GJC Weekly News Roundup

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.

Photo by Alsidare Hickson 

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Sunday, Burma rejected claims allegations of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against Rohingya Muslims. Last year, in response to Rohingya militants killing nine border guards, the Burmese army allegedly burned down homes, raped village women and shot people on sight in an attack that caused approximately 75,000 to flee to Bangladesh. This prompted a United Nations probe, which is being blocked by Burma.

Monday, a United Nations aid chief warned that there are the early warning signs of genocide in the Central African Republic (CAR). CAR has hosted a war between Muslim and Christian armed groups since 2013, and over half a million people have been displaced. The violence has intensified recently after a period of relative calm, and the UN warns that the risk of ethnic cleansing is heightened.

Monday, New York has formed a New York State Council on Women and Girls. The Council aims to combat discrimination against women and girls by creating state laws on issues like protecting reproductive rights and pushing for equal pay. It was formed in response to the election of President Donald Trump, who is threatening to remove the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Monday, frustrated with the United Nations’ lack of action on holding war criminals accountable, a top former war crimes prosecutor quit the UN’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. “I give up. The states in the Security Council don’t want justice,” Carla Del Ponte said. This leaves two members of the Commission. Wednesday, the New York Times published an editorial about her resignation and the Commission’s inaction.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, the Pakistani police arrested 25 people in relation to an honor raping of a teenage girl. The unofficial council of a rural village ordered a man to publicly rape a 16-year-old girl as revenge for the girl’s brother supposedly raping the man’s 12-year-old sister. The village council, who ruled that the vengeance rape was an appropriate punishment, was arrested. Such councils are a now illegal but still widely used part of the panchayat system, an informal village governance system that often prescribes stonings, forced marriages and other punishments in disputes related to women. Authorities acted on this crime after it was reported to the new Violence Against Women Center.

Thursday, The Guardian published a timeline of landmark moments in the fight for women’s reproductive rights and health.

Sunday, in recent weeks, a social media campaign has been calling for a change to the silencing of Afghan women’s names. It is taboo for men to mention the names of their wives or female relatives in public—in fact, women’s names are rarely used in the public sphere at all (even in a doctor’s prescription). The #WhereIsMyName campaign is sparking discussion about women’s lack of public identities in Afghanistan.

Monday, Tunisia passed a law outlawing violence against women. The law will make it easier to prosecute sexual harassment and domestic abuse. The law is broad, also outlawing economic discrimination and psychological abuse, which proponents say will help prevent, in addition to punish, violence against women. While Tunisia’s marry-your-rapist laws have largely fallen out of use, this legislation also officially abolished them. Jordan also repealed its marry-your-rapist law on Wednesday.

Tuesday, to learn about the broad impact of the Global Gag Rule, read the stories of several women who were traumatized by war and will be further harmed by the Global Gag Rule. While intended to cut U.S. funding for aid organizations that perform or talk about abortion, organizations—many of which primarily offer services unrelated to abortion—are forced to reduce services or shut down. This is impacting the safety, health, psychological wellbeing and more of women across the world. Last week’s International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science expressed concerns that the Global Gag Rule, along with President Donald Trump’s proposed 20% cuts to HIV programs, could result in 90,000 additional AIDS-related deaths next year.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, abortion rights groups—including the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood— filed a lawsuit against Texas over new abortion restrictions. Six weeks ago, Texas passed Senate Bill 8, which bans the most common and safe type of second-trimester abortion. It also requires healthcare providers to bury or cremate fetal remains, whether they’re from abortions, stillbirth or miscarriages. The lawsuit seeks an injunction and a ruling that the law is unconstitutional. Seven other states have created similar bans, and legal challenges have been filed against the bans in three. This is the third time this year that Texas has defended its abortion restrictions in federal court.

Friday, The New York Times reported on how nondisparagement agreements hide sexual harassment in the workplace by creating a culture of secrecy. They are becoming increasingly common and are often included in the standard employment contracts of many industries, especially the tech industry. They can have a chilling effect that prevents women from speaking up or taking legal action on harassment. Harassers are able to continue their behavior, and women are unable to know the history of their workplaces and colleagues.

Saturday, across the Middle East, public awareness campaigns are pushing to repeal marry-your-rapist laws—laws that allow rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims. The laws are based on ideas that a family’s honor depends on a woman’s chastity, and marriage after a rape can avoid scandal for the family. Activism and women’s education have propelled the movement against the laws. Morocco repealed their law in 2014, and votes are coming in Lebanon and Jordan.

Tuesday, the Guardian published an extended feature piece on Yazidi women. It shares the stories of women who were there when ISIS carried out a mass abduction of women that led to institutionalized rape. It also focuses on the way the Yazidi women are continuing a long history of resistance. “It was only much later in my reporting on how some Yazidi women managed to escape and return,” Cathy Otten writes, “that I became aware of how important stories of captivity and resistance were to dealing with trauma, both historically and in relation to Isis.”

