Global Justice Center Blog

CEDAW Hearing Encouraging, U.S. Ratification Long Overdue

Great press release by The National Organization For Women evaluating Thursday’s Senate Judiciary, Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law hearing on the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Global Justice Center especially commends NOW’s stance on the need for the ratification of CEDAW without any Reservations, Declarations and Understandings (RDUs).

November 19, 2010

NOW applauds Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for chairing a first-ever Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Eight years have lagged since the last hearing for the human rights treaty signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

“Women around the world have waited more than 30 years for the U.S. to ratify this treaty. In an age when women can be stoned to death for surviving rape, and women are 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty worldwide, it is unconscionable for a vocal reactionary minority to keep our country sitting on the sidelines. This hearing can be a significant step forward with very much deserved pressure on the Senate,” said NOW Action Vice President Erin Matson, who attended the Nov. 18 hearing on Capitol Hill.

To date, 185 countries have ratified CEDAW, and even though the United States helped draft the treaty, it is the only industrialized country that has yet to ratify. The other six countries that have refused to ratify CEDAW are Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Nauru, Palau and Tonga.

CEDAW is the most comprehensive international agreement on the basic human rights of women and girls. U.S. ratification would lend weight to the treaty and the principle that women’s human rights are universal across all cultures, nations and religions, and worthy of being guaranteed through international standards.

Matson noted: “Until the U.S. ratifies CEDAW, it can neither credibly demand that other countries live up to their obligations under the treaty, nor claim that it is a leader in the global human rights community.”

The next step toward ratification is for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to hold a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If the treaty is approved by the committee, it must then be brought to a full vote on the Senate floor. Women in the U.S. and around the world stand to benefit greatly under CEDAW ratification, so NOW is using its RATIFY WOMEN! national action campaign to call on the committee chair to: “Hurry, Kerry!”

“Women around the world want to know: Are Senators for women’s human rights, or are they against them? It’s well past time for a floor vote,” said Matson.

NOW’s call comes with an additional appeal — that CEDAW be ratified without the Reservations, Declarations and Understandings (RDUs) that prior administrations and conservative senators attached to the treaty. These RDUs, in essence, are loopholes that would undermine key provisions, and their presence creates a watered-down U.S. version of the treaty. The RDUs convey a lack of commitment to ending discrimination against women and specifically claim no responsibility for the U.S. to undertake efforts to expand maternity leave, improve access to health care services for women, or take more effective efforts to address sex-based pay discrimination, among other objectives designed to promote women’s equality.

“Ratifying CEDAW with debilitating RDUs attached would hurt the cause of women’s rights worldwide,” said Matson. “NOW urges ratification of a strong, clean CEDAW to display this nation’s commitment to improving human rights for women in all areas covered by this important treaty.”

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For Immediate Release
Contact: Mai Shiozaki w. 202-628-8669, ext. 116, c. 202-595-4473

At UN Human Rights Council, Norwegian Government Recommends that the United States Remove its Restrictions that Deny Abortions to Victims Raped in Conflict

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 11, 2010

[NORWAY] - Norway became the first country to challenge the legality of the anti-abortion conditions that the United States imposes on all of its foreign aid, in a question posed at the Universal Periodic Review of the United States before the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

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GJC in Geneva: Challenging US Policy that Denies Abortions to Victims Raped in Conflict

We are pleased to share with you a crucial step in our work to repeal the illegal U.S. policy that prevents women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict from accessing abortions.

Previously, we wrote about the international legal arguments that we were developing to challenge the abortion restrictions that the United States places on all of its humanitarian aid going to organizations and governments working in conflict countries.

After six months of research and advocacy, Janet, Akila, and Gina from the Global Justice Center are in Geneva raising these legal arguments at the UN Human Rights Council’s Review of the United States. They are meeting with member states of the Human Rights Council to urge them to question the US about these restrictions that effectively deny necessary care to the thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated during war.

