Global Justice Center Blog

UK Baroness Uddin Uses GJC Legal Arguements in House of Lords Debate to Call for end to Discriminatory Care of Women Raped in Conflict

In her statement last Thursday, UK Baroness Uddin used a new legal argument from the Global Justice Center to call for the end to the routine denial of access to abortions for women who are raped and impregnated in conflict. Baroness Uddin identified the United States policy of censoring humanitarian aid recipients from speaking about or providing access to abortions as playing a major role in the continuing violation of the rights of these victims and called on the UK to ask questions of the United States about this policy when it is reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council. 

From UK House of Lords debate on the Millennium Development Goals, October 7, 2010, at link below, columns 307-308:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/101007-0002.htm#10100714000795

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for initiating this important discussion. In the UK we should be rightly proud of the British leadership in advancing the millennium development goals which represent a vision of a world transformed where equality and justice prevail.

However, while we are very pleased, one group of women remains outside the MDG effort. Until we address this failure, we cannot speak of real progress. Today I ask our Government to call explicitly for girls and women who are forcibly impregnated by the vicious use of rape in armed conflict to be included under MDG 5-reducing maternal mortality. “Rape as a weapon of war” is a phrase commonly used accurately to describe what is happening alongside today’s armed conflicts, but we rarely speak about the consequences of this weapon. Thousands of girls and women impregnated by rape used as a weapon of war are routinely denied access to abortions. Girls and women die from their attempts to self-abort and from suicide resulting from untold stigmatization leading to social marginalization.

We should do what no other country has done: to ensure that the humanitarian medical aid provided to girls and women in places such as Congo, Sudan and Burma-an endless list of countries-gives them choices and access to abortion when pregnancy is a direct result of rape as a weapon of war. This is a moral imperative and a legal obligation. The Geneva Convention requires that civilians and combatant victims receive non-discriminatory medical care, whether it is provided by the state in conflict or by others. Why, then, are pregnant rape victims given discriminatory medical care through the routine denial of access to abortion? The embedded inequality towards women in conflict settings has been recognised by the Security Council in such historic resolutions as 1325 and 1820. Equal justice for women is not limited to the courtroom, it must be extended to supporting those women who are victims of the inhuman practice of rape as a weapon of war.

I draw the attention of the House to the recent report of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Oxfam, which details examples of the impact, stigma and suffering of raped children and women in Congo, Sudan and elsewhere, where no legal provision exists to support them. It also mentions that women should be given preventive care-that is, utilisation of contraception-as though women who are raped can be prepared for such horrors.

One of the solutions proposed by women’s organisations, including the international human rights organisation the Global Justice Center, is that access to abortion must be a critical part of the support available to women. The centre filed a shadow report with the Human Rights Council asking it to recommend that the US remove the prohibitions put on humanitarian aid to rape victims in conflict, as it violates the US obligation under the Geneva Convention. The UK can and must support this issue by asking questions of the US during the council’s review process due shortly.

I know that these are difficult matters for many individuals and countries to address, and international donor communities have thus far resisted pressurising countries to review their policies. Neither criminal abortion laws in the conflict state nor foreign aid contracts with the United States can serve as defence to a state provision of discriminatory medical care to all victims under international humanitarian law.

Time is short, and I should have liked to highlight many examples of countries such as Bangladesh where the suffering and humiliation of rape has left decades of suffering, ill health and stigma. The UK must take a lead to end that discrimination. This will mark real progress towards the millennium development goals and towards ensuring equal rights for women under international humanitarian law.

“Advancing Human Rights and Ending Impunity in Burma: Which External Leverage?” Report Released

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and, Global Justice Center partner, the Burma Lawyers Council (BLC) released a report entitled: “Advancing Human Rights and Ending Impunity in Burma: Which External Leverage?”. The report catalogues the presentations of leading exiled Burmese organizations, international and regional human rights NGOs, as well as renowned international legal experts from an FIDH-BLC joint seminar in May 2009.

As said by 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi in the introduction of the report: “We know that there can be no effective treatment by simply wiping the slate clean and starting anew…Burma cannot claim international legitimacy by merely plastering onto one of the worst dictatorial systems in the world a mask of democracy that fools no one.”

Global Justice Center President Janet Benshoof gave the keynote remarks, calling to end impunity in Burma through an International Criminal Court (ICC) referral, which would demand criminal accountability. This accountability is essential to sustainable peace and national reconciliation in Burma:

“The legal duty to ensure Senior General Than Shwe and other top criminal perpetrators are prosecuted for perpetrating crimes of concern to the global community is neither an option nor a “lever” for change. This legal duty, just like the criminal culpability of these perpetrators, exists today and forever. It can never be negated, suspended, or replaced by a statute of limitation, peace agreements, talks, sanctions, elections, negotiations or amnesties.

