Barbara Crossette of PassBlue interviewed GJC President Janet Benshoof about her life and her work, including founding of the Global Justice Center and advocating for women in Burma and around the world.
Barbara Crossette of PassBlue interviewed GJC President Janet Benshoof about her life and her work, including founding of the Global Justice Center and advocating for women in Burma and around the world.
By Julia d'Amours
Chile proceeds with the repeal of its total anti-abortion laws. In August, legislation was presented to permit abortion in three cases: if the life of the mother was in danger, if it the fetus would not survive, or if the pregnancy was a result of rape. Lawyers argued that a total abortion ban was inhumane and a violation of women’s rights. Though polls indicate more than 70 percent of the population supports more lenient abortion laws, the Catholic Church and elite upper class staunchly opposed the bill. The repeal is considered a major victory in women’s rights and reproductive rights, and many hope it will lead to similar legislation in the region.
Last Friday, Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled that the re-election of the sitting president would be revisited after discovery that the vote counts had been irregular. It is the first example in Africa in which a court voided the re-election of an incumbent. Many are at unease considering Kenya’s fragile political landscape—the last disputed election in 2007 resulted in at least 1,300 dead and 600,000 displaced around the country.
On Sunday, Cambodia arrested Kem Sokha, the main opposition leader, accusing him of treason. This follows accounts of government harassment on the free press and expulsion of NGOs, such as the pro-democracy National Democratic Institute. A Human Rights Watch official called the arrest “a disastrous setback” for Cambodia as the country prepares for elections next year.
On Monday, Malala Yousafzi joined an increasing number of human rights activists in publicly criticizing Myanmar’s effective leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma. More than 73,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh after they were attacked by Burmese military factions on August 25th. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar has described the situation as “grave.” Widely seen as a champion of democracy, Suu Kyi has remained quiet on the subject of the Rohingya.
On Tuesday, President Trump broke headlines by announcing the end of DACA—the federal program that protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He claimed DACA’s establishment was an abuse of electoral power and rebuking it would establish rule of law. Many of those enrolled in DACA already have families, started careers, or enrolled in higher education in the US. Permits that are set to expire in the next six months will be renewed, but the Department of Homeland Security will stop processing new applications for the program. Officials say there will be no formal guidance that former DACA recipients are not eligible for deportation.
On Wednesday, the Trump Administration introduced a Security Council resolution that would empower the United States Navy and Airforce to interdict North Korean ships and evaluate if their cargo contains military equipment. It also included a ban on the shipment of crude oil, petroleum, and natural gas, which would have severe results for the North Korean population as winter approaches, and aims to block the assets of Kim Jong-un. The resolution is careful not to encompass a total blockade, which is an act of war, but permits the US and UNSC to “nonconsensual inspections.”
On Thursday, a federal appeals court permitted thousands of refugees who had been blocked by President Trumps’ travel ban to enter the country. Since June, the government has frozen refugee resettlement applications and brought resettlement programs to a standstill. Yesterday’s ruling mandated that the government resume refugee resettlements in the next five days. It also upheld a lower court decision that exempted grandparents and other relatives from the ban. A Justice Department representative remarked that they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Also on Thursday, the High Court of Australia ruled that a postal survey on the legalization of gay marriage was legitimate, despite the objections of same-sex marriage advocates. The results of the survey could not make same-sex marriage legal or illegal, but it could spark a vote in Parliament. Polls suggest that a “yes” vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage will prevail. The results will be announced the 15th of November.
Thursday, April 13, 2017, 2:00 - 5:00 PM
Janet Benshoof is speaking on a panel discussion on US policy on the International Criminal Court and international criminal justice writ large.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — April 7, 2017
[NEW YORK, NY] - Today marks the 23rd Anniversary of the start of the Rwanda genocide when 80% of the Tutsi population in Rwanda was exterminated. Over the course of 100 days, up to a half million Tutsi women were raped, sexually mutilated or murdered. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handed down the first conviction for the use of rape as an act of genocide.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— March 29, 2017
[NEW YORK, NY] - Yesterday, Jordan welcomed Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s President, for the Arab League’s annual summit. Bashir is attending despite two longstanding arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his actions in Darfur, including rape, murder, torture and extermination. He has been charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and has been a fugitive from the ICC since 2009.
