Groundbreaking Legal Analysis of Gender-Based Crimes in Rakhine State

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 17, 2018

[New York] – The Global Justice Center (GJC) released a report today providing the first comprehensive legal analysis of the gender-based crimes committed against Rohingya women and girls in Rakhine State, amounting to crimes against humanity and genocide. 

Too often, the female victims of atrocity crimes are overlooked, their experiences lost in a narrative of violence centered around mass killings. This report highlights the central role that gender played in the design and commission of the atrocities carried out against the Rohingya. The Burmese military has a long history of using rape as a weapon against ethnic minorities, and the assault on the Rohingya was no exception—women and girls were systematically singled out for brutal rape and sexual violence. As one survivor testified, “I was lucky I was only raped by three men.” Accountability proceedings—whether at the domestic or international level—must take into account these gendered experiences.

Discrimination to Destruction: A Legal Analysis of Gender Crimes Against the Rohingya

Since August 2016, the Burmese military (Tatmadaw), Border Guard, and police forces have conducted a systematic campaign of brutal violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s northern Rakhine State. These attacks come in the midst of a decades-long campaign of persecution of the Rohingya through discriminatory measures to police and control the group, including denying citizenship rights, restricting movement and access to healthcare, and limiting marriage and the number of children in families. While all members of the Rohingya population were targeted for violence, gender was integral to how the atrocities were perpetrated.

This brief seeks to bring to light the international crimes—crimes against humanity and genocide—committed against Rohingya women and girls since 2016 by Burmese Security Forces and highlight the role gender played in the design and commission of these atrocities. The military has long used rape as a weapon of war and oppression in its conflicts with ethnic groups, and in the recent attacks, Rohingya women and girls were targeted for particularly brutal manners of killing, rape and sexual violence, and torture. 

Rape and sexual violence were widespread, pervasive, and often conducted in public. The acts resulted in serious bodily and mental harm to women, including in some circumstances, death. Many women reported being gang raped, some by as many as eight perpetrators. The rapes were accompanied by other acts of violence, humiliation, and cruelty. Women were beaten, punched, kicked, and subjected to invasive body searches. Their bodies were mutilated, their breasts and nipples cut off and vaginas slashed. Women and girls were not spared by age or condition—with girls as young as five and pregnant women among the victims. 

Gendered crimes and consequences were not limited to sexual violence and rape. Rohingya women and girls were often murdered by being burned alive or butchered by knives used for slaughtering animals—methods of killing that mirror the destruction of objects and property, demonstrating the Security Forces’ misogyny and deeply gendered conceptions of power.

When these acts are compared against the elements of international crimes, they reveal a series of criminal conduct informed and defined by the gender of the victim. These include, as analyzed in this brief, the crimes against humanity of murder, persecution, forcible transfer or deportation, rape and other sexual violence of comparable gravity, and torture, as well as the genocidal crimes of killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. 

The international community has, at long-last, begun to recognize the imperative to ensure justice and accountability for the crimes committed by Burmese Security Forces and the impossibility for justice in Burma’s domestic system. As the international community begins to develop mechanisms for justice and accountability—whether through international investigations and evidence collection, at the International Criminal Court, or in third-party states—it is essential that a strong gender perspective and analysis is incorporated at all levels of these processes, from investigation to prosecution to redress and reparations.

Download the Full Report

Statement on the ICC Ruling in Burma

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 6, 2018

[New York]– The Global Justice Center applauds the International Criminal Court (ICC) Pre-Trial Chamber I for recognizing the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed by Burma’s security forces that were continued into Bangladesh—including the crimes against humanity of deportation, persecution and other inhumane acts. The ICC’s decision provides the opportunity to see real accountability for the crimes committed against the Rohingya.

Since the commencement of “clearance operations” by Burma’s security forces last August, over 700,000 Rohingya have been forcibly displaced to Bangladesh. The ICC’s ruling potentially opens the door to other ongoing crimes, elements of which have occurred in Bangladesh or as a result of their displacement to Bangladesh. Forcible displacement has been found by international courts to not only be a crime against humanity itself, but also a constitutive element of genocidal acts.

