GJC in Geneva: Challenging US Policy that Denies Abortions to Victims Raped in Conflict

We are pleased to share with you a crucial step in our work to repeal the illegal U.S. policy that prevents women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict from accessing abortions.

Previously, we wrote about the international legal arguments that we were developing to challenge the abortion restrictions that the United States places on all of its humanitarian aid going to organizations and governments working in conflict countries.

After six months of research and advocacy, Janet, Akila, and Gina from the Global Justice Center are in Geneva raising these legal arguments at the UN Human Rights Council’s Review of the United States. They are meeting with member states of the Human Rights Council to urge them to question the US about these restrictions that effectively deny necessary care to the thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated during war.

Today, we are excited to report that Norway has taken the lead by submitting the following question:

“The Global Justice Center (GJC) filed a shadow report for the universal periodic review of the US expressing concern with regard to US blanket abortion restriction on humanitarian aid and abortion speech restrictions on US rule of law and democracy programs. Does the US have any plans to remove its blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering the medical care given women and girls who are raped and impregnated in situations of armed conflict? Does the US government apply abortion speech restrictions on its rule of law and democracy programs?”

These questions form the very basis of the Human Rights Council’s recommendations. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is the UN body tasked with monitoring the human rights records of the 192 members of the United Nations. Every four years, member states are required to have a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in front of the Human Rights Council, during which each country receives recommendations on how to comply with their human rights obligations.

The US State Department has said they intend to comply with the UNHRC’s recommendations, so Norway’s questions sets the stage for changing U.S. policy in order to better protect and advance the rights of women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict.

Women who have been raped and impregnated in armed conflict in countries such as the Congo and Sudan have the legal right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions. This includes the right to abortions wherever victims of rape request them.

As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States must change its policy of attaching conditions to its humanitarian aid which prohibit recipients from speaking about abortion.

Click here to read the Global Justice Center’s Call to Action that we are distributing right now to Human Rights Council member states in Geneva.

GJC Staff Members Attend Rally to Take Rape Seriously

On Tuesday, November 9, 2010 several GJC staff members attended The Rally to Take Rape Seriously hosted by NOW-NYC in conjunction with other anti-violence advocacy groups working to protect women and girls.  Tony Simmons, a NYC juvenile justice counselor, pleaded guilty to raping one teenage girl and sexually assaulting two others while they were in his custody.  The Manhattan Supreme Court Justice in the case has proposed a sentence of probation, meaning a self-admitted rapist, who violated underage girls whom he was employed to keep safe, will not be serving any jail time.


This unfortunate incident is one more clear illustration of the vast amount of work necessary on many different fronts before women and girls can readily access safety and justice.  The Global Justice Center occupies a distinct position in the movement to end violence against women by employing international humanitarian and human rights law for the purpose of protecting victims of violence and discrimination.  While GJC projects focus on the legal rights of women abroad, in countries like Iraq, Burma, and Sierra Leone, we are reminded that women still lack access to rights here in the United States as well. 

The rally highlighted this serious deficiency in the US justice system as women speakers pointed out the implications of Tony Simmons’ unjust proposed sentence: that girls with a criminal record are less deserving of justice than others; that the calculated taking of advantage of such girls should be rewarded with extremely lenient sentences; and that these victims are being failed twofold—first by Tony Simmons, and second by the system which has been created to protect them.

Re-victimization of the most vulnerable groups of girls and women comes in many forms.  The DRC has been named one of the worst places on earth to be a woman due to high numbers of rape and torture the female population endures.  (Note that there are also high numbers of men being raped in the Congo.)  US restrictions on foreign aid that prohibit providing or even discussing abortions, an essential medical service, are a policy that further punishes victims of rape and impregnation in conflict zones, forcing women and girls to carry unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies to term.

Rally participants are doing crucial work to draw attention to institutionalized, entrenched discrimination which acts as “salt in the wounds” of people who have already suffered unimaginably.  The global anti-violence and women’s equality movements rely on activism in every form, combating these issues from numerous angles and different perspectives.  The rally serves as a reminder that these injustices are not unique to war-torn countries and are a testament to the importance of human rights organizations in creating awareness and advocating for change.