On November 17th, GJC's UN and EU Director, Stephanie Johanssen, wrote a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times in response to their article, A Stronger Court for War Crimes.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—November 5, 2015
[GENEVA & NEW YORK] – Tomorrow, an alleged war criminal accused of torture, murder, enslavement, pillage, rape, and forcible population transfer, is scheduled to present Myanmar’s human rights record at the United Nations.
A war criminal accused of ordering attacks on civilians, murder, enslavement, execution without trial, sexual violence, pillage and torture is scheduled to testify about Myanmar’s human rights record at the UN Friday, Nov. 6th.
With overwhelming evidence of his crimes exposed in a Harvard Law School report, General Ko Ko should be arrested when he reaches Geneva. Instead, as Myanmar’s chosen representative on its human rights record, he will be granted complete immunity by the UN itself.
Despite his immunity, the Global Justice Center (GJC), in partnership with Justice Trust, developed a model indictment for General Ko Ko that will be served on Friday in Geneva. GJC is calling for Ko Ko’s arrest and prosecution, under universal jurisdiction and through the ICC, so there can be justice for thousands of Myanmar’s citizens.
“Victims of heinous military crimes, including ethnic women and girls, are entitled to justice in their lifetimes,” said GJC President Janet Benshoof.
Local efforts to hold Ko Ko accountable have been stonewalled, and advocates for justice retaliated against. Undeterred, a coalition of more than 500 civil society groups in Myanmar, supported by international human rights organizations, are urging the international community to take steps to hold Ko Ko criminally accountable for past and ongoing crimes.
Tweet #arrestkoko & support the people of Myanmar in bringing a war criminal to justice.
Below you can read the question that Janet asked Wunna Maung Lwin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, about accountability for human rights abuser General Ko Ko at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Thank you very much, my name is Janet Benshoof, Global Justice Center. After a 4 year on the ground investigation, Harvard Law School Lawyers concluded, using the standards of the International Criminal Court that Myanmar’s Major General Ko Ko has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Karen ethnic group. I have a two-part question:
First, could you explain, given that Myanmar has been in armed conflict for 60 years if there have been any prosecutions of military commanders for international crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. And second, could you explain the government process by which 6 months after the Harvard report, the government selected General Ko Ko to present and defend Myanmar’s human rights record before the Human Rights Council next month. Thank you very much.
Response by Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister of Foreign Affair of Myanmar
To answer your first question, there is no Myanmar General prosecuted or facing any kind of trial in the International Criminal Court or any other court because some of the allegations were unfounded and untrue. Because whenever there is a military operations or whenever there is an insurgency problem, every country has to defend their people, especially the innocent people who were hampered their livelihood by those insurgent groups. So for the military commander that you have mentioned, he is the Commander of the Southern Myanmar regions. So in his region there were insurgent problems and he commanded some of the military operations in that area. He is doing his responsibility as a military commander to defend those people from the scourge of insurgency. This is one question.
Another thing is that in the next month I think we will be submitting our universal periodic review report to the Human Rights Council. So we will be sending a delegation and we will be submitting our universal periodic review for the second time.
July 11th, 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica and the resultant genocide. In response to the anniversary of the massacre, The Economist published an article titled “Stop Genocide Early” which calls for early action by the international community in conflict situations.
On July 11th, 1995 Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic overthrew UN Dutch peacekeepers’ “safe area” of Srebrenica. The worst violence to happen in Europe since World War II ensued. Mladic was able to carry out this violence with impunity due to a deadlock between the United States and NATO. This hesitancy to act resulted in roughly 8,000 deaths and gave birth to the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. This doctrine states that countries are morally obligated to prevent genocide that is taking place in other countries. It is immoral to sit idly by while people are being massacred. “This is the chief lesson of Srebrenica: governments should heed the early signs of mass slaughter and act swiftly to prevent it.”
In northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram is forcibly transferring and abducting children with the intention of destroying the Christian community. The targeted abduction and forced religious conversion of the Chibok schoolgirls is genocide, and action must be taken to stop this violence.
On April 14, 2015 the Global Justice Center sent a letter to the International Criminal Court prosecutor urging her to charge Boko Haram with genocide in her investigation of their crimes. Formally declaring Boko Haram’s actions as genocide will send other countries the important message that they have a moral, humanitarian obligation to put an end to the brutality.
