See Dennis Apel and his family's story, "Living Their Truth"
GJC's UN and EU Director, Stephanie Johanssen, was quoted in Pete Voelker's article in Vice, "Talking to New Yorkers Who Went on Strike to Protest Trump."
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
In July 2016, GJC staff member Michello Onello and Ma Sabe Phyu, Director of Gender Equality Network, published an article in Mizzima titled, "Status of women’s rights in Myanmar to be reviewed at the UN," on the Myanmar's CEDAW Review taking place in Geneva.
Click here to read the article in Mizzima.
Global Justice Center and Gender Equality Network Call on the Government of Myanmar to Fulfill Its Obligations to End Discrimination against Women
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—July 1, 2016
[GENEVA] – On July 7th, Myanmar’s implementation of its obligations to ensure gender equality will be reviewed by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee). Myanmar ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997, but this will be the first international women’s rights review of the country since the elections that brought Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power.
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.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015 09:00-10:00
The Global Justice Center will participate in event, along with Amnesty International and Justice Trust, examining the current issues in Burma and the potential political backsliding in terms of human rights.
Monday, March 30, 2015, 18:00-19:30
GJC is participating in a panel highlighting on the ground activism in Burma and the recent crackdowns. Speakers include legal representatives and former activists telling their stories about advocacy in Burma.
In November, the Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School released a legal memorandum,“War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Eastern Myanmar.” The report was a result of a four-year investigation on the Burma military and examines the conduct of the military during an offensive that cleared and forcibly relocated civilian populations from conflict zones in eastern Burma. Collected evidence demonstrates that the actions of Burma Army personnel during the Offensive constitute crimes under international criminal law: attacking and displacing civilians, murder, torture, and other inhumane acts.
© By Burma Partnership
The Clinic also collected evidence relevant to the war crime of rape. Secondhand accounts of rapes committed by military personnel were recorded. Some interviewees spoke generally of soldiers raping Karen women but provided no specific accounts. Rape is both a war crime and a crime against humanity, according to the Rome Statute. However, it was concluded that more research and analysis are necessary to determine whether these crimes could be included in a criminal case associated with the Offensive.
Rule of law is limited in Burma, and the military enjoys constitutionally-guaranteed impunity for war crimes, including against the use of rape as a weapon of war. Burma’s new Constitution has been fully in place since 2011 and was deliberately designed to preclude democracy by embedding permanent military rule and preventing military officials from being held accountable for their crimes.
GJC calls on the international community to invest in a democratic future for Burma by insisting that the Burmese government dismantle these structural barriers which violate international law and prevent the advancement of true peace and democracy.
On November 13th, 2014 President Barack Obama held a town hall at Yangoon University in Burma. During the event, protesters held up signs that read, “Reform is Fake,” “Illusion,” and in reference to Obama’s own campaign slogan, “Change?”
Obama himself addressed the signs at the beginning of his remarks, reading them aloud and assuring protesters that they would have time for questions at the end of the town hall where he could address their concerns.
The New York Times, in their article of the event, used pictures of the town hall but made no mention of the signs. The protest and its glossing over by major media outlets demonstrates the fraught relationship that many are having with the Burmese government as it inches towards democracy, accountability, and equality.
While there have been legitimate reforms that have enabled the United States to engage with the Burmese government on a diplomatic level, full reform and rule of law in Burma cannot be established while the constitution places the military outside of civilian control.
As Zin Mar Aung said in an Op Ed in the Irrawaddy Journal,
“Before fully embracing the Burmese government as a democratic partner, the United States must revisit its carrot and stick policy, which has, of late, been much more carrot than stick. Instead of a credible “stick,” we have seen an overall lack of accountability toward the regime.”
These sentiments reiterate statements from Global Justice Center, President, Janet Benshoof, from over a year ago.
“Despite this disturbing evidence of ongoing human rights abuses, military attacks on ethnic civilians, inconsistencies between government statements and actions…the global community continues to ignore or downplay both the significance of these violations as well as the limitations of the constitution.”
Though there have been democratic reforms and fragile advances, the reality is that military rule still prevails in Burma, armed conflict continues and the military enjoys constitutional-guaranteed impunity for war crimes. The Global Justice Center has long called on the United States and the international community to insist that the Burmese government dismantle the structural barriers in place that prevent true peace and democracy.
At the end of the town hall, Obama was asked what he would do if he was President of Burma to help the country develop, he responded,
“Number one, there needs to be an election next year. It shouldn’t be delayed. Number two, there should be constitutional amendments that ensure a transition over time to a fully civilian government. Number three, there needs to be laws put in place to protect freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom to politically organize.”
Though he is not President of Burma, there is still much Obama can do to help achieve these commendable objectives, by using diplomatic pressure, supporting capacity building, policy dialogue and calling for accountability for human rights abuses.