Statement on the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - August 27, 2018

[New York]– The Global Justice Center (GJC) welcomes the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s report on the crimes against minority groups, including the crime of genocide against the Rohingya committed by Myanmar’s security forces. In particular, GJC commends the Fact-Finding Mission for highlighting the military’s use of sexual violence as a tactic against all minority groups and recognizing the structural barriers to accountability in Myanmar.

For decades, the Myanmar army has targeted ethnic minority groups with impunity—burning villages, killing indiscriminately, and raping and sexually assaulting women and girls. These systematic and brutal attacks against civilians have been used to intimidate and terrorize local populations. Years of impunity for these atrocities have emboldened the military to escalate their policies of violence and repression, creating an opening for the genocidal campaign against the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s civilian government has neither the will nor the demonstrated capacity to end these horrific crimes and hold those responsible accountable. It is essential that the international community act expeditiously to address the situation in Myanmar, including the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya, and take action in line with the obligations to prevent, suppress and punish genocide.

Call the crimes against the Rohingya what they are: Genocide

GJC's Deputy Legal Director, Grant Shubin, published a letter to the editor in the Washington Post, in response to UN Secretary-General António Guterres' article "The Rohingya are victims of ethnic cleansing. The world has failed them."

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres was right in his July 11 op-ed, “The chilling stories of the Rohingya,” to indict the international community for failing the Rohingya. His plea for more concerted international action could not be more timely or necessary. However, his appeal did not go as far as it should have. He failed to name the crimes against the Rohingya for what they are: genocide.

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Global Justice Center Report Quoted in Myanmar Times

The Global Justice Center's joint report with Gender Equality Network (GEN),  “Facing Barriers to Gender Equality in Myanmar”, was quoted in a Myanmar Times article, "Culture to blame for violence against women: Yangon official". 

The Myanmar Times notes that, 

According to a 2016 report titled “Facing Barriers to Gender Equality in Myanmar” by the Global Justice Center and Gender Equality Network, out of all ASEAN countries, only two lack laws against domestic violence - Myanmar is one of them. It also has no laws against physical or sexual abuse of women or to protect victims from attackers.

Listen to the seventh episode of "That's Illegal"

In this episode of That's Illegal, we sat down with our partners Naw Hser Hser and Mu Gloria from the Women's League of Burma to talk about their work on the ground and their recent experience attending the UN's Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

Enjoy this episode? Follow us on iTunes and Soundcloud!

USAID FOIA re: Burma

March 3, 2015 – January 10, 2017
Case F-00127-15

GJC petitioned USAID for information on “all USAID contracts, grants and awards related to the funding of the Mae Tao Clinic on the Thai-Burma border to cover operational and support costs since 2008.” This request was part of the August 12th Campaign, dealing specifically with the services available to rape victims in Burma and those who are displaced to the Thai-Burma border.

Abortion-related sections of USAID contracts (emphasis added):

(1) Ineligible Goods and Services. Under no circumstances shall the recipient procure any of the following under this award:

            (i) Military equipment,

            (ii) Surveillance equipment,

(iii) Commodities and services for support of police or other law enforcement activities,

(iv) Abortion equipment and services,

(v) Luxury goods and gambling equipment, or

(vi) Weather modification equipment

Timeline:

  • March 3, 2015– Initial request sent
  • January 10, 2017 – Responsive documents received

Janet Benshoof Featured in PassBlue

Barbara Crossette of PassBlue interviewed GJC President Janet Benshoof about her life and her work, including founding of the Global Justice Center and advocating for women in Burma and around the world.

Read here

Weekly News Roundup

By Julia d'Amours

On Thursday, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos claimed the Department of Education would reform how universities handle accusations of sexual assault. Though DeVos did not say what specific changes would be made, she remarked that universities are “ill-served by a quasi-judicial process.” DeVos’s statement focused on the rights of the accused, whom she claimed are mistreated under current systems. Critics from the Right claim DeVos’s proposal grants disproportionate weight to the testimonies of victims, while voices from the Left say it undermines essential changes made during the Obama Administration. 

