"That's Illegal" Episode 11: Justice and the Genocide of the Rohingya

Two years ago, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya were violently driven from their homes in Burma in a military campaign that the United Nations has characterized as genocide. To this day, the military dictatorship who carried out these crimes has evaded any meaningful accountability.

Simon Adams, an expert on mass atrocity crimes and director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, joins That's Illegal to discuss worldwide efforts to get justice for the Rohingya. Akila Radhakrishnan, director of the Global Justice Center, also joins the program.

[Photo: REUTERS / Adnan Abidi]

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Five Years After Genocide, Yazidis are Still Waiting for Justice

By Maryna Tkachenko

“Today, the Yazidis have largely been abandoned” — Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Yazidi survivor

August 3, 2014 changed the Yazidi community of Sinjar forever. The terrorist group Daesh killed and enslaved thousands of Yazidis, members of a small religious minority in northern Iraq that have been historically persecuted for being “devil worshippers.” In addition to carrying out coordinated attacks of violence against the group as a whole, Daesh explicitly targeted women and girls by inflicting widespread sexual violence in the form of rape, torture, and forced marriage. These gendered acts of the Yazidi genocide served as tools for recruitment, conversion, and forced indoctrination.

Five years later, despite a growing body of evidence, no Daesh fighter has been prosecuted for genocide of the Yazidi. In 2016, the United Nations recognized the attacks as a genocidal campaign, but Yazidis are still waiting for justice, hoping to return one day to their homes on the Sinjar Mountain.

“Never Again” Means Holding the Trump Administration Accountable

Excerpt ofMs. Magazine op-ed by GJC Development and Operations Assistant Sophia Fiore.

When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez compared the detention centers along the southern border of the U.S. to concentration camps, she sparked a heated debate about whether the facilities met that definition. In the following days, the press spent more time picking apart her word choice than focusing on the dire conditions in the detention centers that have led to severe health conditions—and, in some cases, the death of detainees.

Many find it difficult to accept that these horrors occur, especially in the U.S. We say “never again,” but are blind to the assaults on human rights and the dehumanization of people taking place every day on our watch.

Let’s not mince words: The conditions at the border blatantly violate international standards and the international legal obligations of the U.S.

Read the Full Op-Ed

The Day of International Criminal Justice: Prosecuting Gender-Based Persecution

By Maryna Tkachenko

Today is the Day of International Criminal Justice, marking the 21st anniversary of the 1998 Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). In terms of international justice, the ICC is the only permanent institution that aims to hold perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression accountable. Created to investigate and prosecute mass atrocity crimes, the ICC offers us legal mechanisms to bolster the rule of law, ensure justice for victims, and establish a normative framework that can deter future human rights violations. Although the court continues to face setbacks in gaining the support of powerful states and strengthening its authority, this July the world witnessed a monumental moment in the ICC’s history of prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes.

Q&A: The International Court of Justice & the Genocide of the Rohingya

Starting in October 2016 and then again in August 2017, Myanmar’s security forces engaged in so-called “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority, in Rakhine State, Myanmar. The operations, in particular those that started in August 2017, were characterized by brutal violence and serious human rights violations on a mass scale. Survivors report indiscriminate killings, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention, torture, beatings, and forced displacement. Reports have also shown that security forces were systematically planning for such an operation against the Rohingya even before the purported reason for the violence — retaliation for small scale attacks committed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) — occurred. As a result, an estimated 745,000 people — mostly ethnic Rohingya — were forced to flee to Bangladesh.

According to the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar(FFM), the treatment of the Rohingya population during the “clearance operations” amounts to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, the commission of which evokes specific obligations and responsibility under international law.

And yet, despite extensive and meticulous documentation, as well as a global outcry from the international community, Myanmar continues unabatedin its discriminatory treatment of the Rohingya and accountability for these horrific international crimes remains elusive. This fact sheet examines current accountability efforts, including at the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) and International Criminal Court (“ICC”) and seeks to clarify available avenues for justice for the crimes committed against the Rohingya population, with a focus on state responsibility for genocide.

Joint Statement on the Assignment of the Situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh to the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber III

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – June 28, 2019

[NEW YORK, NY]– The Global Justice Center, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Naripokkho, and Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice welcome recent developments at the International Criminal Court (ICC) concerning the Situation in the People's Republic of Bangladesh/Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Both the intention of the Office of the Prosecutor to undertake an investigation, and the assignment of the situation to Pre-Trial Chamber III bring the ICC one step closer to providing accountability for the crimes committed against the Rohingya.

Letter to the CEDAW Committee: Supplementary information to Myanmar’s Report on an exceptional basis, scheduled for review by the CEDAW Committee at its 72nd Session

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson - 52, rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva (Switzerland)

Re: Supplementary information to Myanmar’s Report on an exceptional basis, scheduled for review by the CEDAW Committee at its 72nd Session

Dear Committee Members,

This letter supplements and responds to particularly concerning sections of the 6 February 2019 Exceptional Report submitted by Myanmar,[1] which is scheduled for review by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“Committee”) on February 22, 2019 during its 72nd Session.