To sign the petition urging Justice Cassandra Mullins to give Tony Simmons a just sentence this upcoming Monday, November 15, follow this link:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/now-nyc_justiceforassaultvictims/

For more information on this story:

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/10/03/2010-10-03_raped_by_judge_and_justice_system.html

http://jezebel.com/5657224/counselor-rapes-3-girls-merely-sentenced-to-probation

UK Baroness Uddin Uses GJC Legal Arguements in House of Lords Debate to Call for end to Discriminatory Care of Women Raped in Conflict

In her statement last Thursday, UK Baroness Uddin used a new legal argument from the Global Justice Center to call for the end to the routine denial of access to abortions for women who are raped and impregnated in conflict. Baroness Uddin identified the United States policy of censoring humanitarian aid recipients from speaking about or providing access to abortions as playing a major role in the continuing violation of the rights of these victims and called on the UK to ask questions of the United States about this policy when it is reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council. 

From UK House of Lords debate on the Millennium Development Goals, October 7, 2010, at link below, columns 307-308:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/101007-0002.htm#10100714000795

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for initiating this important discussion. In the UK we should be rightly proud of the British leadership in advancing the millennium development goals which represent a vision of a world transformed where equality and justice prevail.

However, while we are very pleased, one group of women remains outside the MDG effort. Until we address this failure, we cannot speak of real progress. Today I ask our Government to call explicitly for girls and women who are forcibly impregnated by the vicious use of rape in armed conflict to be included under MDG 5-reducing maternal mortality. “Rape as a weapon of war” is a phrase commonly used accurately to describe what is happening alongside today’s armed conflicts, but we rarely speak about the consequences of this weapon. Thousands of girls and women impregnated by rape used as a weapon of war are routinely denied access to abortions. Girls and women die from their attempts to self-abort and from suicide resulting from untold stigmatization leading to social marginalization.

We should do what no other country has done: to ensure that the humanitarian medical aid provided to girls and women in places such as Congo, Sudan and Burma-an endless list of countries-gives them choices and access to abortion when pregnancy is a direct result of rape as a weapon of war. This is a moral imperative and a legal obligation. The Geneva Convention requires that civilians and combatant victims receive non-discriminatory medical care, whether it is provided by the state in conflict or by others. Why, then, are pregnant rape victims given discriminatory medical care through the routine denial of access to abortion? The embedded inequality towards women in conflict settings has been recognised by the Security Council in such historic resolutions as 1325 and 1820. Equal justice for women is not limited to the courtroom, it must be extended to supporting those women who are victims of the inhuman practice of rape as a weapon of war.

I draw the attention of the House to the recent report of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Oxfam, which details examples of the impact, stigma and suffering of raped children and women in Congo, Sudan and elsewhere, where no legal provision exists to support them. It also mentions that women should be given preventive care-that is, utilisation of contraception-as though women who are raped can be prepared for such horrors.

One of the solutions proposed by women’s organisations, including the international human rights organisation the Global Justice Center, is that access to abortion must be a critical part of the support available to women. The centre filed a shadow report with the Human Rights Council asking it to recommend that the US remove the prohibitions put on humanitarian aid to rape victims in conflict, as it violates the US obligation under the Geneva Convention. The UK can and must support this issue by asking questions of the US during the council’s review process due shortly.

I know that these are difficult matters for many individuals and countries to address, and international donor communities have thus far resisted pressurising countries to review their policies. Neither criminal abortion laws in the conflict state nor foreign aid contracts with the United States can serve as defence to a state provision of discriminatory medical care to all victims under international humanitarian law.

Time is short, and I should have liked to highlight many examples of countries such as Bangladesh where the suffering and humiliation of rape has left decades of suffering, ill health and stigma. The UK must take a lead to end that discrimination. This will mark real progress towards the millennium development goals and towards ensuring equal rights for women under international humanitarian law.

