What Success Looks Like for Women on the Ground

Yesterday in the inspiring and informative event, “What Success Looks Like on the Ground,” women leaders from Burma, Haiti, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo gathered to discuss their personal experiences in combating sexual violence in conflict. The panel was a side event to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

It was moving to hear directly from local women leaders who battle everyday with their governments, militaries, other institutions, and social mores. Together they painted a stark picture of the very real difficulties women face in armed conflict zones around the world, as well as lessons they have learned in working against sexual violence and in supporting survivors.

Panel speaker Julia Marip, from the Women’s League of Burma, noted that “when women have been raped, they suffer twice: once at the rape and again when they become pregnant.” Ms. Marip then pointed out that not only is abortion illegal in Burma, but also that reforming laws – including those criminalizing abortion – is overly difficult due to the constitution’s discrimination against women and the military’s embedded position within the government. She also emphasized the importance of having women at the political table in order to improve the lives of women, including by ending rape and increasing accountability. Ms. Marip and her organization, the Women’s League of Burma, recently launched a report on sexual violence in their country,Same Impunity, Same Pattern: Report of Systematic Sexual Violence in Burma’s Ethnic Areas, about which the Global Justice Center hosted an event and wrote an article.

Similarly, Leonie Kyakimwa Wangivirwa, an activist working with women survivors of sexual violence in Congo, spoke of the power of women to end sexual violence in conflict. She called for solidarity, saying that women around the world “must band together as survivors if we want to fix this on a global level rather than go case by case.” She further urged the world to end the crisis in Congo – one of the world’s longest running conflicts – saying that the Congolese “are begging the people who are bringing war to us to take it away.” Without this step, she explained, sexual violence would continue.

Leonie then described the consequences of the ongoing sexual violence in her country, including the suffering of women with unwanted pregnancies from rape, who are often shunned by their families, and the dangers and difficulties that face children born of rape. An audience member from the Congo, Justine Masika Bihamba, of Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence, echoed Leonie’s point, reporting that “every day we are losing women to suicide who have become pregnant from rape.”

Zeinab Blandia, of the Vision Association in Sudan, shared her experiences advocating against sexual violence in her country, and explained that where peace has been established in areas of Sudan, the situation for women has improved. Like her fellow panelists, Zeinab called on the international community to help bring the conflict in her country to an end. She said that if the war and its associated violence against women were to continue, it would be a “shame on the international community and on CSW.”

The panel also touched upon successes combating sexual violence in Haiti, where the 2010 earthquake left women and girls increasingly vulnerable to sexual attacks. The event highlighted the work of KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), a grassroots organization run by women survivors of sexual violence that supports other women survivors in Haiti. Marie Eramithe Delva, executive secretary of KOFAVIV, recounted the success of their campaign distributing whistles to women and girls in the displaced person camps of Port-au-Prince, noting that in at least one camp it had led to a drastic reduction in the number of reported rapes.

The Global Justice Center (GJC) is grateful to have heard these women leaders speak of their experiences and advice for combating sexual violence and supporting survivors. We believe our vision of success on the ground mirrors their calls for justice and accountability for rape in armed conflict, for increased participation of women in government and peace negotiations, and for expanded and non-discriminatory access to sexual and reproductive health services. GJC is eager to partner with women leaders such as these, as it has done with Ms. Bihamba, whose organization sent a letter to President Obama as part of GJC’s August 12th Campaign, urging him to lift the ban on abortions attached to U.S. humanitarian aid. For further information on GJC and its projects, please visit:http://www.globaljusticecenter.net.

Chilean Health Minister Reply

JULY, 2013: Chilean Health Minister Dr. Jaime Menalich Muxi responds to a letter from the GJC requesting that he allow an 11-year-old rape victim to have a life-saving abortion.

This letter states that though the pregnancy is risky, he cannot grant her an abortion because it is against the law.

This is a translated version of the letter.

Read GJC's original letter here.