It is the view of the undersigned organizations that Myanmar’s submission raises serious doubts as to its willingness and ability to effectively investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes committed against the Rohingya, especially sexual and gender-based violence. Myanmar’s blanket denials that such crimes occurred and the answers presented in the report underscore not only that accountability will have to be achieved on the international level or before other domestic authorities, but also that there is a real risk of Myanmar aiming to discredit or jeopardize such accountability efforts. In addition to these overarching concerns, we seek to bring the Committee’s attention to two major areas of concern: (1) Myanmar’s refusal to acknowledge or accept responsibility for conflict, human rights abuses, and displacement; and (2) Myanmar’s inability and lack of will to meaningfully investigate and hold those responsible accountable.

  1. Refusal to acknowledge or accept responsibility for conflict, human rights abuses and displacement

Myanmar has consistently refused to accept responsibility for the acts of its Security Forces in Rakhine State and continues to deny the identity of the Rohingya. Myanmar’s Exceptional Report to this Committee is consistent with this unlawful position.

  • Para. 2 - “(The) report refers to the Muslim population in Northern Rakhine as “Muslims” or “the Muslim community in Rakhine”. This group does not include the Kaman Muslims. They are simply referred to as “Kaman”. As in the Annan report, neither “Bengali” nor “Rohingya” is used in referring to the Muslim community.”

While the Committee explicitly requested Myanmar to submit a report on the situation of Rohingya women and girls, Myanmar’s refusal to explicitly report on Rohingya women and girls should be understood as a continuation of its policy to deny the group’s identity and continue discrimination, persecution, and targeting of the Rohingya as an ethnic group. While Myanmar aims to couch this definition as internationally accepted by highlighting the role played in the Commission by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Commission’s report makes clear that this nomenclature was utilized “in line with the request of the State Counsellor.”[2] In fact, Myanmar’s failure to recognize the Rohingya as a group has been widely criticized by human rights experts, including this Committee and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, as a violation of the group’s right to self-identify.

  • Para. 5 - “The seeds of fear sown by the terrorists led to massive displacement of people internally and to neighbouring Bangladesh.”

The characterization of the mass and forced displacement of over 725,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh since August 2017 as the result of the actions of “terrorist” groups is both disingenuous and indicative of Myanmar’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for its actions. According to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (“Myanmar FFM”), “[o]n 25 August 2017, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) coordinated attacks on a military base and up to 30 security force outposts across northern Rakhine State, in an apparent response to increased systematic oppression of Rohingya communities by Myanmar and with the goal of gaining global attention.”[3] However, while acknowledging these attacks by ARSA, the Myanmar FFM firmly establishes that the reason for the displacement of over 725,000 Rohingya was the grossly disproportionate response by Myanmar security forces to these attacks, which targeted the entire Rohingya community and resulted in the mass destruction of Rohingya villages.[4]

  • Para. 11 - “Despite repeated accusations that Myanmar Security Forces committed a campaign of rape and violence against Muslim women and girls residing in Rakhine State, there is no evidence to support these wild claims.”

The categorical dismissal of the extensive documentation of rape and sexual violence as “wild” and with “no evidence” is perhaps the strongest illustration of Myanmar’s unwillingness to acknowledge and take responsibility for the acts committed by its Security Forces. As this Committee is well aware, the Security Forces’ systematic sexual violence in Rakhine State has been extensively documented not only by the Myanmar FFM but a range of other actors, including the United States State Department[5] and numerous human rights groups[6]. Furthermore, for decades the military has used sexual violence as a tactic in its campaigns against ethnic minorities in other parts of Myanmar. Similarly, these actions have long been met with official denials and impunity for perpetrators.

Even more egregious, Myanmar offers no support for its assertion that “no evidence exists,” nor does it detail any efforts or investigations that were taken to reach this conclusion. While the Report touts the signing of a joint communiqué with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, it remains unclear how Myanmar will meaningfully give effect to the commitments on accountability in the joint communiqué while it continues to insist that no problems exist and no crimes have been committed.

  • Para. 54 - “The complexities and challenges in Rakhine should not be viewed within a narrow lens of human rights for one particular community alone. This may tanamount [sic] to discrimination.”

The suggestion that calling on Myanmar to account for its treatment of one minority group constitutes discrimination is yet another indicator that it will continue to deflect responsibility for acts against the Rohingya under any apparent guise.

II. Inability and lack of will to meaningfully investigate and hold those responsible accountable

Despite the assurances in the report, Myanmar has unequivocally failed to demonstrate any willingness to investigate or hold perpetrators – civilian and military alike – accountable, compounding its failure to acknowledge and accept any form of responsibility for its acts.