United Nations Stakeholders Alerted of Continued Use of Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War in Burma's Ethnic Areas
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - April 24, 2014
[NEW YORK, NY] - Today, at a side-event to the Security Council’s annual debate on conflict-related sexual violence, the United Nations was presented with a troubling account of continuing sexual violence committed by the military against ethnic women in Burma. On the eve of the April 25 debate, Ms. Naw K’nyaw Paw, Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization, presented compelling reports of heinous crimes committed by the military and called on the United Nations, international donors and governments to investigate these human rights violations, denounce the use of sexual violence in Burma and support women’s groups on the ground who are attempting to combat this pervasive pattern of abuse.
The event was hosted by Secretary Hague and Zainab Hawa Bangura, special representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, and included speakers from 27 member countries who discussed the need to prevent and respond to sexualized violence committed under the cloak of war. They also highlighted the devastating effects that rape and sexualized violence wreak on individuals, families, communities, and entire nations.
By the end of the day, 113 member countries had endorsed what Secretary Hague called the “milestone” Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The declaration holds that sexualized violence in conflict is in direct violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and declares that the perpetrators should be pursued and arrested no matter where they are in the world. The declaration also calls upon signatory member states to do more than raise awareness to the issue and to provide better support not only to the victims but to national and international efforts to prevent and respond to sexualized violence in conflict.
But 80 nations opted not to sign the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. One of them was Burma.
For many, Burma’s refusal to sign the declaration didn’t come as a surprise. Reports of sexualized violence committed by the army and police, particularly in Burma’s ethnic and border regions, have increased over the last two years, according to some advocacy groups. And Burma President Thein Sein has done little to address the issue, preferring to highlight gains made in other sectors, including the opening of the economy to global investment and his periodic release of political prisoners.
The international community, eager to praise these reforms, has neglected to call Burma out on its sexualized violence problem, ignoring the ingrained culture of impunity that has allowed sexualized violence to flourish for decades. The military regime that came to power in a 1962 coup has used rape, particularly against women in the ethnic and border regions, as a way to quell opposition movements and retain control. A weapon of war, the practice is typically employed to keep communities compliant by sowing fear and humiliation and punishing and interrogating those who would support opposition groups. Sadly, the Burmese military junta’s campaign of widespread and systematic sexual violence continues unabated today.
It’s understandable, then, that President Thein Sein and his new admirers would not want to tarnish fragile gains, but how much do these gains really mean in the face of continued sexualized violence toward women and girls in Burmese conflict zones?
Burma President Thein Sein speaks at Chatham House in July. (Chatham House)
This is precisely why Burma’s failure to stand with 113 other nations in signing the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was such a disappointment. More than just a squandered opportunity for the nation to demonstrate an honest and ongoing desire for social and political reform, it was a chance to turn the tide, to announce an end to the culture of silence and impunity that legitimizes rape and sexual violence in Burma.
Human rights groups in and outside of Burma were quick to condemn the government’s failure to sign on to the Declaration.
Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK, said, “The use of rape and sexual violence in conflict in Burma must be stopped. If Thein Sein refuses to cooperate, then international legal action should be taken to prevent these crimes. For many ethnic women, rape by Burmese army soldiers is a daily fear, and justice seems to be just a distant dream.”
“The government should bear the responsibility of crimes perpetrated by its army. They should ensure justice for such crimes in accordance with the law,” Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Central Committee member of the Myanmar Women’s Network, told the 2013 Myanmar Women’s Forum prior to the UN event.
The Burmese Diplomatic Mission to the UN in New York declined to comment by telephone and did not reply to email requests for an official statement on their failure to sign the declaration.
But it’s hard to fault the Mission for their non-answer; after all, they’re simply following President Thein Sein’s lead in ignoring the issue. One of the biggest stumbling blocks in Burma’s transition to civilian rule has been the government’s unwillingness to fully divest itself of the privileged status of the previous military junta. In fact, this lack of accountability is hard-wired into the country’s constitution, rendering the nation incapable of enforcing IHL against its military, as the Global Justice Center’s President Janet Benshoof has noted.
Ultimately, last week’s missed opportunity can be seen as less a statement on Burma’s disinterest in ending government-sanctioned sexualized violence and more an appraisal of Burma’s transition to democracy. To assent to the UN’s declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict would be to assent to accountability and to a new era of checks and balances for a government whose members seem more concerned with losing a seat at the table than addressing the issue being discussed at the table.
Perhaps this is only another hiccup on the road to reformation. Perhaps Burma will relent and commit to the mandates of the declaration. But, in the meantime, the girls and women of Burma will continue to be victimized without means of redress or protection, and the body count will continue to rise.
A version of this article was cross-posted with Women Under Siege.