Read the original version of the Chilean Health Minister's response letter (in Spanish) here.

Download PDF

Justice in Syria

All the talk this week will be whether the United States will launch air strikes on Syria, in the wake of the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the country’s ongoing civil war. During yesterday’s Senate hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry made the case that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has committed egregious human rights violations, including the violation of one of the most important norms of international law: the ban of using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) against civilians. President Obama emphasized that potential US strikes is about protecting this fundamental international norm, which is threatened by the Syrian government’s alleged gassing of its own people. Yet, Syria has long been in a state of unrest – and the Global Justice Center takes a look a few other areas in which Syria is violating international law, particularly when it comes to equal protection and rights for women.

Impunity

As has been evident throughout the conflict in Syria, neither the government nor the rebel faction shave been held accountable for their crimes – even when these crimes do not respect international law. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noted that government abuses were largest in scale. In its 2013 Annual Report on Syria, Amnesty International wrote that “the government took no steps to investigate the numerous allegations against their forces or to bring anyone to justice for alleged gross human rights violations, crimes against humanity or war crimes. The government maintained a reign of impunity, including legislation giving members of the security forces effective immunity for unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations.”

The Global Justice Center is all too familiar with the dangers of governmental impunity through its work with the Burma Law Project. The Burma Constitution perpetuates injustice as a policy by giving complete amnesty to the military for its crimes, including systematic rapes of ethnic women. It also excludes women, just as 2012 Syrian Constitution. With the human rights violations mounting in Syria, including an alarming number of reported rapes and sexual crimes, it is clear that no matter how the conflict in Syria ends, perpetrators must be held accountable on both sides. The international community cannot allow yet another example of war crimes, especially gender-based violence, to be carried out with impunity.

In addition, according to Women under Siege, a journalism project founded by Gloria Steinem, sexual violence is and has been rampant in Syria throughout the conflict. It is perpetrated by both sides, without justice for victims (or, in many cases, even necessary medical care). Women Under Siege has been collecting reports of sexual violence in Syria to document the way rape is being used to terrorize and intimidate the Syrian people. With this data they have created a live, crowd-sourced map. The crimes documented went largely unpunished and represent only a small part of the whole, because sexual violence in Syria is largely underreported.

“With no clear future for Syria in sight, refugees are understandably cautious about who they speak to and trust with sensitive and personal information… It may be hard to put their trust in a stranger when, time and again, there has been little justice for victims of wartime rape.” – Lauren Wolfe, Director, Women Under Siege.

Gender Equality

According to data from the WEF Gender Gap Report on countries’ gender equality progress since the Arab Spring, overall the region’s score increased by a dismal 1.2% from 2010 to 2012. Syria, on the other hand, decreased by 5.3%. That’s right: Syria is moving backwards on women’s rights issues, mainly because of decreases in estimated earned income. In addition, in a list of 135 countries, Syria was ranked an abysmal #111 in the Gender Gap Index for “political empowerment” in 2012 by the report.

“[Syria]’s civil war has coincided with reduced political participation for women and sharply curtailed access to the country’s shattered economy,” wrote Max Fisher, Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger, in an article.

But Syria is not only moving backwards; the basis on which it started never had equal opportunities for women in the first place.

“While the penal code no longer fully exonerates perpetrators of so-called honor crimes, it still gives judges options for reduced sentences if a crime was committed with “honorable” intent. The nationality law of 1969 prevents Syrian women married to foreign spouses the right to pass on their citizenship to their children or spouses,” Human Rights Watch stated in its 2012 World Report on Syria.

When this tragic and deadly conflict finally comes to an end, any future government in Syria must look towards building long-term stability. A major key to that is to have a government and a constitution that is representative. Women’s rights are not something that can be pushed to the side and fixed only after the country is considered “stable.”In reality, ensuring women’s rights is anecessary step to achieving long-term stability. There must be increased participation in the political process by women if the country is to fulfill the pledge in the 2012 Syrian Constitution of a multi-party system, replacing ade facto one-party system that has hindered democratic reform for the past several decades.

