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.

Countdown to August 12th: Will the U.S. Step Up to the Plate at This Year’s Universal Periodic Review?

At the 2nd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States, five countries- Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom- urged the U.S. to reconsider its stance on the Helms Amendment. This amendment makes it illegal for any U.S. foreign aid to be directed to abortion services. This leaves many women and girls who are victims of war rape no choice but to carry the child of their rapist or unsafely try to abort it themselves. The Helms Amendment impinges upon the rights of women and girls in conflict, and is in violation of the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Geneva Conventions.

The UN Security Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, countries and organizations around the world have recognized the gravity of the Helms Amendment and the necessity for clarification so that women and girls in conflict can have access to the medical care that they need.

Out of the 293 women and girls who were rescued from Boko Haram in Nigeria, one-third of them are pregnant. 214 of these women and girls are being denied proper care, and this is the fate of many others around the world.

The Obama administration has 3 months to respond to these charges and overturn the Helms Amendment and its abortion ban. GJC encourages President Obama to respond to these suggestions as soon as possible, as the end of the 3-month time frame for U.S. response to UPR recommendations, falls on August 12th, 2015. August 12th is the anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, and is also the inspiration for GJC’s August 12th Campaign to “Ensure the Right to Safe Abortion for Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict.”

Pressure is mounting and the clock is ticking. Will the U.S. overturn the Helms Amendment by the deadline, and show the world that it is upholding its obligations under the Geneva Conventions?

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GJC Participates in Third Annual Women Law Summit at the NYU School of Law, titled, "Women in Conflict: Gender, Violence, and Peacekeeping"

Friday, 20 February, 2015 at 11:30am - 5:15pm

At Vanderbilt Hall, Greenberg Lounge

On February 20th,  NYU School of Law held its third annual  women's law summit which coincided  with  the 15th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325. The Summit sought to educate participants about  women's roles within conflict and their various means of empowerment, especially within  the legal system. The all-female panels were composed of practicing lawyers, doctors, academics, and theorists. GJC founder and president Janet Benshoof gave the keynote address, highlighting the organizations projects, such as a campaign for the prosecution of rape as a prohibited weapon,  and a campaign seeking the provision of abortions for women  in conflict. Further, GJC, who advocates "power, not pity," was referenced several times throughout the following panels, as speakers detailed  the ways in which women  might act in conflict. Akila Radhakrishnan, legal director  of GJC sat on the final panel about  women  and the transformation of the legal space, where she spoke on the opportunity for transforming women's rights in Burma.

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Fact Sheet: Stopping The Use Of Rape As A Tactic Of War: A New Approach

There is a global consensus that the mass rape of girls and women is routinely used as a tactic or “weapon” of war in contemporary armed conflicts.1 Despite two decades of intense global efforts, rape used as a tactic of war continues undeterred. This is not surprising: rape is a cheap, powerful, and effective tool for military forces to use to kill and mutilate women and children, force pregnancy, terrorize families and communities, demoralize enemy forces, and accomplish genocide.

Rape used to further military objectives or the strategic aims of a conflict (“strategic rape”), constitutes a prohibited tactic or method of warfare under international humanitarian law.

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Women, Peace, and Security: Janet Benshoof, President, Global Justice Center

The last two decades have seen a dramatic transformation in the Security Council’s (Council) role in advancing and enforcing international humanitarian law (IHL). The changing nature of armed conflict, the universal acceptance of human rights, the calcification of certain precepts of international law into jus cogens, and advances in international law have all redefined the limits of state sovereignty and influenced the modern understanding of the Council’s mandate under the United Nations Charter (Charter).

Within this new paradigm, the Council has made protecting civilians in armed conflict central to its duty to maintain international peace and security. As part of this effort, the Council has passed a series of resolutions addressing the impact of armed conflict on women and the use of sexual violence in conflict (Women, Peace and Security Series, WPS Series).2 Despite these efforts, the resolutions have failed to achieve one of the Council’s main goals – ending sexual violence perpetrated against women in armed conflicts around the world.

The chapter, Women, Peace and Security, in the forthcoming publication, Security Council in the Age of Human Rights, examines the Council’s actions in the WPS Series against its duties to act under the evolving imperatives of IHL, in particular those rules considered jus cogens. The chapter argues that the Council has a duty to take stronger and more effective measures to address sexual violence against girls and women in armed conflict, in order to successfully deter its use.