  • Para. 8 - “The Government of Myanmar does not condone human rights violations. Nor does it espouse a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide. It has therefore established an Independent Commission of Enquiry to establish the facts concerning the situation in Rakhine. The Commission is comprised of two international personalities who are well-versed in matters of human rights and Myanmar nationals with judicial background and vast experience in international organizations on 31 August 2018 to investigate the violations of human rights and related issues following the ARSA terrorist attacks in Rakhine State. The Commission is tasked to investigate allegations of human rights violations and related issues following the terrorist attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in Rakhine State with a view to seeking accountability and formulating recommendations on steps to be taken to ensure peace and stability in Rakhine State. The ICoE has now invited complaints or accounts with supporting data and evidence related to allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine State. ICoE call for submissions was actual from 31 August 2019 [sic] to 28 February 2019.”

While eight ad-hoc commissions and boards have been set up by the Myanmar authorities since 2012 with regard to the situation in Rakhine State, the Myanmar FFM determined that none meet the standards of an “impartial, independent, effective and thorough human rights investigation.” The newly constituted Independent Commission of Enquiry for Rakhine has done nothing to allay these concerns. One of the four Commissioners is a Myanmar Government official who has previously stated that Myanmar had “no intention of ethnic cleansing,” and the chairperson has stated that the Commission will not “blame or finger-point,” which is at odds with Myanmar’s own statement above that the Commission will seek accountability.

Additionally, the framing of the mandate of the Commission with a focus on “terrorist” attacks is a clear indicator that the work of the Commission will likely be biased and unbalanced. In fact, if the assertions made by Myanmar in this report, such as the one discussed above placing the responsibility for forced displacement on “terrorist actors,” are representative, it is unlikely that the work of the Commission will be any different than its predecessors.

  • Para. 9 - “Myanmar is both willing and able to investigate any crimes and violations of human rights that took place on its territory.”

Structural barriers, as well as a systematic climate of impunity in the country, clearly demonstrate that Myanmar is neither willing nor able to genuinely carry out any investigations and prosecutions related to international crimes committed by its Security Forces.

Myanmar’s civilian government is unable to hold perpetrators accountable due to structural barriers that preclude the possibility of justice. Myanmar lacks domestic legislation on international crimes, rendering its court system unable to prosecute any potential crimes against humanity or genocide. Furthermore, constitutionally-imposed limits on the power of the civilian government over the military, coupled with constitutional protections for the military from prosecution (guarantees of immunity and exclusive jurisdiction in military courts with the Commander-in-Chief able to overturn any decisions unilaterally), ensure that the military will be immune from accountability in Myanmar. Without significant domestic legal and constitutional reforms, Myanmar’s national judicial system is neither available nor able to carry out proceedings for crimes committed by its Security Forces against any ethnic group, including the Rohingya.

Furthermore, as discussed extensively in this letter, Myanmar’s authorities—civilian and military alike—have also failed to demonstrate any willingness to investigate or hold perpetrators accountable. In fact, Myanmar has variously denied any wrongdoing and failed to conduct genuine investigations or impose sanctions or accountability on perpetrators of these crimes.

  • Para. 23 - “In Myanmar, the Penal Code was enacted in 1861. It establishes a legal framework in order to protect and eliminate crimes, including sexual assaults, rapes, human trafficking, domestic violence, and other offenses against women and girls.”

The existing legal framework in Myanmar, including the Penal Code, is insufficient to ensure justice, protection, and rehabilitation for victims. As a preliminary point, the Constitution shields the military from prosecution in civilian courts, thus the Penal Code would not be the dispositive legal framework. However, if cases were taken up in civilian court, Myanmar’s Penal Code and other criminal procedures, which reflect outdated stereotypes and do not comport with international standards, would be insufficient to ensure justice.

For instance, while Section 375 of the Penal Code includes non-consensual “sexual intercourse” as a criminal element of rape, the undefined requirement of “penetration” as a component of “sexual intercourse” leaves the overall definition of rape ambiguous, for instance in cases of forced non-penile penetration. Nor does the Penal Code include any specific provisions concerning unwanted sexual touching or sexual harassment outside the context of sexual intercourse, although Section 354 does criminalize assault intended to “outrage [a woman’s] modesty” (a troubling example of outdated and ambiguous language justifying scrutiny of a woman’s “modesty” as a pre-condition for access to justice). The definition of rape under Section 375 applies only to women who are not married to their attacker; the Penal Code neither prohibits nor punishes the rape of women by their husbands, unless the victim is less than 15 years of age.

Additionally, despite Myanmar’s assertion, the Penal Code does not criminalize domestic violence or provide a legal mechanism allowing women to obtain restraining orders to protect them against aggressors. While a long-negotiated comprehensive violence against women law has been promised, it has yet to be introduced in Parliament after nearly four years, and consultations and drafts have indicated that the law will uphold the problematic definitions of crimes discussed above, including rape and marital rape.