As the world waits to see if the US will strike and what the global fallout from such action will be, it is critical to examine the roots of injustice if Syria can ever hope to move forward.

Donate now to help the Global Justice Center establish global human rights through the rule of law.

August 12th Marks Anniversary of U.S. Signing of the Geneva Conventions – Now It’s Time for President Obama to Fulfill this Pledge for Girls & Women Raped in War

August 12, 2013

Why is a young girl in the Central African Republic raped & impregnated, then DENIED access to a safe abortion, when abortion is legal in CAR for cases of rape?

It’s because of a US ban on humanitarian aid.

Read this powerful article from Baroness Kinnock in the Guardian.

On August 12, 1949, the United States signed the Geneva Conventions. Yet, 64 years later we are not living up to our pledge. We provide life-saving medical care to the those “wounded and sick” in war – unless they are young girls and women rape and impregnated through war rape.

That is why, on August 12, 2011, the Global Justice Center launched its August 12th Campaign to end systemic discrimination against girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict, who are routinely denied access to safe abortions, even in lifesaving situations and when they’ve been the victim of brutal rape.

We have tremendous progress, but we need your help to WIN.

Help us end this inhumane policy – PLEASE SUPPORT OUR WORK BY DONATING TODAY.  

A Few Highlights of our August 12th Campaign:

August 12th, 2011 – The Global Justice Center’s campaign begins.

September 2012 –  A coalition representing over 3,300 groups, has written letters to President Obama, urging him to issue an executive order lifting U.S. abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.

January 10, 2013 – The UK announces a historic change in their policy, acknowledging that girls and women raped in armed conflict have absolute legal rights to abortions when medically necessary under the Geneva Conventions.

March 14, 2013 – For the first time in history, the UN Secretary General makes a recommendation in his annual Report on sexual violence in conflict that aid girls and women raped in armed conflict must include services to terminate an unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape.

April 8, 2013 – The Netherlands affirms the right of war rape victims to have access to safe abortion services.

June 24, 2013 – The UN Security Council unanimously passes Resolution 2106, which for the first time, explicitly calls for UN bodies and donor countries to provide “non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health.”

But We’re Not Done Yet! Our Work Continues…

This campaign is far from over! Today, Women Under Siege published a compelling piece by GJC Senior Counsel Akila Radhakrishnan, on the devastating effects of the US policy in places of conflict, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

With support from people like you, we can end to this discrimination and give a voice to women all over the world. DONATE TODAY.

Room for Improvement: Looking back at the 2011 Egyptian Protests

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 30th46 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.

Letter to Jaime Mañalich Muxi, Re: Denial of Life-Saving Abortion to Pregnant Chilean Girl Violates International Human Rights Law

GJC writes a letter to Chilean Minister of Health, Jaime Manalich Muxi, asking him to allow doctors to perform a life saving abortion on an 11-year old girl who was impregnated after being raped repeatedly by her mother's boyfriend.

Excerpt:

On behalf of the Global Justice Center, I am writing to urge you to immediately permit doctors to perform a therapeutic abortion to save the life and prevent further cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of a young Chilean girl, “Belén,” who faces a life-threatening pregnancy resulting from rape.

Belén, an 11-year old girl, was impregnated after being raped repeatedly for more than two weeks by her mother’s boyfriend. According to Belén’s doctors, the pregnancy has placed her life at risk. If, however, her doctors were to provide her a life-saving abortion, they and Belén would both be found in criminal violation of Chile’s absolute ban on abortion, which allows no exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother. As Chilean law now stands, an 11-year old girl will be forced to endure a life-threatening pregnancy that will either kill her or compel her, a child herself, to give birth to and raise the child of her rapist. This forced pregnancy will continue the violation of her bodily integrity and sovereignty, extending the pain and abuse she has already experienced.