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GJC Hosts High-Level Panel on Sexual Violence in Burma at the United Nations

Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 3:00pm-4:30pm

At UN Secretariat, Room 9

On Thursday, April 24, 2014 the Global Justice Center, together with the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Amnesty International and the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security hosted a side event to the Security Council Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. The interactive panel included distinguished guests such as Naw K’nyaw Paw, Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization and grassroots activist working on empowering women and assisting sexual violence survivors in Burma; H.E. Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and H.E. David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations. The panel was moderated by Nicole Bjerler of Amnesty International.

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UN Security Council Takes a Historic Stand Supporting Abortion Access for Women Raped in War

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October 18, 2013

[NEW YORK, NY] – In an historic first, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a groundbreaking resolution supporting abortion services for girls and women raped in armed conflict. Although the Security Council did not use the term “abortion” in Resolution 2122, its language makes clear that Member States and the UN must ensure that all options are given women impregnated by war rape: “noting the need for access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, including regarding pregnancies resulting from rape, without discrimination.”

Women Must be Included in Drafting Libya Constitution

On May 29, 2013, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for the active participation of women in the drafting of Libya’s constitution-drafting. The statement stresses the significant role Libyan women played in the February Revolution and the continued role they play in public life. The impact women had on the revolution is certainly true, but, we are missing a decisive point – that the participation of women in the drafting process (as well as in the political process in general) is a legal obligation under international law.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, along with CEDAW, stipulate that women should be included in the drafting of national constitutions. As applied to Libya, the Security Council resolutions, which pertain to enhanced gender roles and protections, and CEDAW, a treaty that encompasses recommendations for advancing women’s rights, are relevant in two ways. First, the laws demand women’s participation because of Libya’s post-conflict status. Security Council Resolution 1889 states that nations should ensure women’s participation during all stages of peace processes, especially post-conflict planning and peace building, by enhancing female engagement in decision making from the early stages of the recovery process. Similarly, CEDAW’s General Recommendation 23 states that women must participate in the formulation and implementation of government policy, as well as hold public office. Following the “Declaration of liberation,” Libya is currently a post-conflict state and thus falls within the scope of SCR 1889. Furthermore, the constitution-drafting process appears to be the very type of early-stage planning in which women must be involved. A constitution is a primary source of policy and law; women must be included in its drafting process.

The second way CEDAW and the Security  Council resolutions pertain to the Libyan constitution-drafting process is that they call for heightened gender perspectives in decision making processes. The special needs of women are better protected by female point of view in the lawmaking process. Thus, special measures should be taken to ensure women’s political participation. Both UNSC Resolution 1325 and CEDAW directly call for increased gender perspective; however, the latter legal entity goes one step further. In its fifth General Recommendation, CEDAW emphasizes the use of temporary special measures, such as preferential treatment or quota systems, to ensure the inclusion of a critical mass of women in governing bodies. The 23rd General Recommendation further explains that this mere removal ofde jure barriers is necessary but not sufficient, and that states must also work to address cultural barriers and stereotypes, facilitate the recruitment of female candidates, provide financial assistance and training and amend electoral procedures to ensure critical mass.

The optimal means to ensure that a gender perspective manifests in Libyan society is to entrench these values into the constitution. Such steps are legally stipulated by international law, and the appropriate means to attain gender equality, according to CEDAW, are expected to be taken without delay. To reach gender equality, CEDAW recommends temporary measures that per se favor women. A state’s social and cultural practices that are contrary to the equality goal are not accepted reasons to violate its obligations. Libya is no exception. It is the responsibility of the State to provide avenues for women to ascend to office, by reserving public office opportunities for women, as well as actively working to overcome the stigma that may preclude women from becoming candidates.

Democratic practice is also subject to international law on gender equality. In other words, a lack of female representation is not permitted merely as a failure of the population to vote for female candidates. CEDAW recommends that states use electoral instruments to ensure that at least a minimum number of women – that goes beyond mere “tokenism” and is estimated to be between 30 and 35 percent of legislative seats – in order to receive a “critical mass.”

Libya admittedly took steps towards increasing female representation by using a quota (ten percent of seats) in the first democratic election after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. However, this figure is well short of the thirty to thirty-five percent that CEDAW’s General Recommendation 23 provides is necessary for adequate representation. Furthermore, the ten percent quota utilized in Libya is ambiguous and may actually serve as a ceiling for female representation. Finally, the quota only applies to a narrow category of politicians that make up a small proportion of the government assembly.