Meanwhile, neither Myanmar’s Code of Criminal Procedure nor its Evidence Act contains comprehensive substantive protections for the integrity and dignity of women during the investigation and prosecution of cases involving violence against women.  The law also permits judges to both compel victims of rape to testify against their attackers and to draw an adverse inference from a victim’s refusal to answer questions about the rape.  The “inconsistencies and vagaries” of the legal process is one cause of low reporting of violence.

  • Para. 30 - “Myanmar National Human Rights Commission officially transmitted complaints on violation of human rights it receives to the authorities concerned to take follow-up action in line with regulations and procedures and relevant laws.” and para. 32 - “The Government also affirms that it will help Muslim displaced persons who have fled to Bangladesh to file cases concerning alleged human rights abuses. Those wishing to file grievances may do so from their current location but will be required to attend a trial in Myanmar. The Government will assist them in so doing.”

Administration of justice is particularly weak in Myanmar[7] and neither Myanmar’s domestic courts nor its National Human Rights Commission have the capacity, impartiality, and independence required to deliver justice.

Myanmar’s judiciary is seen as “inactive and subordinate to the military,” with “allegations of judicial corruption, inefficiency, and susceptibility to executive influence [that are] so widespread that they cannot be sensibly discounted.”[8] State actors, including the executive and the military, have been known to apply improper pressure on the judiciary and prosecutors in cases related to gross violations of human rights, as well as political and civil cases.[9] As a result, even if cases were transferred from military court to civilian court, those proceedings would not be free from the military’s power and influence.

Attempts to utilize formal court or accountability proceedings are often met with reprisals and raise serious concerns about the safety of those who would opt to utilize formal processes facilitated by the government, whether the National Human Rights Commission or other venues. The case of Brang Shawng, the father of a fourteen-year-old girl who was killed by the military, is a case in point.[10] While he never saw accountability for his daughter’s killing, he himself was prosecuted for filing false charges and was embroiled in legal proceedings for over eighteen months. Fear of reprisals, along with widespread corruption and generally low levels of judicial competence, has resulted in a lack of public trust in the legal system.[11] Fears of reprisals are only likely to be heightened in those who were attacked and forcibly displaced by Myanmar’s Security Forces, rendering Myanmar’s promise to “assist” those outside the country in filing human rights complaints in Myanmar’s courts, with no assurances of safety and well-being, empty at best.

III. Recommendations

  • Immediately cease military and security operations against the Rohingya in Rakhine State and in other ethnic areas, particularly Shan and Kachin states; issue orders to cease all acts of rape and sexual violence; and permit humanitarian access to the State.
  • Initiate impartial and independent investigations into violations of international criminal, human rights, and humanitarian law, possibly amounting to international crimes, with a view to ensuring justice and accountability and comprehensive and transformative reparations to affected individuals and populations.
  • Cooperate with and facilitate access for all international human rights and accountability institutions and mechanisms, including the Myanmar FFM, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and other UN special procedures, the International Criminal Court, and international human rights organizations.
  • Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and provide retroactive jurisdiction to the entry into force of the Statute, July 1, 2002.
  • Amend the 2008 Constitution to bring the military and security forces under civilian oversight, and repeal provisions granting the military actors impunity for human rights abuses, including Article 445.
  • Expeditiously pass a Prevention (and Protection) of Violence Against Women Law in line with international human rights standards, eliminate contradictory Penal Code provisions including the definition of rape and marital rape exceptions, and ensure jurisdiction over the military for crimes under the ambit of the law in civilian courts.
  • Amend the 1982 Citizenship Act to repeal discriminatory provisions based on national origin, religion, and ethnicity and restore citizenship to those whose citizenship was stripped under the law.
  • Guarantee the safe return of Rohingya and other displaced ethnic minorities, including the repatriation of any confiscated land and ensure the equal participation of women in all decision making processes related to these efforts.

Respectfully submitted by:

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights
Global Justice Center
Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice

Download the Letter

Annexes:

  1. Global Justice Center, Discrimination to Destruction: A Legal Analysis of Gender Crimes Against the Rohingya, September 2018, available at: http://globaljusticecenter.net/files/Discrimination_to_Destruction.pdf
  2. Naripokkho, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, Ms. Sara Hossain, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Amicus Curiae Observations Pursuant to Rule 103, available at: https://www.icc-cpi.int/CourtRecords/CR2018_02944.PDF  
  3. Global Justice Center, Fact Sheet: Structural Barriers to Accountability for Human Rights Abuses in Burma, October 2018, available at: http://globaljusticecenter.net/files/Structural-Barriers---Burma.pdf.

[1] Government of Myanmar, Report on an exceptional basis, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/MMR/4-5/Add.1 (Feb. 4, 2019) [hereinafter “State Report”].

[2] Rakhine Advisory Commission, Towards a Peaceful, Fair and Prosperous Future for the People of Rakhine: Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, p. 12 (Aug. 2017).

[3] Human Rights Council, Report of the detailed findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, 750, U.N. Doc A/HRC/39/CRP.2 (Sept. 17, 2018).

