persons” and entitled, as the “wounded and sick,” to “receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay,the medical care and attention required by their condition.”

Therefore the US “no abortion” clause not only exacerbates the suffering of rape victims in war, it violates the rights of these victims under international humanitarian law.

On November 5, 2010 during the Universal Periodic Review of the United States by the UN Human Rights Council, Norway recommended that the US “remove its blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering medical care given to women and girls raped and impregnated in situations of armed conflict.”

Since the launch of GJC’s “August 12th” campaign, more than 60 international organizations have written urgent letters to President Obama calling on him to lift the abortion restrictions. Among them are Amnesty International U.S.A., the New York City Bar Association, the Paris Bar Association, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, and the American Medical Women’s Association.

Most recently added to the call to lift the ban is a powerful letter from Women’s Synergie for Victims of Sexual Violence co-founder Justine Masika Bihamba, who works in the conflict area of Eastern Congo. To read Justine’s letter, click here. President Obama now has support from all over the world to lift these restrictions via an executive order.  

In wake of the response to Rep. Akin’s remarks from both Democrats and Republicans alike, the US must now support its words through actions. It is time for President Obama to issue an executive order lifting the abortion ban and ensure that girls and women raped in war are also allowed to make their own health care decisions. A girl or woman impregnated by rape should not be forced to bear the child of her rapist – whether it is in the United States or in armed conflict zones around the world.