On Sunday, federal prosecutors in Brazil opened an investigation of ten murdered indigenous tribe members. The altercation arose when the members of the previously uncontacted tribe encountered Brazilian gold miners along a river near the Colombian border. This is the second reported killing of uncontacted indigenous peoples this year. Survival International, an indigenous rights organization, claimed that given the diminished populations of uncontacted tribes, a single armed conflict could carry serious repercussions for the survival of the ethnic group.

On Monday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that California will file a law suit against the Trump Administration over the repeal of DACA. This comes after a coalition of 15 states announced joint legal action against the proposed repeal. California is estimated to be home to more than one in every four DACA recipients. 

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported on the bleak living conditions of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya living in Pakistan. Residents of the Rohingya-populated Arkanabad slum report police brutality, malnutrition, and lack of work and education opportunities. Rohingya in Pakistan wish to see the country taking a more firm stance against military persecution in Burma, as it holds the highest concentration of Rohingya outside of their native lands. 

On Wednesday, it was announced that Burma’s defacto leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be skipping the UN General Debate, which is scheduled to begin on September 19th. Burma has been under heavy criticism for its treatment of the Rohingya, and the UN has accused it of ethnic cleansing. Spokespeople for Ms. Suu Kyi claimed that she “has more pressing matters to deal with” and she will “speak for national reconciliation and peace” on national television instead.

Photo by Htoo Tay Zar

GJC’s statement on the situation in Rakhine State, Myanmar

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 9, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] - In light of ongoing violence in Rakhine State, the Global Justice Center issues the following statement: 

The Global Justice Center calls for the immediate cessation of all acts of violence and the protection of civilian populations in Rakhine State. The Myanmar government must swiftly investigate credible reports of horrific crimes and human rights abuses against civilians in Rakhine State, including acts by its own military and security forces, and provide meaningful punishment, redress and reparations for violations. The government must allow investigators access to Rakhine State and cooperate fully with international investigations, including the UN Fact-finding Mission authorized by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017. Further, the government must ensure the safety of all civilians, including the Rohingya population, and facilitate humanitarian access and aid to affected communities. 

GJC Weekly News Roundup

By Julia d'Amours

Chile proceeds with the repeal of its total anti-abortion laws. In August, legislation was presented to permit abortion in three cases: if the life of the mother was in danger, if it the fetus would not survive, or if the pregnancy was a result of rape. Lawyers argued that a total abortion ban was inhumane and a violation of women’s rights. Though polls indicate more than 70 percent of the population supports more lenient abortion laws, the Catholic Church and elite upper class staunchly opposed the bill. The repeal is considered a major victory in women’s rights and reproductive rights, and many hope it will lead to similar legislation in the region.

Last Friday, Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled that the re-election of the sitting president would be revisited after discovery that the vote counts had been irregular. It is the first example in Africa in which a court voided the re-election of an incumbent. Many are at unease considering Kenya’s fragile political landscape—the last disputed election in 2007 resulted in at least 1,300 dead and 600,000 displaced around the country.

On Sunday, Cambodia arrested Kem Sokha, the main opposition leader, accusing him of treason. This follows accounts of government harassment on the free press and expulsion of NGOs, such as the pro-democracy National Democratic Institute. A Human Rights Watch official called the arrest “a disastrous setback” for Cambodia as the country prepares for elections next year.

On Monday, Malala Yousafzi joined an increasing number of human rights activists in publicly criticizing Myanmar’s effective leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma. More than 73,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh after they were attacked by Burmese military factions on August 25th. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar has described the situation as “grave.” Widely seen as a champion of democracy, Suu Kyi has remained quiet on the subject of the Rohingya.