[4] Human Rights Council, Report of the detailed findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, ¶ 751, U.N. Doc A/HRC/39/CRP.2 (Sept. 17, 2018).

[5] United States Department of State, Documentation of Atrocities in Northern Rakhine State, 24 September 2018, https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/286063.htm.

[6] Public International Law and Policy Group, Documenting Atrocity Crimes Committed Against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, https://www.publicinternationallawandpolicygroup.org/rohingya-report.

[7] Crouch, Melissa, The Judiciary in Myanmar (March 3, 2016). UNSW Law Research Paper No. 2016-10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2747149 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2747149.

Progress Rep. of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to the Human Rights Council (Tomás Ojea Quintana), ¶ 12, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/19/67 (March 7, 2012); Nick Cheesman & Kyaw Min San, Not Just Defending; Advocating for Law in Myanmar, 31 Wis. Int’l L.J.  714,  available at http://www.Myanmarlibrary.org/docs19/Cheesman_KMS__Not_just_defending-ocr-tpo.pdf; International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, The Rule of Law in Myanmar: Challenges and Prospects, (December 2012) at 58, [Hereinafter IBA 2012 Report], available at http://www.ibanet.org/Document/Default.aspx?DocumentUid=DE0EE11D-9878-4685-A20F-9A0AAF6C3F3E.

[8] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Human Rights Council

Thirty-first session, ¶ 20, 21, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/34/67 (March 1, 2017) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Human Rights Council, Thirty-first session, ¶ 15, 16, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/31/71 (March 18, 2016). IBA 2012 Report at 59. See also  International Commission of Jurists, Country Profile: Myanmar, (June 2014) 11 available at http://icj.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/CIJL-Country-Profile-Myanmar-June-2014.pdf; see also International Commission of Jurists, Right to Counsel: the Independence of Lawyers in Myanmar, (June 2014) at 40 available at  http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs16/ICJ-MYANMAR-Right-to-Counsel-en-red.pdf

[9] International Commission of Jurists, Achieving Justice for Gross Human Rights Violations in Myanmar: Baseline Study at 19 (Jan. 2018), available athttps:.//www.icj.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Myanmar-GRA-Baseline-Study-Publications-Reports-Thematic-reports-2018-ENG.pdf.

[10] International Commission of Jurists, Achieving Justice for Gross Human Rights Violations in Myanmar: Baseline Study at 33.

[11] Justice Base, Behind Closed Doors: Obstacles and Opportunities for Public Access to Myanmar’s Courts (May 25, 2017), available at http://myjusticemyanmar.org/sites/default/files/Justice-Base-Behind-Closed-Doors.compressed-1.pdf.

Accountability for conflict-related sexual violence as a central pillar for prevention - Arria Formula meeting of the UN Security Council

From Feb. 8, 2019 10:00 until 13:00

At United Nations Headquarters, Trusteeship Council Chamber

The Permanent Missions of Germany, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, France, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, South Africa and the United Kingdom will co-host an Arria Formula meeting of the UN Security Council on the preventive impact of criminal accountability for conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence on Friday, 8 February 2019, at 10:00 am in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. The meeting will be chaired by Ms. Katarina Barley, Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection of Germany.

"Sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security." (Extract from Security Council Resolution 1820).

Members of the UN Security Council and UN Member States explore how each can more effectively integrate criminal accountability for sexual violence in conflict into the prevention agenda, including into conflict resolution, transitional justice and peacebuilding.

Briefers:

  • Tonderai Chikuhwa, Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
  • Toussaint Muntazini, Prosecutor of the Special Crimes Court in the Central African Republic
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center

Chair:

  • Katarina Barley, Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection of Germany

Download the Concept Note

 

Joint NGO Letter to the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict

          Joint NGO Letter to the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary‑General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
in response to
the Framework of Cooperation between the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations on addressing conflict-related sexual violence against the displaced Rohingya population from Myanmar hosted in Bangladesh
and
the Joint Communiqué of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the United Nations on prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence.

 

25 January 2019

Dear Special Representative to Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Patten,

We, the undersigned organizations, thank you for your commitment and efforts to advance accountability for conflict-related sexual violence (“CRSV”) and to protect survivors of such crimes, including in places where impunity has long been the rule, such as Myanmar. We share this commitment with you.

Building on this shared commitment, we are writing to express our concerns and to suggest recommendations with regard to your Office’s engagement with the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, in particular the “Framework of Cooperation on addressing conflict-related sexual violence against the displaced Rohingya population from Myanmar hosted in Bangladesh between the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations” and the “Joint Communiqué of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the United Nations on prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence”.

We appreciate your leadership on the need for accountability for CRSV in Myanmar to date as outlined in your address to the United Nations Security Council in December 2017.

“The widespread threat and use of sexual violence served as a driver and push factor for forced displacement on a massive scale, and as a calculated tool of terror seemingly aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group. […] I urge the Council to do everything in its power to seek a swift end to the atrocities, ensure that the alleged perpetrators of sexual and other violence [committed against Rohingya women and girls] are brought to justice and create conditions for a safe and dignified future for the survivors. History will judge our action or inaction.” (S/PV.8133, pp 4-5.)