We call on your government to permit a therapeutic abortion as the only humane response to Belén’s predicament, and to reform your restrictive ban on abortion so that future girls and women are not subjected to the physical and psychological dangers of unwanted and life-threatening pregnancies.

Download PDF

The Unspoken Revolution in Tahrir Square

Waves of people have spilled into the city centers of Egypt, arms stretched high with red, white and green flags, clutching posters with one demand: “ar7l” or “leave.” Reminiscent of the 2011 Arab Spring, these recent protests against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi are the epitome of political dissent and powerful activism. However, this freedom of expression does not extend to all Egyptians. Women wishing to exercise their rights by joining political protests are frequently subjected to violent sexual assault and harassment.

Consider that, in just one day on June 30, 201346 sexual assaults were reported from Tahrir Square. The majority are mob attacks, where many men descend upon women, tearing their clothes to shreds. Some use patrol batons to beat these women, while law enforcement turns a blind eye. In the words of Soraya Bahgat (founder of the women’s rights organization Tahrir Bodyguard), these attacks are “sexual terrorism.”

All around the globe, sexual violence is used as a weapon to suppress women and to keep them from voicing their opinions in the public sphere. At the Global Justice Center, we know that there cannot be political progress without including women. After all, as we saw in 2011, women were an integral part of in overthrowing former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

A number of inspirational Egyptian organizations have formed to secure women’s right to demonstrate like their male peers, like Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment and Tahrir Bodyguard. These groups, made up of male and female volunteers, work to ensure the safety of women at protests. Tahrir Bodyguards, decked in neon vests and hard hats, survey from checkpoints and watchtowers within Tahrir Square at major protests. They intervene in the attacks upon women, often suffering injuries themselves as they fight to protect the victims. Tahrir Bodyguard also provides free self-defense lessons for women. Similarly, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment will intervene in violent situations. It also works to raise awareness at protests, spreading information on how to handle rape-trauma survivors and provides an emergency hotline number. They also have safe houses located around Tahrir Square.

While these organizations play very important roles in addressing immediate problems, more must be done to address the broader issues of misogyny and rape culture that enable the rampant use of sexual violence against women worldwide. A major key to this is to radically increase the number of women in power.Women make up 51% of the world’s population, but compose less than 20% of government leaders.This discrepancy is clearly reflected in the composition of Egypt’s 36-member cabinet; only two are women.

The Global Justice Center works to increase women’s roles in governments internationally. With 99% of Egyptian women having experienced some form of sexual harassment, their experiences would likely guide their political policies. Allowing Egyptian women to protest without the fear of being sexually assaulted is only the first step in ameliorating the endemic of sexual violence. This is not a cultural issue, and it is certainly not limited to Egypt. This is a global issue. Women across the world must be in positions of power in order to enact change and truly achieve greater societal progress.

We must remember that there is more than one revolution occurring in Egypt right now. An unspoken revolution is bravely being fought by the Egyptian women risking their lives to express their political beliefs, and by those who are working tirelessly to protect them.

Lessons from Beatriz: El Salvador & the Denial of Life-Saving Abortions Worldwide

“I don’t want to die,” Beatriz said.[1]

Beatriz is a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman who was recently denied the right to an abortion during her high-risk and potentially fatal pregnancy. Her court case has captured international attention, bringing to light the staunch anti-abortion policies of El Salvador and in other areas of Latin America, and around the world, even in life-threatening circumstances.

