Yes, Human Rights belong in the UN Security Council, but they also belong in the White House

As global tensions mount and with daily atrocities in the news, there is increasing concern over how to protect civilians and vulnerable populations. The US holds the Presidency of the UN Security Council for April and has a chance to take a strong stance in defense of human rights. Instead, the US’ plans to hold an open briefing on human rights at the Security Council has some concerned it will serve to undermine already existing international bodies devoted to protecting human rights and further polarize attempts to address human rights abuses.

The discussion is being branded as the first ever human rights debate in the Council, which is not entirely true. Human rights are regularly discussed in thematic agendas and contexts such as peacekeeping, issuing of sanctions, or when setting up commissions of inquiry or referrals to the International Criminal Court. Viewed in isolation, a discussion highlighting the nexus of human rights and international peace and security is welcome and appears extremely timely. For some time, advocates and the UN have been calling for a preventative approach by putting human rights at the heart of the Security Council’s actions, given the Council’s failure to act in light of the most egregious human rights abuses.

Reference Language on Abortion and IHL

This document provides information from key policies, reports, resolutions and books from 2010-2017 on abortion as protected care for girls and women raped in war under international humanitarian law.

Download PDF

Trump could be committing serious war crimes and crimes against humanity

by Eva Marie Wüst Vestergaard

Over the course of the campaign trail, US president elect Donald Trump suggested many proposals on how to defeat ISIS. Many of which, including the use of torture, drone strikes, and nuclear weapons, would violate international law if fulfilled.

Trump has previously criticized the US for their politically correctness in the fight against ISIS, and he has instead offered proposals that if enacted, would constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In one proposal, Trump approves torture as a tool in the war against terrorists. In an interview for NBC he said, “Well I’m not looking to break any news on your show, but frankly the waterboarding, if it was up to me, and if we changed the laws or have the laws, waterboarding would be fine,”. Trump supported this with the argument that ISIS do not follow the law; “You know, we work within laws. They don’t work within laws – they have no laws. We work within laws. The waterboarding would be fine, and if they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding.”

Waterboarding is an act of torture and hence violates the Convention against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and bounds parties in armed conflicts to treat hostages humanely. Torture is immoral because it dehumanizes people. Not just the tortured but also the torturers are severely affected.

Using torture as a tool in war would also have negative consequences for the US as a state because it infringes on the global rule of law. Instead of a social system based on justice, the system would be based on force. This goes against the fundamental values, such as independence and democracy, on which America has been built and which define America’s strong role in the world today.

Even more alarming, in the war against terrorism, Trump has said he would take measures that would kill innocent people. The president elect has expressed willingness for using drone strikes and nuclear weapons to fight terrorists. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Trump said, “As far as drones are concerned, yes, to take out terrorists. The only thing is I want them to get it right. But to take out terrorists yes I think that is something I would continue to do.” In another interview for the MSNBC, he questioned the lack of using nuclear weapons against ISIS; “Somebody hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?”

Such actions would not merely hit ISIS but also civilians in war zones. A consequence which Trump did not seem to care for when proposing to hurt terrorists through their potentially innocent families in an interview with Fox News; "The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”

Attacking civilians violates the Geneva Convention which prohibits attacks on civilians and bounds distinction between civilians and combatants. Non-combatants are innocent people that may not be supporting the conflict. This includes children, women and elderly. The US should not be recognized as a state that explicitly targets and kills innocents.

The intention to defeat ISIS is not a cover for committing illegal acts. Violating international law will not make America great, only worse. Therefore, it is more important than ever that America upholds its obligations to the international community and not break humanitarian law. It is equally important that the international community hold the US accountable if and when it commits such crimes.

Photo: Gage Skidmore

Remembering ISIS' Crimes of Genocide Against Yazidis on the Anniversary of the Sinjar Massacre

by Jessica Zaccagnino

With the rise of non-state terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State, the strategic face of war has changed. This shift has subsequently altered the experience of civilians in armed conflict. In this changing landscape, women and girls face distinct horrors in comparison to men.