Crafting Human Security in an Insecure World

An international working conference co-convened by the Global Justice Center (GJC), B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (IPJ), Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) to probe and address global acquiescence to impunity, gender violence and exclusion that continues to obstruct peacebuilding and deny human security.

September 24 – 26, 2008 
Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice  
San Diego, CA 

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False Choices: Sacrificing Equality to get CEDAW

The United States signed CEDAW in 1980, but it has not yet ratified the Convention. Proponents of ratification argue that the U.S.’ failure to ratify CEDAW hurts American efforts, by both the government and private organizations, to promote human rights. Although the Global Justice Center agrees, we urge organizations committed to promoting true gender equality not to support ratification accompanied by the sort of "understanding" added by Senator Helms in 1994.1 The compromises made by the addition of the Helms "understanding" sacrificed the core concepts of CEDA W. This dangerous "understanding" resurrects the discriminatory fallacy of biology as destiny and promotes the agenda of those who would find laws severely restricting or even criminalizing abortion to be perfectly compatible with "women's rights" and "equality."

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GJC’s Partner Group Submits Recommendations to UK Iraq Commission

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  June 18 2007

NewYork, NY  – The UK-based International Coordination for Gender Justice in Iraq (ICGJI) last week submitted recommendations to the Iraq Commission, the independent cross-party UK commission to examine the future of British commitment in Iraq.

Legal Tools for the Establishment of Gender Equality through International Law

This manual starts with a general background on the role of international law and how it can be used in a domestic context. It then touches on the concept of Customary International Law and some international forums for enforcing women’s rights when domestic efforts fail. We then look at some of the tools women are using – the laws – starting with the women’s rights treaty – the bill of rights for women – Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, followed by a brief discussion of other treaties with a bit of extra focus on the ICCPR. In addition to treaties, a number of other international legal tools have developed including, most recently, Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. The manual then reviews two other forums for enforcing women’s rights—regional bodies and tribunals. It then discusses the role of constitutions and quotas in advancing rights. Finally we try to provide other resources for understanding and researching international law. We hope this guide will be the beginning of your use of international law to advance rights.

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GJC Commends Iraqi Prosecutor for Including Rape in Closing Arguments of Kurdish Genocide Trial

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—April 10, 2007

[NEW YORK, NY] The Global Justice Center, an NGO that advocates for women’s human rights through the rule of law, commends Prosecutor Monquth Al Faroon for including the charges of rape and sexual violence against the perpetrators of the Kurdish genocide in his closing arguments for the Al-Anfal trial in Baghdad. That the IHT Prosecutor identified these crimes, alongside other crimes such as torture, forced displacement and murder, is a significant step towards ending impunity for crimes of sexual violence committed under the Saddam Hussein regime.

Advancing the Legal Enforcement of SCR 1325: Structural and Political Obstacles Imposed by the United Nations

The passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325) in 2000 was a legal milestone for women’s rights to equality and non-discrimination. For the first time the UN Security Council not only recognized the gender-biased impact of internal or country conflict,  it also mandated that the UN itself and all member states erect and monitor enforceable protections from such gender-based violence. However, there is still an urgent need to address:

  • The lack of any systematic progress towards parity for women as decision-makers in UN sponsored and other peace negotiations;
  • The failure to recognize SCR 1325 as a binding international law, particularly, as applicable to transitional justice processes;
  • The total exclusion of women stakeholders from such pariah states as Burma who are forced to operate only in exile and because of their difficult legal status are prevented from travel and access to critical  INGO and UN networking;
  • The discrimination against women survivors/victims of conflict from certain countries like Iraq where the politicized nature of the conflict has led to such actions as the de facto UN “blacklisting”, stopping any UN  support to the war crimes tribunal or to women victims of gender crimes under the Saddam regime;
  • The absence of any penalties or sanctions for repeated violations of SCR 1325 or country funding conditions based on compliance in country action plans.