However, generations of men, women, and children of all ethnic and religious backgrounds have lived and died in Burma without knowing peace, without having received any forms of redress or justice and, without experiencing the most basic guarantees of human dignity embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are entitled to justice in their lifetime. I believe we can make this happen.”

Please access the full report here:

http://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/FIDH_BLC_Burma_seminar_final_internet.pdf

To read more about criminal accountability in Burma, please reference the Global Justice Center “How to Talk About Burma” tool:

http://globaljusticecenter.net/publications/Advocacytools/BurmaQ&A.pdf

Personal Reflections on Summer Internship at GJC

The most inspirational part about working at GJC is discovering the idea that you can and will find a way to justice through the law. The importance is just to start; even with the smallest idea.

— Sai Sam P. Seng, Sandler Justice Entrepreneur Fellow, Summer 2010

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One specific aim I had interning at GJC was to work on the Burma Project. Later, I realized I have learned more than I expected and beyond the project.

As a program intern under the Burma Project, I began research on the 2008 Burma Constitution as assigned, later documenting all crimes committed by the military regime since they seized state power. I am from Burma and know the true situation there. Documenting the crimes, and reading the victims’ stories made my heart ache. Such stories woke me up to amending the injustice rooted in Burmese law for decades.

During my time at GJC, one valuable new thing I have explored is feminism, specifically the Helms laws and Gag rules. It taught me that words such as “sex, abortion, intercourse, and rape” are barred or censored from discussion among organizations when using United States foreign aid money. Learning that GJC battles to clear up this barrier, I am impressed and hope to engage more in this gender issue. This piece of information provides me with a new perspective to study in my US foreign policy class fall semester.

One life-long perspective I gained from GJC is the ability to use the international system along with legal tools to enforce UN and US mechanisms for global policy change. I refer to the GJC method as: “a new recipe to boil down unjust systems in countries that oppress their own citizens.” While the international community still debates on the issue of how to react to state actors going against their own people, GJC is already vocal and playing a leading role in what to do with countries upholding unjust principles. I wish I had a chance to learn more about using these legal tools to monitor the global mechanism.

Armed with new knowledge, legal tools and critical eyes gained at GJC, I am certain that my senior year thesis will turn out to be an excellent one. as my concentration is international studies, the GJC strategies and tactics really assist my studies and vision. Overall, I gained enormously more knowledge than I expected. GJC’s incredible work has really had a huge impact on my life, making me more commited to working for a future democratic Burma.

Sai Sam P. Seng is a senior at SUNY Plattsburgh, majoring in International Studies.

Reflections on a GJC Summer

Through conducting social media research for the Global Justice Center each week, I have been continuously observing thoughtful conversations occurring within and between online communities on crucial issues of human rights and international law. I recently came across a news article discussing the pros and cons of transitional justice efforts such as truth and reconciliation commissions and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The fact that the author expressed a deeply critical, less-than-optimistic view of such institutions didn’t come as a surprise to me; skeptics exist everywhere and the sphere of international human rights is no exception. What did shock me, however, was the extent to which he was so certain of the inevitable path of failure that all international justice mechanisms seem to be moving towards.

While the writer continued to question the effectiveness of transitional justice processes throughout his piece, I felt the urge to point out that many of these entities are incredibly young, with the ICC itself having undergone a thorough five-year review just last month. Not to mention all of the historical victories (i.e. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission) that have paved the way for nations to transition from periods of prolonged conflict to states of peace and emerge stronger. Reading the article reminded me of all that must be done globally to break down this cynicism surrounding the use of international law as a tangible strategy for human rights enforcement. Fortunately, I get to witness this kind of work being done every day in the valuable, on-the-ground projects that the GJC does in BurmaIraq, and Sierra Leone as well as its engagement with U.S. Foreign Policy.

As a principal actor in the movement for a world in which nation-states cannot act with impunity and allow their citizens to become victims of war crimes, be imprisoned for their political beliefs, or fall prey to any other forms of human rights abuse, the GJC recognizes the importance of such entities as international courts and tribunals. In fact, the very foundation of the GJC’s Burma strategy is the contention that the situation in Burma must be referred to the ICC. Through the tasks I have performed, the events I have attended, and the conversations I have had with GJC staff, I have learned that strategies such as this one truly do work and are very much essential to the advancement of international human rights.

After spending three months at the Global Justice Center, I can say that I have been given deep insight into the utter significance of legal human rights advocacy work in today’s world. Seeing the innovative ways in which the GJC analyzes legal tools and frames its arguments has only affirmed and strengthened my faith in transitional justice and human rights through the rule of law. So much so, indeed, that I hope to take my summer experience at the GJC and work to build a future career in the field of human rights law. For me, the GJC is not simply a stepping stone in this process; it is the foundation.

Natasha Mir is a senior at Vassar College with an independent major in Peace and Conflict Studies and a minor in Arabic Language and Culture. This year she is writing a thesis on the history of religious-based, nonviolent movements for peace in the Palestinian territories.