On October 23, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights, Tomas Ojea Quintana, released the latest report on the Situation on Human Rights in Myanmar for the General Assembly’s sixty-eighth session. The report had been highly anticipated by civil society groups who are concerned with growing tensions in the turbulent nation.
Mr. Quintana, incidentally, had a closer look at that tension than he’d likely anticipated recently when, during an unpleasant trip to the Rakhine state, the lack of a government security detail led to him being accosted by an angry mob. (Burmese President, Thein Sein’s almost comical response was to insist that the mob had actually been trying to present the UN official with a letter and a t-shirt.)
It was of little surprise, then, that the Special Rapporteur’s update highlighted the urgent need for continued reforms. 2013 has seen a growing chorus of international approval for Burma’s incremental human rights gains but, let’s face it, when the forced relocation of entire ethnic villages into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps ranks among the less distressing human rights events of the year, things really haven’t improved much in Burma.
Accusations of political violence and discrimination have continued to plague the Sein administration; particularly harrowing have been the reports from Burma’s ethnic and border regions, where political opposition groups continue to be victimized by the state’s brutal military and police. Accusations of sexual violence, forced labor, human trafficking, the recruitment of child soldiers, use of prisoners as human mine sweepers, arbitrary arrests, extortion, land confiscation, denial and revocation of citizenship, and restrictions on movement, religion, and marriage, have been lobbed at the Sein administration from all directions.
That these atrocities continue despite 23 years of calls for reform indicates something’s not working. Even 2008’s new national constitution did little more than rebrand the brutal ruling military junta, who have effectively cowed the world into believing that Burma is ever on the brink of becoming overwhelmed with the reform process, prepared to revert to the hermit kingdom they once were. As a result, the timid international community is content to cajole the Burmese government into accepting piecemeal reforms that have done little to change a culture of intimidation, impunity, and deadly violence.
It seems more obvious now than ever, any real solution lies fundamentally deeper than reform at the symptom level. Comprehensive constitutional reform that divests the former military junta of its continuing grip on power in Burma by imposing civilian controls is the only option.
Mr. Quintana appears to agree. This week’s report includes numerous unambiguous statements on the need for constitutional reforms. Alongside calls for quotas to boost women’s participation in state and local decision-making and for an independent judiciary were denunciations of constitutionally-sanctioned impunity and discrimination. That Mr. Quintana, for the first time, pointed out specific enabling constitutional articles hopefully signals the UN has had enough of Burma’s half measures.
The futility of incremental reforms has been noted inside Burma, to be sure. The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has seen its calls for an amended or completely redrawn national constitution gain momentum within the country recently and Burma’s multitude of ethnic minorities have begun to demand a seat at the table in an effort to help determine their own fate.
NLD leader and Nobel peace prize winner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has now asked the international community to help democracy activists in Burma to amend the Constitution; she urged world leaders, including the European Union and the United States, to continue to put pressure of the Burmese government saying, “Reform has gone as far as it can without changes to the constitution.”
This push has also been championed by women’s rights groups within Burma and around the world who urge fundamental reforms are needed to address Burma’s constitutional deficiencies, such as the lack of a substantial equality guarantee which effectively excludes ethnic women from political participation. The 2008 document even shockingly includes a provision proclaiming males should be appointed to “positions that are naturally suited for men.”
A multitude of official world bodies have also repeatedly highlighted the need for constitutional reforms. Until recently, though, most have done so with glancing blows, failing to connect on the most fundamental issue, the Burmese military’s constitutionally guaranteed stake in governing the country. Until this metric is fundamentally rewritten, there will be no accountability for a government that routinely eviscerates the basic human rights of its own citizens in order to maintain its grip on power.
With the UN now seemingly on board, the next steps on the human rights situation in Burma are clear: The international community must cease lauding President Thein Sein for plodding political and economic reforms calculated to insulate the ruling regime, and attack the fundamental dynamic that sustains a culture of bloodshed in Burma. They must insist on targeted constitutional reforms that will allow full and robust participation in Burma’s government by all of its peoples. Anything less at this late stage would amount to a tacit approval of the wholesale slaughter of innocent women, children and men.
Recently women have been heavily involved in protests in Egypt. This was true as well in 2011, but when the 2012 Constitution came out it had as little gender equality as the laws it was replacing.
At what point in the process did it become okay to silence the voices of women?
“[President] Morsi had promised an increasing role for women and Copts. The Constitution came after that with nothing! … Women’s rights have been linked to religion and not to the needs of Egyptian women,” - Azza Suleiman, an Egyptian lawyer working to stop violence against women, said in an Amnesty International Report when interviewed.
She also condemned the opposition’s reaction: “They say it’s because there are more important issues to deal with at the moment. As if women’s problems are not as important!”