With regard to the Framework of Cooperation with Bangladesh, our core concern lies with the commitment focused on national level documentation efforts of CRSV. We are apprehensive about encouraging further documentation in light of the current documentation of Rohingya experiences. We fear the Framework will initiate further documentation undertaken by actors lacking the necessary expertise, resources and coordination.

The uncoordinated documentation of CRSV in Bangladesh by multiple actors poses a security and health risk for the interviewed survivors of such crimes due to the absence of support services treating their medical and psychological needs and of effective physical protection from documentation actors. In addition, the result of uncoordinated documentation by multiple actors may potentially undermine upcoming investigation and accountability efforts by international justice mechanisms, such as the International Criminal Court (“ICC”), which are likely to have a policy to not interview survivors who have already been approached in the past in order to avoid security risks and re-traumatization of survivors, as well as potential unreliability of testimony.

Instead of encouraging further documentation around the National Human Rights Commission, we recommend that the implementation of the Framework focuses first and foremost on the implementation of adequate medical and psycho-social support structures for (CRSV) survivors within Bangladesh. Once such structures are in place, capacity and expertise of national level documentation actors should be strengthened, including training in documenting CRSV as well as training of translators or ensuring that translators of the required language and dialect are readily available.  These are prerequisites before further documentation – in a coordinated manner – could take place.

Regarding the Joint Communiqué with the Government of Myanmar, as the report of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar (“FFM”) clearly outlines, Myanmar has a long and deeply entrenched history of impunity for grave crimes, including CRSV.[1] This impunity has been compounded by the absolute failure of Myanmar’s authorities – civilian and military alike – to demonstrate any willingness to investigate or hold perpetrators accountable. While eight ad-hoc commissions and boards have been set up by the Myanmar authorities since 2012 with regard to the situation in Rakhine State, the FFM determined that none meet the standards of an “impartial, independent, effective and thorough human rights investigation.” The newly constituted Independent Commission of Inquiry for Rakhine has done nothing to allay these concerns. One of the four Commissioners is a Myanmar Government official who has previously stated that Myanmar had “no intention of ethnic cleansing” and the chairperson has stated that the Commission will not “blame or finger-point”, which is at odds with the pursuit of accountability.

Furthermore, the Government’s emphasis on the work of this Commission of Inquiry, coupled with its refusal to cooperate with and allow access to impartial, international experts and bodies, including the FFM, the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar and the ICC, raise serious concerns about the Government’s commitment to accountability. These concerns also fall in line with the policy that led to the dismissal of the appeal on behalf of the two Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the most recent attempt by the Myanmar authorities to hide the atrocities committed in Rakhine State. Against this backdrop, we see a real risk of instrumentalization of your mandate by the Myanmar Government.

We were heartened to see in your statement accompanying the Joint Communiqué that “the true test of commitment will be the concrete actions taken to ensure accountability for sexual violence crimes.” We could not agree more. Accordingly, we provide the following recommendations with respect to the work of your Office in Myanmar, as well as for your forthcoming mission to the region.

  1. We urge you to review the Framework Agreement as to remove the emphasis on national documentation and discourage further documentation until support services for survivors are in place. Once this requirement is met, the capacities and expertise of national documentation actors, including translators, need to be strengthened.
  2. We ask for clear benchmarks to be set for the Myanmar Government to advance the implementation of the FFM’s key recommendations on accountability (FFM report, para 1682), in particular to:
    • Pursue all credible allegations of human rights violations and crimes under international law through prompt, effective and thorough, independent and impartial investigations including a specific focus on the investigation, prosecution and punishment for acts of sexual and gender-based violence;
    • Ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC and accept its jurisdiction as of 1 July 2002;
    • Transfer all military and other security personnel alleged to have committed crimes under international law to civilian courts;
    • Reform the domestic judicial sector by strengthening the independence of judges as well as the qualifications and expertise of judges, prosecutors and lawyers;
    • Incorporate domestic law sanctions for serious crimes under international law, serious human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.
    • Ensure that the proposed Protection (and Prevention) of Violence against Women Law meets international standards and brings sexual violence committed by military actors under the ambit of the law, and is tied to broader necessary legal reforms, including of the Penal Code and the Constitution.
  1. We invite the United Nations to undertake a coordinated and consistent survivor-centric approach towards the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar with regard to CRSV, through continuous engagement with the survivor community with the aim of understanding and identifying their needs, including medical as well as psycho-social support, and demands.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and your team to discuss our concerns ahead of the upcoming mission to the region, as well as debrief afterwards. We would further welcome the opportunity to exchange with your Office on ways to highlight the importance of credible, survivor‑centric accountability efforts for CRSV and other grave crimes in the region, and possible action points for the United Nations Security Council moving forward.