The international community must learn from the mistakes made at Srebrenica 20 years ago by recognizing the forced abductions and violence perpetrated by Boko Haram as genocide. The world must act swiftly in providing aid to the victims and must work together to stop Boko Haram.
Read the full article here.
Read about GJC’s Genocide project here.
On June 11, 2015 Angelina Jolie, a special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, gave an address at the African Union Summit in Johannesburg. Jolie highlighted the sexual violence that women and girls in conflict zones are subject to due to “the near-total impunity that exists worldwide for crimes against women, in conflict zones in particular.”
Impunity for the use of sexual violence is one GJC has been confronting head on. On April 15, 2015, one year after the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped, GJC sent a letter to the International Criminal Court urging the prosecutor to consider charging Boko Haram with genocide. Properly characterizing these targeted abductions as genocide will hold states accountable and encourage them to take action. As stated by GJC President Janet Benshoof in an op-ed in PassBlue,“It will make clear Nigeria’s own obligations to stop this conduct and to prosecute it vigorously; it will send a message to other perpetrators, including those currently targeting Yazidi women and girls in Syria and Iraq, that genocide will not be tolerated; it will fulfill the prosecutor’s own commitment to fully prosecute crimes aimed at women and girls and to integrate a gender perspective into every stage of its work; and finally, it will trigger the international community’s responsibility to protect the Nigerian population.”
As more and more wars are being fought using women’s bodies, it is important that the laws of war apply to and protect women as well as men. When the laws of war were initially drafted, rape was not recognized as a weapon; however, it is now identified as a tactic to win military objectives. Global Justice Center’s “Rape as a Weapon of War” campaign recognizes the discrimination and suffering that women and girls face in conflict zones. GJC urges governments and international organizations to hold states where rape is being used as a weapon accountable for their actions.
As Jolie stated, “We need policies for long-term security that are designed by women, focused on women, executed by women.” With these policies, gender equality is achievable and we can see an end to impunity for sexual violence.
In November 2014, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic published a legal memorandum revealing that Lieutenant General Ko Ko is one of the leading actors in crimes against humanity committed in Burma. Despite this comprehensive report, General Ko Ko has been appointed by Burma to lead its delegation to this year’s United Nations Universal Periodic Review. Every four years states are subject to this review process that provides states the opportunity to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.
To have General Ko Ko- a man explicitly linked to human rights violations- as the leader of Burma’s upcoming human rights review is sheer hypocrisy. As stated in Harvard Law’s Human Rights Blog “Human Rights @ Harvard Law,” “Ko Ko should not be the face of human rights in the new Myanmar.”
In response to Burma’s decision to have General Ko Ko lead their delegation to the UPR this fall, the U.S. Campaign for Burma has created a petition to add General Ko Ko to the U.S. Sanctions list.
As the petition states, “General Ko Ko has a long history of committing crimes against humanity and human rights abuses throughout Burma. During his post as Regional Commander in Karen State, tens of thousands of Karen fled for safer borders as they faced rape, extrajudicial murders, forced labor and portering, human shields and land grabs. Now, as Home Affairs Minister, General Ko Ko continues his attacks on any individual who supports democratic principles and desires justice. “
Sign the petition and tell President Obama to add General Ko Ko to the Specially Designated Nationals List.
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.
OCTOBER 13, 2011: The New York Times Opinion Pages publishes a letter by Janet Benshoof, founder and president of the GJC.
This document also includes two other Opinion Pieces published in the New York Times; one by Myra Dahgaypaw, campaign coordinator for U.S. Campaign for Burma, and one by Op-Ed Contributor Thant Myint-U titled "In Myanmar, Seize the Moment". This last Op-Ed called for President Obama to voice support for the changes happening in Burma under President Thein Sein. The other two Op-Ed pieces are in response to Mr. Thant Myint-U's piece, and Janet Benshoof calls instead for the global community to refuse to recognize the new constitution.
All of these Op-Ed pieces address the situation in Burma, and what the international response to it should look like.
On Tuesday the Nigerian Army declared its success in rescuing almost 300 girls and women from terrorist organization Boko Haram. Many false reports have been leaked previously, as is expected given the extensive coverage of the large-scale abduction of the Chibok girls over a year ago. However this report has been confirmed several times. The famous Chibok school girls are not among the recovered, but Nigeria has made great strides against Boko Haram in recent weeks. It is thought that these newly rescued girls had been kidnapped during some of Boko Haram’s smaller, less publicized attacks and abductions.