Beatriz suffers from lupus and other medical complications which worsened during her first pregnancy. Her doctors at the National Maternity Hospital claimed that with the progression of the 26-week pregnancy, Beatriz’s risk of hemorrhaging, kidney failure and maternal death would increase exponentially. Additionally, the fetus had a birth defect called anencephaly, in which a baby develops without parts of its brain and faces very little chance of survival. As a result, Beatriz sought an abortion for the sake of her health and the well-being of her young child at home that she must care for. The Government of El Salvador denied her an abortion despite her, her doctors’, and the international community’s entreaties. On May 29, El Salvador’s Supreme Court upheld the Government’s decision to deny her an abortion, based upon its reading of the country’s abortion ban, which was an “absolute impediment to authorize the practice of abortion.” The court claimed that “the rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those” of the fetus.[2]

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) promptly responded and demanded that the government “immediately adopt the necessary measures to protect the life, personal integrity and health” of Beatriz.[3] In addition, the IACHR held that “the Salvadoran State is obligated to ‘guarantee that the treating medical team has the … protection to fully exercise its function according to the decisions that, based on medical science, said medical team should adopt.’”[4] Such protection of medical personnel—granting them the freedom to make decisions based solely upon medical ethics rather than political considerations—guarantees better outcomes for female patients facing dangerous pregnancies, as it permits medical personnel to prioritize the patient’s welfare above all else. This mandate is also found under international humanitarian law, to protect doctors who provide life-saving abortions in humanitarian settings from prosecution under local criminal abortion laws.

On May 30, El Salvador’s Ministry of Health overrode the Supreme Court’s decision. María Isabel Rodríguez, the Salvadoran Minister of Health, announced that Beatriz would be allowed to end her pregnancy “at the first sign of danger” through an induced birth.[3] As a result, on June 3, Beatriz underwent a Cesarean section. Her daughter was born without a brain, and died five hours later.[5]While the decision of the Ministry of Health should be applauded for having saved the life of one woman, it does not do the necessary work of challenging El Salvador’s strict ban on abortion. The law must be changed so that other Salvadoran girls and women with dangerous pregnancies are not forced into the same suffering, uncertainty, and risk of death as Beatriz faced.

While many countries in Latin America, like Uruguay, Mexico City, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina have relaxed their highly conservative abortion laws, other nations including Chile and Nicaragua continue to maintain misogynistic and repressive restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.[6]Beatriz is one example of thousands of women across Latin America – and the world – who are denied access to safe abortions, even in cases of high risk pregnancies or pregnancies resulting from rape.

Shockingly, the United States, too, perpetuates this inhuman policy, by denying access to safe abortions for girls and women raped in war. This violates the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law (IHL).

Here’s how this US policy violates the Geneva Conventions: The 1973 Helms Amendment places a blanket abortion ban on all US humanitarian aid, even for girls and women who are brutally raped as a weapon of war, and those who face potentially fatal health risks.

The Global Justice Center sent a petition, and has organized a letter-writing campaign, to President Obama and continues to take action to ensure girls and women are guaranteed the nondiscriminatory medical care that is their absolute right under IHL. Bans on abortion maintain a society in which women and girls possess rights to health and life that are less than those of men and boys. It is clear that, as one of Beatriz’s lawyers, Victor Hugo Mata, said: “Justice here does not respect the rights of women.”[2] Action must be taken to change these oppressive policies in El Salvador, the United States and around the world.

[1]Zabludovsky, Karla. “A Salvadoran at Risk Tests Abortion Law.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 May 2013. Web. 04 June 2013. available athttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/29/world/americas/pregnant-sick-and-pressing-salvadoran-abortion-law.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&ref=americas

[2]Palumbo, Gene and Karla Zabludovsky. “Salvadoran Court Denies Abortion to Ailing Woman.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 May 2013. Web. 04 June 2013. available at  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/world/americas/salvadoran-court-denies-abortion-to-ailing-woman.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

[3]Zabludovsky, Karla. “WORLD BRIEFING | THE AMERICAS; El Salvador: Doctors Can Induce Birth to Save Woman, Official Says.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 May 2013. Web. 04 June 2013. available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/world/americas/el-salvador-doctors-can-induce-birth-to-save-woman-official-says.html?src=recg

[4]Center for Justice and International Law, “Inter-American Court of Human Rights orders the Salvadoran State to interrupt the pregnancy of ‘Beatriz,’” May 30, 2013, available athttp://cejil.org/en/comunicados/inter-american-court-human-rights-orders-salvadoran-state-perform-a-therapeutic-abortion.