On Tuesday, President Trump broke headlines by announcing the end of DACA—the federal program that protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He claimed DACA’s establishment was an abuse of electoral power and rebuking it would establish rule of law. Many of those enrolled in DACA already have families, started careers, or enrolled in higher education in the US. Permits that are set to expire in the next six months will be renewed, but the Department of Homeland Security will stop processing new applications for the program. Officials say there will be no formal guidance that former DACA recipients are not eligible for deportation.

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration introduced a Security Council resolution that would empower the United States Navy and Airforce to interdict North Korean ships and evaluate if their cargo contains military equipment. It also included a ban on the shipment of crude oil, petroleum, and natural gas, which would have severe results for the North Korean population as winter approaches, and aims to block the assets of Kim Jong-un. The resolution is careful not to encompass a total blockade, which is an act of war, but permits the US and UNSC to “nonconsensual inspections.”

On Thursday, a federal appeals court permitted thousands of refugees who had been blocked by President Trumps’ travel ban to enter the country. Since June, the government has frozen refugee resettlement applications and brought resettlement programs to a standstill.  Yesterday’s ruling mandated that the government resume refugee resettlements in the next five days. It also upheld a lower court decision that exempted grandparents and other relatives from the ban. A Justice Department representative remarked that they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Also on Thursday, the High Court of Australia ruled that a postal survey on the legalization of gay marriage was legitimate, despite the objections of same-sex marriage advocates. The results of the survey could not make same-sex marriage legal or illegal, but it could spark a vote in Parliament. Polls suggest that a “yes” vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage will prevail. The results will be announced the 15th of November.

Photo by Alsidare Hickson 

GJC Weekly News Roundup

 Wednesday, Turkey detained eleven human rights defenders near Istanbul. The activists were attending a workshop on protecting the work of human rights groups when Turkish police arrested them on the baseless suspicion of belonging to an “armed terrorist organization,” and they are still in custody. Two are leaders of Amnesty International Turkey.

Friday, the Financial Times explored Brexit’s impact on women. The British government drew attention last month because of the lack of women on their negotiating team (two of the twelve negotiators at the initial meeting were women), but concerns extend beyond that. Laws on women’s rights might change with Brexit, particularly if Britain is no longer under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This could remove decades of progressive decisions on issues including equal pay, pregnancy discrimination, and sex discrimination laws.

Saturday, in an article about the Afghan province Ghor, The New York Times described what happens when the law provides no protection for women. Ghor’s weak rule of law and their marriage customs leave women vulnerable. There have been 118 registered cases of violence against women in the past year—with many more going unreported—and zero suspects in these 118 cases have been arrested. Extreme stories of women being abducted, shot, stoned to death and more have emerged from the province in recent years. Law officials say they have to balance justice with security when sharing borders with violent, Taliban-occupied territories.

Monday, Oregon’s legislature passed one of the most progressive pieces of reproductive rights legislation in the country. The Reproductive Health Equity Act requires health insurance to cover, at no cost to patients, a number of reproductive health services such as abortion, contraception and prenatal and postnatal care. Religious employers can opt out of covering abortion and contraception. It also reaffirms Oregon citizens’ rights to an abortion, protecting them from possible changes in federal law. The bill will now go to Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat who is supportive of reproductive rights.

Tuesday, in retaliation against the United States’ Global Gag Rule, Sweden’s development agency announced it will no longer give funding for sexual and reproductive health services to organizations that follow the Gag Rule. Sweden is also allocating new funds to organizations that agree to not follow the Gag Rule.

Wednesday, Buddhists protested the arrival of a UN human rights envoy to Myanmar. The envoy is on an information-gathering trip in the Rakhine state to investigate security forces’ human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya minority. The protestors said Yanghee Lee, who is leading the envoy, is too “one-sided.” Earlier this summer, Lee recommended a special UN mission to investigate the problems in Rakhine, which the Human Rights Council approved; however, Myanmar wouldn’t allow the mission members to enter the country.

Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is re-examining the college sexual assault policies instituted under Title IX during the Obama administration. She is meeting with victims of sexual assault, men accused of assault, and higher education officials. Obama’s policies sparked a backlash from some who believed the policies and investigations went too far in ignoring the rights of the accused.