Global Justice Center Blog

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.

July News Update: International Day of Peace & What it Means for Burma

On July 17th the world celebrated International Justice Day, the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court.

In honor of this important landmark, the Global Justice Center reaffirms its commitment to enforcing these international human rights laws to create a more just world. In this GJCnews, we share how we are working to use the law to end the impunity of the military in Burma and ensure that the men, women, and children in Burma finally realize justice and peace.

Read the Full Newsletter

Ten Years Later: Enforcing Security Council Resolution 1325 for the Women of Burma

The passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325) in 2000 was a legal milestone for women’s equality. For the first time, the UN Security Council not only recognized the gender-specific impact of conflict and historic gender discrimination in criminal accountability, it also underscored the need for women to participate in postconflict reconstruction. Ten years later, the military junta in Burma continues to flout this legal obligation through the routine and systematic use of gender based crimes and the utter exclusion of women from peacebuilding processes. To ensure respect for the legal obligations set out in SCR 1325, the international community must address the situation on the ground for women in Burma, and women of Burma in exile.

Rampant Impunity for Gender Based Crimes
There is substantial documentation that sexual violence is used by the military junta against ethnic women in Burma as a means to consolidate military rule and destroy ethnic communities. Virtually none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. These crimes are a threat to international peace and security.

Three concrete examples of this sexual violence include:

  • October 23 to November 4, 2004 – Four Mon women held by SPDC troops at their base and repeatedly gang raped (Catwalk to the Barracks, Mon Women’s Organization, 2004)
  • October 9, 2006 – Palaung woman raped, her skull cracked open and stabbed four times in her left breast (Rights Yearbook, Human Rights Documentation Unit, 2006)
  • October 10, 2006 – Three naval cadets raped a 14 year old girl, none of the cadets were punished and the girl was forced to marry one of her rapists. (Burma Human Rights Yearbook, 2006)

On July 15, 2009, Burma was reported to the Security Council by the Secretary-General as a country violating Resolution 1820, citing to the impunity afforded to the military’s systematic use of sexual violence against women. Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1888 note that such crimes against women can constitute war crimes, a crime against humanity or a constituent act with respect to genocide. The Resolutions require that all perpetrators of these crimes be prosecuted in either domestic or international courts. SCR 1820 specifically recalls the Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court and prohibits any amnesties for these crimes.

Exclusion of Women from the Peacekeeping Process
Women’s peacebuilding organizations are based in neighboring countries, mainly Thailand, as a result of the stranglehold the military regime executes over all aspects of political, social and economic life in Burma. Under a constant threat to their safety, women’s organizations operate on very limited resources, and without the partnerships of UN bodies in the region. These women’s organizations are working tirelessly and courageously in the harshest of conditions to document the increasing human rights abuses by the military; and to educate women on their rights to political empowerment. However, despite the important perspectives these groups offer they are excluded from any international dialogue that takes place about Burma.

The International Community Must Uphold the Legal Obligations of SCR 1325
Recognizing that systematic crimes of sexual violence trigger the United Nations Security Council obligations under Resolution 1325 and 1820 to provide justice and accountability, the Global Justice Center advocates for the immediate launch of a Commission of Inquiry in Burma and a Security Council referral of the situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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