Signed by

 

ALTSEAN-Burma
Amnesty International
Center for Intersectional Justice
European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights
Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'Homme
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Global Justice Center
Global Network of Women Peacebuilders
Human Rights Watch
Impact
International Organization for Victim Assistance
Naripokkho
Odhikar
Rohingya Women Welfare Society
Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice

 

[1] See FFM report, A/HRC/39/CRP.2, paras 1577-1593 for structural impunity, paras 1371-1374 and 1594-1600 for the use of sexual violence in Myanmar.

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Destruction of the Spirit: The Critical Role of Gender in Genocide

Genocide is a crime of destruction, an attempt to annihilate a group of people and render them irrelevant, invisible, and eventually forgotten. Popular conceptions of genocide have long characterized it mainly as a crime of mass killing, the majority of victims of which tend to be men. During genocidal campaigns, women and girls are more likely to survive the initial killings but face enslavement, beatings, starvation, degradation, and other atrocities that form constitutive acts of genocide. Survivors of these abuses are not just witnesses to genocide; they are also its intended targets. When these gendered, non-killing crimes are not recognized as genocide, women and girls are denied justice for the abuses they have suffered.

Across continents and cultures, genocide is carried out along gendered lines. The first step is often the separation of groups by gender and age for distinct treatment.  When Daesh captured thousands of Yazidi in August 2014, they executed males over 12 years old, and sold women and girls into slavery. During the Rwandan genocide, members of the Hutu militia tore clothes off children to ensure boys were not dressed in girls’ clothing as a means of escaping mass killings. Once separated, women and girls experience distinct and destructive genocidal acts.

Though they are frequently not regarded as genocidal, these acts can in fact form the basis for the four non-killing crimes of genocide: causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children to another group. For an in-depth legal analysis of the role of gender in genocide, see the Global Justice Center’s whitepaper, Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law

Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law

Executive Summary

Gender permeates the crime of genocide. It is woven into the perpetrators’ planning and commission of coordinated acts that make up the continuum of genocidal violence. It is through these gendered annihilative acts that perpetrators maximize the crime’s destructive impact on protected groups.

Female and male members of targeted groups, by the perpetrators’ own design, experience genocide in distinct ways by reason of their gender. Men and older boys are targeted as a consequence of the gendered roles they are perceived to inhabit, including those as heads of households, leaders, religious authorities, protectors, guardians of the group’s identity, and patriarchs. Assaults on women and girls pay heed to their roles as mothers, wives, daughters, bearers of future life, keepers of community’s and family’s honor, and sources of labor within the home. An understanding of what it means to be male and female in a particular society thus saturates perpetrators’ conceptions of their victims, and of themselves. In particular, the violence directed at women and girls during genocide is fed by existing misogynistic attitudes in society, and the traumatic impacts are magnified by the financial, social, cultural inequalities to which women and girls are subjected. 

Genocide is often understood as a crime committed predominantly through organized mass killings—the majority of victims of which, both historically and today, tend to be male. Consequently, non-killing acts of genocide—more likely to be directed against female members of a protected group—are often cast out of the continuum of genocidal violence. Equally, in privileging the act of killing, other acts of violence committed against men and boys—such as torture, rape, and enslavement—have also been obscured.

Submission to the International Law Commission: The Need to Integrate a Gender-Perspective into the Draft Convention on Crimes against Humanity

I. Intro

The Global Justice Center, international human rights organization, welcomes the International Law Commission’s (“ILC”) decision to codify crimes against humanity to form the basis of a potential Convention. Unlike war crimes and genocide, crimes against humanity are not codified in a treaty outside the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (“Rome Statute”). The development of a treaty on the basis of the ILC’s draft articles presents the opportunity to monitor and enforce the provisions outside of the limited jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) and to encourage states to enact national legislation.

Given the unique and powerful opportunity the ILC has to combat impunity and codify progressive standards of international law, the Global Justice Center (“GJC”) believes it is essential to do more than merely replicate the language of the Rome Statute. We call on the ILC to take the opportunity to reflect the progress made and lessons learned in the 20 years since the Rome Statute was adopted, particularly with regard to gender. Specifically, we ask the ILC to reconsider for the purposes of the draft Convention, two specific instances where the Rome Statute has differential treatment of gender-related provisions relative to their non-gendered counterparts: (1) the formulation of the crime of forced pregnancy; and (2) the definition of gender.

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Factsheet: Structural Barriers To Accountability For Human Rights Abuses In Burma

Recent reports detailing the heinous human rights abuses committed in Rakhine State in Burma have triggered calls for perpetrators to be held accountable, both domestically and internationally. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) has opened a preliminary examination1 and the UN Human Rights Council has established an investigative mechanism to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of crimes.2 International action is not only justified but absolutely necessary given the impossibility of holding perpetrators to account using domestic justice mechanisms. Decades of unchecked human rights abuses against ethnic groups in other areas of Burma and deeply-entrenched domestic structural barriers preventing accountability have emboldened the military and contributed to the current crisis. Without international action to address and tackle Burma’s culture of impunity and the structural barriers that underpin them, this pattern will likely continue unabated.