[5]Al Jazeera, “El Salvador abortion row baby dies,”June 4, 2013,http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2013/06/20136494818222545.html.

[6]Groll, Elias. “El Salvador’s ‘Beatriz’ and the Politics of Abortion in Latin America.”Web log post.Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy, 31 May 2013. Web. 2 June 2013. available athttp://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/05/31/el_salvador_beatriz_politics_abortion_latin_america

Legal Victory in Kenya Can Serve as Model to Fight Impunity in Burma

Girls and women in Kenya recently made history when the High Court of Kenya delivered a favorable outcome to a constitutional challenge in which 160 girls between the ages of 3 and 17 sued the Kenyan government for failing to protect them from being raped.

The girls brought the action under Section 22(1) of the Kenyan constitution, which provides that “Every person has the right to institute court proceedings claiming that a right or fundamental freedom in the Bill of Rights has been denied, violated or infringed, or is threatened.” The Kenyan criminal code contains laws that protect against rape, however they are not enforced and as a result rape has been on the rise. The petitioners accused the police of “neglect, omission, refusal and/or failure…to conduct prompt, effective, proper and professional investigations” into sexual violence complaints.

The High Court agreed with the petitioners, saying that the police had “unlawfully, inexcusably and unjustifiably” failed to respond to reports of sexual abuse in Kenya. It said police inaction and lack of enforcement has created a “climate of impunity” that shows perpetrators they can commit crimes of sexual violence and not be punished. The Court found that the petitioners’ fundamental rights and freedoms had been violated, not only under the Kenyan Constitution but also according to international law. The Court found police inaction to violate fundamental rights that are protected by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Court also considered international cases that demonstrate a consensus that states may be held accountable for failing to properly respond to sexual violence because they have a duty “to protect all citizens from violence and ensure their security of person.”

Two days after the victory, several people contacted Fiona Sampson, the Toronto attorney who worked on the case. They wanted to use the case as a model in other countries for fighting impunity in the context of sexual violence, a problem that is hardly limited to Kenya.

For the women in Burma, for example, the problem of impunity in the face of widespread sexual violence is dire. The prevalence of abuse, documented by Burmese women’s groups, UN special rapporteurs, and even the Security Council, is extensive. These violations are not anecdotal incidences of crime. Rather, the Burmese military uses rape as a weapon of war against the civilian population.

Although this problem has been reported at length, the Burmese government refuses to take any action to punish such acts. In fact, the current 2008 Constitution provides complete impunity for sexual violence perpetrated by the military by including an amnesty provision that precludes the prosecution of military perpetrators of crimes. What’s more, current law requires that any amendment to the Constitution be supported by more than 75% of parliament. Because 25% of parliamentary seats are reserved for the military, all nonmilitary members plus at least one military member must support any proposed amendment. It is therefore unlikely that the amnesty provision will be overturned any time soon.Because of this, the International Center for Transitional Justice has said that Burma presents “one of the most difficult challenges in the world in relation to making progress toward combating impunity”.

As a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Burma has an affirmative duty to ensure women are protected from sexual violence, which includes not affording immunity to its perpetrators. Like Kenya, Burma is bound under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and should be guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in developing policies and practices that protect Burmese citizens from sexual violence. Burma is violating these international obligations when it relies on its 2008 Constitution to justify inaction.

The international community should look to the recent case in Kenya as a model and call for Burma to put an end to impunity if it wants to establish viable democracy in the country. Given the Burmese military’s reliance on aid, international pressure could be highly effective. While the government continues to fail to act to combat impunity, the international community must demand a change in the constitution so that girls and women in Burma, just as in Kenya, receive the protections their government owes them.

Women in the Legislature Take On Sexual Assault in the Military

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.

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.