With these concerns in mind, GJC welcomes UNMSIL’s announcement, but seeks to ensure that Libya goes further to guarantee women the political power and voice they are due according to international law. The new Libyan Constitution is an opportunity to realize gender equality and protect women’s international human rights, as enumerated by the UNSC and CEDAW. Not only do women deserve a seat at the table in drafting Libya’s constitution, as UNMSIL notes, from their participation in the February Revolution, but also as a matter of international law. All efforts must be taken to ensure women’s participation in the constitution-drafting process, and in electoral politics. Such measures will enable the country’s further democratization as it develops in the wake of the revolution.

UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security: A Chart Detailing State Mandates to End Crimes of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, Ensure Accountability and Promote Gender Parity in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations

The following chart details the legally-binding mandates of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), and 1960 (2010) – emphasizing the need for greater protection of women‟s rights and the inclusion of women in global governance and peace processes. The chart delineates the duties and obligations for action by 1) the UN Secretary-General, and 2) Myanmar/Burma [hereinafter Burma], as both a UN member state and a party to armed conflict.

Despite their application to Burma, the Resolutions have not brought any real and concrete change for girls and women on the ground. The inability of UN representatives to reach conflict areas in Burma severely obstructs the reporting mechanisms of SCR 1960. Additionally, since the Constitution of Burma gives complete amnesty for any and all crimes committed by the ruling military regime, the Burmese government precludes any meaningful accountability and justice mechanism for the women victims of sexual violence and enshrines further impunity for perpetrators.

The Global Justice Center is a New York based Human Rights Organization with consultative status to the United Nations working with judges, parliamentarians and civil society leaders on the strategic and timely enforcement of international equality guarantees. The Global Justice Center has been at the forefront of human rights advocacy in Burma by working closely with groups on the ground to implement international women‟s rights through the rule of law.

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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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Unlawful Convictions of Burmese Political Prisoners are Crimes Against Humanity – U.N. Security Council Should Refer Burma to the International Criminal Court

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 19, 2008

[NEW YORK, NY] - Certain judges in Burma, acting under the orders of Chief Justice U Aung Toe and Senior General Than Shwe, are themselves criminally liable as co-conspirators to crimes against humanity for their acts in “trying” and “convicting” 60 political activists last week. “These acts are the latest from the junta which uses the judiciary as one of its key weapons to commit grave crimes,” says Global Justice Center President Janet Benshoof. Judges including those listed below are criminally culpable and must be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Criminal Accountability for Heinous crimes in Burma, A Joint Project of the Global Justice Center and the Burma’s Lawyers’ Council

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - July, 2008

[NEW YORK, NY] - The Security Council should act under its Chapter 7 powers and end the impunity accorded the Burmese military junta for crimes perpetrated against the people of Burma. The junta uses torture, gang rape of ethnic women, slavery, murder, mass imprisonment, and abduction of children to fill military quotas in order to retain its power in what is a failed state. These acts go far beyond a repudiation of democracy; they are criminal violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including violations of the Geneva Conventions. There is a growing international consensus that no safe harbor should exist for perpetrators of heinous crimes. The Project on Criminal Accountability for Heinous Crimes in Burma seeks a Security Council resolution establishing an Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the commission in Burma of the most serious of crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, which threaten the peace, security and well being of the world.

In the Wake of Historic Resolution 1820 on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict Women of Burma and International Lawyers Call on the Security Council to Refer the Situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—June 20, 2008

[NEW YORK, NY] - The United Nation’s Security Council took a historic step with the passage of Resolution 1820 on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict. Resolution 1820 recognizes the importance of full implementation of Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and reaffirms the Security Council’s commitment to end sexual violence as a weapon of war and a means to terrorize populations and destroy communities. For this commitment to be meaningful, the Security Council must provide justice for victims of sexual violence in armed conflict even when it is not politically convenient.

The Critical Role of Criminal Accountability in Establishing Rule of Law Based on Gender Equality

There is growing consensus in international law that grave violations of international humanitarian law are a threat to international peace and security and that the world community has a moral and legal duty to intervene if the state is the perpetrator, or cannot or will not stop the crimes. Perpetrators of gender-based crimes must be held accountable in order to ensure a rule  of law based on gender equality. 

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