In 2012, the new government failed to deliver on its promises of democracy. Women were not equally represented (only two female members in the 36-member Cabinet). No tangible action was taken on gender issues. Authorities announced a stricter sexual harassment law in October 2012 and again in February 2013, but failedto pass it both times. Without women equally represented in the government, there was little motivation to act on gender equality issues – though women protested the unfairness from the outside. An Alliance of Women’s Groups called for gender equality in the new constitution in July, but thus far there has been little sign of movement on this issue.
The Global Justice Center knows that, where there is a constitution that excludes women and ignores the processes of justice, unrest is bound to follow. Our Burma Law Project seeks to challenge the same constitutional suppression of women’s voices in Burma. Gender parity in power is key to long-term stabilization in both of these transitioning democracies.
Amina Agami, an Egyptian woman who works with NGOs protecting human rights, said in the same Amnesty International Report that the 2012 Constitution “…does not care about women, as if they do not exist.” She also said that the Constitution could potentially provide for child marriage, and “The Constitution does not give women any chance to be at the parliament, ministry of justice or any other positions like that.”
GJC knows that to have a functioning democratic state the laws holding it together must be just. It is not possible to have such laws while women’s rights are ignored.
In the recent 2013 protests, women have been repeatedly silenced with sexual harassment while trying to exercise their right to peaceful protest. On the single day of June 30th, 46 sexual assaults were reported from Tahrir Square. The attacks on protesters have reached such levels that Amnesty International recently began a petition calling on Egypt to end sexual violence against women protesters. Consider also that 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetimes.
This wide-scale suppression of Egyptian women’s voices is unacceptable. Egypt cannot move in any positive direction if Egyptian women are unable to exercise their political voice freely and unmolested.
In the next few weeks, Egypt needs to keep in mind gender equality and equal participation in government because without it a just and democratic system will never be reached. GJC aims to increase women’s roles in governments internationally. As our logo demonstrates, women make up 51% of the world’s population, but the global average for women in government is only 19.7%. We are working to close this gap, because only then will we have true representative democracy. Women must be allowed to have an equal and respected role in government changes in Egypt. While we wait to see when and if Egypt will hold democratic elections again, one thing is clear: The party thatultimately gains power in Egypt must make women’s rights a priority.
Women are saying “enough” to rape.
This month, female senators on both sides of the aisle are taking action to end the endemic of sexual assaults in the military and its rape culture.
The Pentagon reported that in 2012 alone, around 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted, a shocking 37% increase from the 19,000 assaulted in 2010. Even more horrifying, is the small number reported. Only 10% of those were even brought to trial.
This is a stark contradiction to the supposed “Zero Tolerance Policy” of the Department of Defense on sexual assault.
Sexual assault in the military has occurred for decades. Perhaps one of the most widely publicized instances was the Tailhook scandal in 1991, during which drunken Navy pilots sexually assaulted 83 female and 7 male peers. Recent incidents have included:1. an Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs being charged with sexual battery; 2. and reports of a sergeant at West Point video-taping female cadets in the bathroom or shower without their consent. All of this has inspired a bipartisan push among female lawmakers for the DOD to take real action and to be held accountable.
Among the 7 women serving on the Armed Services Committee are: Senator Claire McCaskill, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Deb Fisher and Senator Kelly Ayotte. They have lifted the veil on sexual assault in the military and made it an issue in the national spotlight.This is the first time that women are the driving force of the discussion–especially in such a male dominated panel such as the ASC.
The Global Justice Center applauds the efforts of women in Congress that are taking action against the culture of sexual assault that is constantly concealed by the US military. When it is more likely that a female soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan will be raped by a fellow service member than killed in the line of enemy fire, we must acknowledge that there is a serious problem that is causing emotional and physical harm to thousands of women (and men). The women bravely sacrificing for our country deserve to serve without fear of sexual assault, and action must be taken in order to ensure this.
Many women-authored bills floating around Congress are promising and progressive, but the Military Justice Improvement Act of Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY), seemed to have the most potential of passing. Instead, the ASC struck it down this week, though Gillibrand suggested that she will reintroduce it in the fall. Her bill suggests taking the power away from commanders to decide which cases to try. Instead, military prosecutors to do so, enabling women and men to report sex crimes without the fear of reprisal from their seniors and peers. The Military Justice Improvement Act also seeks to ensure that an unbiased panel would be in charge of the decision for military assault crimes.
The Global Justice Center wants to redefine democracy to a governing body which includes an equal voice for women. Currently, women make up 51% of the world’s population but only make up less than 20% of governments. The Global Justice Center advocates for women in leadership roles across all institutions. The issue of sexual assault in the military is a clear demonstration of the negative effects of excluding women from decision making bodies, both within the military justice system and the United States government.
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.
Letter from the Global Justice Center to Norway's Foreign Minister Eide asking for Support for a General Assembly Request to the International Court of Justice for an Advisory Opinion on Burma's Constitution.