The Gender Gap and Women's Political Power in Myanmar/Burma

The rights of women under international law, including the right to occupy positions of political power, have advanced more in the last 20 years than ever before. True political participation requires a significant number of women in all areas of governance: ceasefire and peace treaty negotiations, constitution drafting committees, political parties, executive branch appointments, and elected positions.

In Burma, the long history of militarization has reinforced and perpetuated the gender gap in power. Women are not admitted into active military service, effectively excluding them (as well as ethnic minorities) from political participation since top offices are reserved for the military. Therefore, they have also been ineligible for the employment, education, business, joint venture and travel opportunities created by military status.

Pursuant to the 2008 Constitution, the Defense Services (Tatmadaw) remain an integral and permanent part of the machinery that governs Burma and is constitutionally guaranteed complete power and autonomy. The continued military dominance guaranteed by the Constitution is the main obstacle for women in Burma hindering them from ever gaining real political power.

This timeline illustrates the absence of women’s voices from formal governing structures throughout Burmese history. It should provide an impetus for this formerly silent majority, the feminist majority, to make their voices heard and to take their turn at governing the country.

Download PDF

Netherlands Affirms Right of Women Raped in Armed Conflict to Abortions as Part of Necessary Medical Care Under International Law

Frans Timmermans, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and Lilaane Ploumen, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development, just affirmed to parliamentary questions submitted in March 2013 in the Netherlands that the foreign ministry agrees with the UK that abortion can be a necessary medical procedure under international humanitarian law, which then must be provided regardless of national laws in countries. The questions were asked by Parliamentarian Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, a Member of the Dutch party D66.

Timmermans and Ploumen state ”It is our opinion that raped women and girls in war zones have the right to any and all necessary medical care of great quality, this includes safe abortions”. The Netherlands also stands ready to engage the US on the issue of the Helms amendment ban on abortion as an obstacle to ensuring women their IHL rights.

An unofficial English translation can be found here.

The Parliamentary questions (in Dutch) can be found here.

The answers (in Dutch) from the Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken are available here.

 

Santa Barbara Women Lawyers' Letter to President Obama

March 11, 2013

Letter sent to President Obama by the Santa Barbara Women Lawyers as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

Excerpt:

Rape and forced pregnancy are frequently part of violent attacks intended to torture or even kill girls and women. Those who survive such rapes frequently suffer from life-long physical, psychological and social consequences. These consequences are amplified for those girls and women who become pregnant from the rapes. Girls and women who survive these attacks often lack access, funds or information to abortion- related services; thus denying them the full range of health care services.

All victims of armed conflict are entitled to receive complete, appropriate and non-discriminatory medical care. The United States abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid undermine the rights of survivors of rape in armed conflict to non-discriminatory medical care and should therefore be lifted.

Download PDF

Lessons Learnt on Violence Against Women and Girls

Friday, March 8, 2013, 11:30-13:00

At Baha'i International Community Offices

The European Association of Women Lawyers, NAWO, the Global Justice Center and others will be hosting the event “Lessons Learnt on VAGW: A better future including establishing a UN Convention on VAGW." GJC President Janet Benshoof will be talking on using the rule of law to stop Violence Against Women and Girls. 

CSW 57: Commission on the Status of Women

This month is International Women’s Month! We are joining several groups tomorrow, March 7, at 12pmET to discuss abortion coverage restrictions and the consequences that it has on women. Follow #hydehurts and #helmshurts on twitter and join us in being a voice for many women around the world who are unable to speak out!

The Commission on the Status of Women is being held at the UN during these next two weeks, and GJC will be in attendance as a consultative member of the NGO working group on women, peace, and security. Janet Benshoof, GJC president, will be speaking on two panels to highlight the importance of ending violence against women in conflict.