Today, we are excited to report that Norway has taken the lead by submitting the following question:

“The Global Justice Center (GJC) filed a shadow report for the universal periodic review of the US expressing concern with regard to US blanket abortion restriction on humanitarian aid and abortion speech restrictions on US rule of law and democracy programs. Does the US have any plans to remove its blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering the medical care given women and girls who are raped and impregnated in situations of armed conflict? Does the US government apply abortion speech restrictions on its rule of law and democracy programs?”

These questions form the very basis of the Human Rights Council’s recommendations. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is the UN body tasked with monitoring the human rights records of the 192 members of the United Nations. Every four years, member states are required to have a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in front of the Human Rights Council, during which each country receives recommendations on how to comply with their human rights obligations.

The US State Department has said they intend to comply with the UNHRC’s recommendations, so Norway’s questions sets the stage for changing U.S. policy in order to better protect and advance the rights of women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict.

Women who have been raped and impregnated in armed conflict in countries such as the Congo and Sudan have the legal right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions. This includes the right to abortions wherever victims of rape request them.

As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States must change its policy of attaching conditions to its humanitarian aid which prohibit recipients from speaking about abortion.

Click here to read the Global Justice Center’s Call to Action that we are distributing right now to Human Rights Council member states in Geneva.

GJC Staff Members Attend Rally to Take Rape Seriously

On Tuesday, November 9, 2010 several GJC staff members attended The Rally to Take Rape Seriously hosted by NOW-NYC in conjunction with other anti-violence advocacy groups working to protect women and girls.  Tony Simmons, a NYC juvenile justice counselor, pleaded guilty to raping one teenage girl and sexually assaulting two others while they were in his custody.  The Manhattan Supreme Court Justice in the case has proposed a sentence of probation, meaning a self-admitted rapist, who violated underage girls whom he was employed to keep safe, will not be serving any jail time.


This unfortunate incident is one more clear illustration of the vast amount of work necessary on many different fronts before women and girls can readily access safety and justice.  The Global Justice Center occupies a distinct position in the movement to end violence against women by employing international humanitarian and human rights law for the purpose of protecting victims of violence and discrimination.  While GJC projects focus on the legal rights of women abroad, in countries like Iraq, Burma, and Sierra Leone, we are reminded that women still lack access to rights here in the United States as well. 

The rally highlighted this serious deficiency in the US justice system as women speakers pointed out the implications of Tony Simmons’ unjust proposed sentence: that girls with a criminal record are less deserving of justice than others; that the calculated taking of advantage of such girls should be rewarded with extremely lenient sentences; and that these victims are being failed twofold—first by Tony Simmons, and second by the system which has been created to protect them.

Re-victimization of the most vulnerable groups of girls and women comes in many forms.  The DRC has been named one of the worst places on earth to be a woman due to high numbers of rape and torture the female population endures.  (Note that there are also high numbers of men being raped in the Congo.)  US restrictions on foreign aid that prohibit providing or even discussing abortions, an essential medical service, are a policy that further punishes victims of rape and impregnation in conflict zones, forcing women and girls to carry unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies to term.

Rally participants are doing crucial work to draw attention to institutionalized, entrenched discrimination which acts as “salt in the wounds” of people who have already suffered unimaginably.  The global anti-violence and women’s equality movements rely on activism in every form, combating these issues from numerous angles and different perspectives.  The rally serves as a reminder that these injustices are not unique to war-torn countries and are a testament to the importance of human rights organizations in creating awareness and advocating for change.

To sign the petition urging Justice Cassandra Mullins to give Tony Simmons a just sentence this upcoming Monday, November 15, follow this link:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/now-nyc_justiceforassaultvictims/

For more information on this story:

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/10/03/2010-10-03_raped_by_judge_and_justice_system.html

http://jezebel.com/5657224/counselor-rapes-3-girls-merely-sentenced-to-probation