Groups such as ISIS have been perpetuating genocide against minorities in controlled territories, notably against the Yazidis. These violent extremists target women and men differently when committing crimes of genocide. In addition to systematic murder, ISIS subjects women to sexual slavery, forced marriages, rape, forced impregnation, and other gender-specific crimes of genocide. Despite the distinct tactics that are being used to commit genocide, the gender reality of genocide is often overlooked when enforcing the Genocide Convention. Global Justice Center’s Genocide Project fights against the gender-gap in responding to crimes of genocide perpetrated by extremist groups, like ISIS, and seeks to ensure that the laws of war work for, and not against, women.

On the morning of August 3rd, 2014, ISIS forces entered the Sinjar region in Northern Iraq, only months after declaring itself a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria. The region has a high population of Yazidi people, an ethno-religious Kurdish minority that has been heavily targeted by the ISIS insurgency. In Sinjar alone, 5,000 men were killed, thousands of women were systematically raped and sold into sexual slavery, and over 150,000 Yazidis were displaced. When ISIS took Sinjar, men and boys over the age of ten were separated from women and children, and most, as evidence of mass graves suggests, were killed. In the process of fleeing, an estimated 50,000 Yazidis were trapped in the Sinjar Mountains, with ISIS forces surrounding them. Although a majority of those trapped were able to eventually escape the mountainous region, the Sinjar Massacre left thousands dead, and thousands more enslaved. Yazidi women “have been systemically captured, killed, separated from their families, forcibly transferred and displaced, sold and gifted (and resold and re-gifted), raped, tortured, held in slavery and sexual slavery, forcibly married and forcibly converted.” These women have been targeted by ISIS solely on the basis of their gender and ethnicity, and such acts make clear ISIS’ genocidal intent to destroy the group in whole.

Despite the air drops of food, water, and supplies, the Yazidis trapped in the mountain siege survived in grim conditions—circumstances intended by ISIS to destroy the group. In addition to air drops, President Obama invoked the need to “prevent a potential act of genocide” as a justification for launching air strikes to rescue those trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Just this year, Secretary of State John Kerry officially declared that ISIS is committing genocide. It is vital for the United States to recognize the unique aspects of genocide that specifically target gender within the persecution of Yazidis when taking action against ISIS. Although the United States has taken a big step in declaring ISIS’ genocide, the United States must move beyond words. In fact, the United States is required by the Genocide Convention to take action against genocide. Yet, as the two-year anniversary of Sinjar approaches on August 3rd, the United States has still not taken any necessary further steps to combat ISIS’ genocidal crimes.

Making IHL Work For Women and Girls

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) has admirably taken on the task of rethinking and retooling humanitarian action to meet the challenges facing the world today. In modern conflicts, the increased targeting of civilians, including the strategic use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, means that humanitarian action must be tailored to respond to victims’ distinct needs. In other words, because humanitarian needs in conflict are specific, we need specific and relevant ways to respond to them.

Importantly, this response must be grounded in the rights of war victims under International Humanitarian Law (“IHL” or the laws of war). This includes comprehensive and non-discriminatory medical care, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support, and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence.

However, while the nature and face of modern conflict has changed, the laws of war have remained mired in the antiquated models of warfare they were derived from; men fighting men on defined battlefields. In the context of modern humanitarian action, where civilians constitute over 90% of those affected by war and where women and girls are often specifically targeted, this has meant that women and girls are left behind.

Download PDF

Gender and Genocide in the ICRtoP Blog

Read Global Justice Center Legal Director Akila Radhakrishnan’s explanation of the gender components of genocide in the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect Blog.

“It’s not enough to just recognize that acts such as sexual violence, abductions, enslavement, forced abortion, and forced impregnation—acts which are disproportionately committed against women—of protected groups can constitute genocide. Rather, the commission of such acts needs to impel action for states and international actors to fulfill their obligations to prevent, suppress and punish genocide. "

Lift the Ban: The Impact of US Abortion Restrictions on Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

When almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were recently kidnapped by local terrorist organization Boko Haram, the United States sent military and foreign aid to help rescue the victims and combat the threat posed by the militants. However, while the US support includes provisions for the victims’ protection and care, the abortion ban attached to US foreign aid bars the option of safe termination of pregnancies resulting from rape – in spite of the armed group’s announced intent to marry some of the schoolgirls and sell others into sex slavery.