The Global Justice Center is working diligently to advocate for gender inequality in conflict and post conflict situations. Our August 12th Campaign is challenging the routine denial of medical rights to war rape victims as a violation of the right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions. Thousands of girls and women raped in armed conflict are routinely denied their rightful access to safe abortions, and we must put a stop to this. Furthermore, girls and women are raped daily to accomplish military objectives, including genocide. Rape is more effective and cost effective than any other unlawful weapon used in armed conflict today, yet it is routinely overlooked by the international community. GJC’s Rape as a Weapon of War project is working to ensure that states using this method of warfare are held accountable for their actions.

Stephanie Johanssen, legal counsel for European and UN affairs at GJC, has been working tirelessly on behalf of GJC as a member of the working group on women, peace, and security to monitor implementation of Security Council resolutions on the role and rights of women in conflict situations. GJC uses its consultative status with the United Nations to be a leading voice urging UN bodies to fulfill their obligations to act against fundamental law violations. The UN is the epicenter of global efforts to end impunity for perpetrators of war crimes, and gives GJC the ideal access point to strengthen the impact of our legal arguments.

Please support us in making a difference in the lives of thousands of women worldwide!

CSW 57: The Gap between Image and Reality

The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) is over and the agreed conclusions have been adopted. Some delegations made reservations but did not block the adoption of the final draft. Every year, the CSW session also serves as a forum for UN member states to do a bit of PR for themselves. Words like “committed,” “dedicated,” “acknowledge,” and “affirm” are heard often and most countries have an interest to show the world how they are leaders when it comes to furthering women’s rights. However, all too often, these statements stand in stark contrast with a country’s foreign policy. The United States is one example.

In explaining the US position on the Agreed Conclusions of this year’s CSW, U.S. Deputy Representative to ECOSOC Terri Robl, said in a statement on March 15: “Reproductive rights and the full implementation of these international agreements are essential to the prevention, mitigation and elimination of violence against women and girls. The United States reaffirms our continuing commitment to protect and promote reproductive rights.” If the United States is committed to protect and protect women’s reproductive rights why not lament the Agreed Conclusion’s weak reference concerning the right to safe abortion access which was limited to national laws?

Because reality looks very different:

USAID administrative policy, formally adopted in 2008, contains no exception for abortions for rape or to save the life of the rape victim, and is, at least on paper, more restrictive than federal statutory requirements (including the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, which first placed abortion restrictions on foreign aid in 1973).

As the largest provider of humanitarian aid in the world and by funding most major humanitarian actors, the US is able to dominate the field of humanitarian aid with its no abortion policy and is responsible in large part for the global failure to provide the option of abortion to victims of war rape. Many have joined with the Global Justice Center to challenge this inhumane US policy as a violation of the rights of girls and women to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions.

CSW may be over, but the time is now for the US to live up to its rhetoric.

GJC Rises Up! One Billion Rise to End Gender Violence

February 14, 2013, 15:00

At Times Square, NYC

 

On February 14, 2013, the staff of the Global Justice Center  joined with Amnesty International is Times Square today for One Billion Rising, V-Day’s global movement to end violence against women. It was such a meaningful event and incredible atmosphere, so we'd like to share a few photos from the day!

Please also take a look at our blog to see more of our One Billion Rising activities and learn more about our work: http://globaljusticecenter.net/blog/

Written Submission on the General Recommendation on “Access to Justice”

The GJC welcomes the Committee’s Concept Note and looks forward to the general discussion on “Access to Justice” in preparation for a General Recommendation on the subject.

In general, access to justice for women is essential to the advancement of women’s rights, including the prevention of any form of discrimination against women, including gender based violence, and the full implementation of the rights in the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.2 In this context, it is essential that women are able to assert their rights in a judicial system, have access to redress and reparation, including compensation, and have perpetrators of crimes against women held accountable.

This written submission focuses on one particular area of access to justice: the necessity to ensure equal participation in the judiciary by women, in particular through the use of quota systems. Gender parity in the judiciary is essential in order to ensure the advancement of the rule of law, and high quality, non-discriminatory decisions.

Download PDF