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The Use of CEDAW to Invalidate Discriminatory Laws and Promote Gender Equality

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) defines discrimination against women and requires states not only to prohibit discrimination but also to take affirmative steps in order to achieve gender equality.  The Convention is legally binding upon States that have ratified the Convention and any laws in violation of CEDAW must be struck down.

CEDAW has been used to support affirmative action policies and programs as well as to strike down laws that are in violation of the Convention.  These cases carry significant import: the application of CEDAW in domestic courts gives CEDAW legitimacy globally and reinforces the principal that domestic courts are bound by international treaties such as CEDAW.

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Iraqi Women's Rights and International Law

The Women’s Alliance for a Democratic Iraq (WAFDI) and the Global Justice Center (GJC) jointly organized a three-day conference on women’s rights and international law November 13th – 15th at the Dead Sea, Jordan.  Attendees included twenty members of the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) and representatives from the President’s office, the Prime Minister’s office, the Parliament, the Ministry of Human Rights as well as prominent members of civil society.  The conference addressed a crucial subject for women in Iraq: sexual violence, as a war crime, a crime against humanity and an instrument of genocide, and its drastic impact on the victims.  This issue was addressed in the context of international law and its role in the IHT, with an eye towards having the IHT address these crimes in its upcoming indictments and judgments.

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Historic Gender Training for the Iraqi High Tribunal Judges and Women Leaders at the Dead Sea

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–December 7, 2006

[JORDAN] From November 13-15, 2006, the Global Justice Center (GJC), a new iNGO based in New York provided the first training on international law and gender for 20 Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) judges and 10 women leaders from Iraq. The training, which took place in Jordan, was requested by Iraqi women leaders and the IHT Judges to inform the Tribunal’s rulings on gender violence used by the Baathist regime as a weapon of war as well as the Tribunal’s specific obligation to reach out to women and ensure justice to all Iraqis as the proceedings move ahead. Until now, there have been no indictments brought on sexual violence. The IHT Judges have, however, taken testimony from rape victims and have pledged to use international law in their opinions on these cases.

Using International Law in the Struggle for Democracy and Women's Participation in Burma

2006: A fact sheet on how to use international law to improve gender equality and ensure women's participation.

Excerpt:

The effort to achieve peace, security and democracy in Burma (called Myanmar by the current government) is an on-going battle against a repressive and brutal military regime. Burma is presently controlled by the SPDC, a military regime that took over Burma by force and refused to turn over power to the National Democratic League, the democratically elected government led by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Sui Kyi. A major part of the effort to achieve peace, security and democracy in Burma (Myanmar) is the struggle by the women of Burma to change strongly-held ideas about women’s role in society, including the belief that women do not belong in political leadership and should be subordinate to men. Within this movement, the Global Justice Center advises the Women’s League of Burma on how to use international law to ensure the inclusion of women in all aspects of the democracy-building process. In addition, the Global Justice Center looks for new and creative ways to use international law to address the widespread rape of ethnic women by the military.

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Using the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to Advocate for the Political Rights of Women in a Democratic Burma

Article written by GJC Fellow, Andrea Friedman, for the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender on using CEDAW to advocate for gender equality in Burma.

Excerpt:

The military dictatorship ruling Burma has had a firm grip on the country for over forty years.2 Despite authorizing a democratic election in 1990, the junta refused to turn over power, and jailed many elected to office. Forces for a democratic Burma remain strong, although the draconian measures taken by the ruling regime have forced the majority of those fighting for democracy to organize in exile. These groups in exile are joined together by a vital fight to bring peace to Burma after decades of violence, a peace that would enable them to return home. Unfortunately, the inclusion of women in this effort has been pushed aside in the name of a larger struggle, likely with the assumption that equality will be addressed once there is democracy. This assumption undermines democracy itself. Critical to the formation of a democratic Burma is the inclusion of women in all the nation-building steps, such as peace negotiations, transitional governments, constitution drafting, and war-crimes tribunals. Those groups arguing for democracy and the rule of law must live up to their own rhetoric and set the stage for a true democracy by ensuring the inclusion of women.

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