This Fact Sheet details the domestic structural barriers that impede accountability for perpetrators and preclude justice for victims of human rights abuses in Burma. These obstacles, formalized with the “adoption” by a spurious referendum of a new Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (the “Constitution”) in 2008, prevent any full accounting for human rights violations committed by the military (the “Tatmadaw” or “Defense Forces”) in Burma. Obstacles outlined in this Fact Sheet include: (1) constitutional supremacy and autonomy of the military; (2) constitutional guarantees of impunity; (3) military emergency powers; and (4) lack of an independent and accountable judicial system.

Understanding the domestic structural impediments to accountability for the military is crucial to understanding the circumstances that give rise to these offenses and lead to the inevitable conclusion that unless these barriers are dismantled, human rights abuses will go unpunished and a true democracy will not take hold in Burma. Moreover, a situation of national unrest gives the military great powers under the Constitution capable of emboldening and further empowering the military. 

While the increasingly volatile situation and humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State highlight military abuses and impunity, the Tatmadaw has for decades engaged in armed conflict with multiple ethnic groups in Burma. These long-running conflicts are characterized by human rights abuses perpetrated by the military that have gone unpunished and continue today in multiple regions, including Shan and Kachin states. The situation in Rakhine State must be understood not in isolation but as part of a continuum, and as another example of how impunity for human rights abuses committed by the military is the rule, not the exception, in Burma.

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Letter to The Honourable Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor, "Re: Preliminary Examination into the Situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar"

Dear Prosecutor Bensouda,

The Global Justice Center writes to congratulate the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) on the decision to open a preliminary examination into the deportation of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Since impunity has long been the rule and not the exception in Myanmar, this examination offers a glimmer of hope that those who have long been oppressed by Myanmar’s military will see some measure of justice. We write to the OTP today with respect to three key issues related to this preliminary examination: (1) to emphasize the need to place the gendered experiences of these crimes at the center of the examination; (2) to urge the OTP to take a broad view to the crimes over which the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction; and (3) to provide information with respect to any analysis of positive complementarity.

On the first point, we were pleased to attend a recent event with you at the UNGA in New York “Prosecuting Sexual and Gender-based Crimes at the International Criminal Court.” We applaud the OTP’s commitment to applying a gender analysis in all areas of its work, which has been reinforced by its strong policy on sexual and gender-based crimes. We agree that consideration of the complete nature of the crimes is necessary in order to ensure effective investigations and prosecutions. We urge that this be made a priority in the preliminary examination at hand.

Gender Crimes Require Gender Justice for Burma's Rohingya

Rohingya women and girls have suffered targeted atrocities at the hands of Burma’s security forces. Amounting to crimes against humanity and genocide, these attacks were gendered in their conception, commission, and consequences. Accordingly, gender must be central to any and all efforts aimed at justice and accountability for the crimes committed against the Rohingya.

For an in-depth analysis of the sexual and gender-based crimes perpetrated by Burma’s security forces against Rohingya women and girls, see the Global Justice Center’s (GJC) legal brief: Discrimination to Destruction: A Legal Analysis of the Gender Crimes Against the Rohingya.

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

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

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

Recommendations for the Terms of Reference and Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2379 on Da’esh Accountability

Subject: Recommendations for the Terms of Reference and Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2379 on Da’esh Accountability

Your Excellency,

We are writing to you to call on your leadership in ensuring successful implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2379, initiating an Investigative Team for crimes committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, hereinafter referred to as “Da’esh”).

Below, please find a list of recommendations which we hope will be reflected in the Terms of Reference for the Resolution, with the purpose of establishing a commitment to the highest standards of international law and guaranteeing inclusiveness and accountability, including through gender justice and a victim-centered approach.

The adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2379 on September 21, 2017 marks an important milestone in the enormous task of holding members of Da’esh accountable for their commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. In this respect, we particularly emphasize the need to investigate and prosecute all forms of sexual and gender-based violence which can constitute acts of genocide as well.

We hope the Investigative Team will lay the groundwork for an inclusive and comprehensive justice process for all those affected by the conflict and atrocities committed.

We thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Global Justice Center Eyzidi Organization for Documentation
Iraqi Al-Amal Association   Iraqi Women Network
Madre Yazda

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Outcomes from the Global Justice Center Brain Trust

Reconciling International Laws on Genocide and Counter-Terrorism 

On June 12, 2017, the Global Justice Center convened a Brain Trust of legal experts to consider how to reconcile the legal obligations to prevent, suppress and punish genocide with counter-terrorism measures directed towards ISIS.

Evidence supports that ISIS has been engaged in an ongoing genocide against the Yazidis (and potentially other groups) since 2014. Over 3,000 Yazidi women and children remain in captivity. Today we may be witnessing yet again a failure of the international community to prevent, suppress and punish genocide.

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