In Nigeria, a major state-recipient of US foreign aid, girls and women are routinely raped as a tactic of war. This phenomenon is not unique to domestic terrorist organizations like Boko Haram, but is also practiced by the country’s military and police forces. When these rape victims, many of whom are young girls, become pregnant, the US abortion ban limits the services available to them and forces them to bear the children of their rapists. US policy thus increases the morbidity and mortality of girls and women who are impregnated by war rape.

Download PDF

Five Countries Directly Challenge US Abortion Restrictions at Universal Periodic Review

Today, during the Universal Periodic Review of United States, several member states of the UN Human Rights Council made statements condemning the anti-abortion restrictions that the US places on foreign aid, such as the Helms Amendment.

The UN Human Rights Council is responsible for monitoring the human rights records of the member states; every four years each country is reviewed and presented with recommendations on how to comply with their human rights duties.

The effects of Helms are can be seen in conflict zones around the world, most recently with the rescue of 214 pregnant Nigerian women from Boko Haram. The issue of comprehensive medical care has gained traction in recent months. As a result, today the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium and France orally recommended that the United States work to ensure access to safe abortions around the world and limit the negative impact of the Helms Amendment.

War rape is an illegal tactic of war, constituting torture or genocide, and denial of medical care allows the perpetuation of those crimes. The constraints of the Helms Amendment deny women and children access to safe abortions, and restrict aid agencies from even providing information about abortion services.

In September 2014, the Global Justice Center submitted a report to the UPR, highlighting the ways in which constraints against women’s reproductive rights are incompatible with the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In April 2015, GJC traveled throughout Europe advocating for countries to use the UPR process to question the current anti-abortion restrictions the US imposes.

In addition to the five oral questions, written recommendations were also submitted, requiring a response and justification, should the United States continue to uphold the Helms Amendment. The US government has three months to formulate a response. It is clear that the Obama Administration has a responsibility and urgent duty to remedy these violations.

Click here to read more. 

Pursuing Sexual Violence: UN Condemns Acts of Boko Haram

During activities for International Women’s Day of 2015 issues of escalating sexual violence were highlighted on a global scale and UN Secretary General explicitly called for action against groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS, who employ rape as a weapon of war. A report was released Monday in which the UN reiterated concern about the pervasive sexual violence in areas such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and Yemen.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence, such as forced pregnancy and marriage, are being condemned as a method of terrorism, employed by extremist groups in 19 different countries. The UN report criticizes 45 different groups for their use of sexual violence and particularly decries Boko Haram for their continued abuses.

The New York Times says, “In Sudan’s western Darfur region, it said the number of displaced civilians has increased over the past year and so have reports of sexual violence. And in South Sudan, it said sexual violence remains prevalent — including gang rape, castration, forced nudity and forced abortion — which is ‘exacerbated by impunity and a militarized society in which gender inequality is pronounced.’” However, Congo has made some encouraging progress, prosecuting officials for sexual violence and offering reparations to survivors.

In terms of Boko Haram’s violence, the report states, “Forced marriage, enslavement and the ‘sale’ of kidnapped women and girls are central to Boko Haram’s modus operandi and ideology. Abducted girls who refuse marriage or sexual contact within marriage have faced violence and death threats.”

The Global Justice Center has made recent efforts on behalf of the Chibok school girls, on the anniversary of their kidnapping,  GJC posted a letter to the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, urging action be taken against Boko Haram. GJC asked that the Chief Prosecutor investigate the kidnappings as an act of genocide, so as to spur immediate action and forestall the inevitably increase in similar attacks. Speaking about Boko Haram, General Ban Ki-moon said that actions such as these were, “an essential part of the fight against conflict-related sexual violence.”