The recovery of these girls is indeed good news but Boko Haram still requires immediate attention and condemnation from the international community. During the mission to recover the girls, dozens of corpses were found in a nearby river. The actions of Boko Haram certainly constitute genocide—their ethnically and religiously killing as well as their systematic violence against women—and it is time for those actions to be treated as such. GJC advocates for continued vigilance in seeking the abducted girls and has called upon the ICC to investigate and prosecute Boko Haram in this way, ending impunity for a group that has faced few consequences and deterring other groups who practice similar illegal tactics.
Click here to read the full article.
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.
Melanne Verveer and Sarah Degnan Kambou, Executive Director of Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security and President of the International Center for Research on Women, respectively, recently collaborated to write an article for the Huffington Post. The article details the ways in which adolescent girls are abused within conflict. The piece was unique in that it also offered a rather optimistic view of solutions to the numerous issues facing young women in conflict.
In a world where families, homes, and entire cities are destroyed, young women are often regarded as victims rather than instruments of change. The Global Justice Center promotes the message of Power not Pity and Verveer and Kambou champion a similar goal for girls in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Jordan who survive despite suffering violence and sexual abuse. They also explicitly call upon the international community to assist in making services such as medical treatment and education widely available, saying, “Above all, the global community must help societies marred by conflict and crisis to build up the community’s resilience to resist the further spread or a resurgence of a conflict.”
Verveer and Kambou outline several concepts that would lead to the improvement of the situation for girls in conflict. First, more information must be made available, and furthermore, than information must be accurate and unbiased. Secondly, with that information, the media must present a thorough and responsible view of the situation surrounding the conflict, rather than providing a brief, sensationalist narrative such as the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. Third, civil society groups, often heavily involved in the aftermath of a conflict, can provide critical evidence and an unparalleled understanding of the situation. Fourth, the international community must work to end impunity for those who perpetrate war crimes like mass rape and forced pregnancy, finally, the girls themselves must be allowed to direct their own lives. As said by Verveer and Kambou, “Let’s not move forward without the active involvement of girls themselves, who, through lived experience, are deeply familiar with difficult and dangerous times, and are knowledgeable about practical solutions that will meet immediate needs and prepare girls for the day when crisis abates and communities rebuild.”
ISIS is waging a war against women in the Middle East. The organization regularly employs rape as a war tactic and captures girls to sell as sex slaves. This month in the Guardian, women’s rights advocate Yifat Susskind, told the story of a young Iraqi girl, who remains nameless, and the horrors she faced in the hands of ISIS. The girl was taken captive and traded between more than a dozen ISIS men, each one of whom raped her. She was lucky enough to escape to a refugee camp and receive the help of women’s rights activists, whose presence is slowly becoming more prevalent within the war-torn region.
Organizations such as the Global Justice Center seek to end war rape through ending impunity and seeking legal reparations; Yifat Susskind offers a different, or rather simultaneous solution in ending the power of rape in war, at least within the circumstances surrounding ISIS attacks and abductions. Susskind cites stigma as the most undermining and devastating consequence of rape—and therefore the most desirable to ISIS. Susskind says, “Survivors are ostracised, even blamed for the attacks. Families fear being tarnished by the stigma and banish wives, mothers and daughters. In the worst cases, people adhere to distorted notions of “honour” and kill rape survivors. In short, rape tears at the fabric that binds families and communities.”
But those perceptions are beginning to change—unfortunately this change is incentivized by ISIS’ massive and indiscriminate violence towards women—and women are slowly receiving acceptance and care within their communities. This ideological shift is incredibly important to the larger perception of women under the rule of ISIS. Quoting an Iraqi women’s rights activist, Susskind said, “We want the survivor’s community to see her not as a ruined, raped girl, but as a prisoner of war who was strong enough to survive weeks of torture and brave enough to escape.”
While decreasing stigma is a huge step forward in aiding survivors of war rape, a larger deterrent would be holding the perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Rape is being used more than any other prohibited weapon of war including starvation; attacks on cultural objects; and the use of herbicides, biological or chemical weapons, dum-dum bullets, white phosphorus or blinding lasers. It is time to punish those that use rape as an unlawful weapon in armed conflict.
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.