Tuesday, Gillian Triggs, outgoing President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, said that human rights in Australia are “regressing on almost every front” and the government is “ideologically opposed to human rights.” She attributed the worsening human rights treatment to Australia’s lack of a bill of rights, causing the courts to be “very, very hamstrung in standing up for human rights.” She also said that counterterrorism legislation is centralizing government power and impeding on human rights without judicial supervision. 

Thursday, over 180 Yazidi women and children captured by ISIS have been liberated since the operation to recapture Mosul began last year. As time goes on, they are coming home with increasing psychological and physical damage. Most women are in shock and sleep for days after their return. Many women are also showing “an unusual degree of indoctrination.”

Photo credit: Australia Human Rights Commission Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, the UK government released its “Repeal Bill”—the Brexit legislation that converts EU law into domestic law—and it’s missing the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Inclusion of the Charter was one of the Labour Party’s six requirements for support of the bill. The Charter guarantees a number of economic and social rights such as healthcare and the protection of personal data. Excluding the Charter could limit the ability to appeal bills that threaten those rights in court.

Monday, The Guardian showed “Why Donald Trump is bad for the health of the world – in five charts.” Most of these charts tie back to the Global Gag Rule, which will raise the abortion rate in sub-Saharan Africa, help triple Uganda’s population in 30 years by decreasing access to contraception, hurt funding to more than 60 countries and increase the number of unsafe abortions and maternal deaths. Trump’s 2018 budget also makes deeper cuts to global healthcare funding than ever before.

Wednesday, the United States eliminated its war crimes bureau, the Office of Global Criminal Justice. In Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s restructuring of the State Department, he is downgrading the office to a section of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The demotion will make it more difficult to shed light on war crimes and prosecute war criminals. Three former U.S. Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes Issues condemned the decision in an op-ed, writing, “In effectively closing this office and eliminating the ambassadorial position, this administration removes the most potent diplomatic weapon in its arsenal and sends an unequivocal signal these are no longer priorities for the United States.”

Wednesday, Chile’s senate passed a bill legalizing abortion in some cases: when the pregnancy is a result of rape, when the fetus is unviable and when the mother’s life is at risk. Abortion had previously been illegal under all circumstances. The senate narrowly approved the bill, and it now proceeds to the house. President Michelle Bachelet, former Executive Director of UN Women, campaigned on changing the strict abortion law when she was re-elected in 2014.

Photo credit: UK Department for International Development Flickr(CC-BY-SA-2.0)

GJC Weekly News Roundup

 Wednesday, Turkey detained eleven human rights defenders near Istanbul. The activists were attending a workshop on protecting the work of human rights groups when Turkish police arrested them on the baseless suspicion of belonging to an “armed terrorist organization,” and they are still in custody. Two are leaders of Amnesty International Turkey.

Friday, the Financial Times explored Brexit’s impact on women. The British government drew attention last month because of the lack of women on their negotiating team (two of the twelve negotiators at the initial meeting were women), but concerns extend beyond that. Laws on women’s rights might change with Brexit, particularly if Britain is no longer under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This could remove decades of progressive decisions on issues including equal pay, pregnancy discrimination, and sex discrimination laws.

Saturday, in an article about the Afghan province Ghor, The New York Times described what happens when the law provides no protection for women. Ghor’s weak rule of law and their marriage customs leave women vulnerable. There have been 118 registered cases of violence against women in the past year—with many more going unreported—and zero suspects in these 118 cases have been arrested. Extreme stories of women being abducted, shot, stoned to death and more have emerged from the province in recent years. Law officials say they have to balance justice with security when sharing borders with violent, Taliban-occupied territories.

Monday, Oregon’s legislature passed one of the most progressive pieces of reproductive rights legislation in the country. The Reproductive Health Equity Act requires health insurance to cover, at no cost to patients, a number of reproductive health services such as abortion, contraception and prenatal and postnatal care. Religious employers can opt out of covering abortion and contraception. It also reaffirms Oregon citizens’ rights to an abortion, protecting them from possible changes in federal law. The bill will now go to Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat who is supportive of reproductive rights.

Tuesday, in retaliation against the United States’ Global Gag Rule, Sweden’s development agency announced it will no longer give funding for sexual and reproductive health services to organizations that follow the Gag Rule. Sweden is also allocating new funds to organizations that agree to not follow the Gag Rule.

Wednesday, Buddhists protested the arrival of a UN human rights envoy to Myanmar. The envoy is on an information-gathering trip in the Rakhine state to investigate security forces’ human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya minority. The protestors said Yanghee Lee, who is leading the envoy, is too “one-sided.” Earlier this summer, Lee recommended a special UN mission to investigate the problems in Rakhine, which the Human Rights Council approved; however, Myanmar wouldn’t allow the mission members to enter the country.

Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is re-examining the college sexual assault policies instituted under Title IX during the Obama administration. She is meeting with victims of sexual assault, men accused of assault, and higher education officials. Obama’s policies sparked a backlash from some who believed the policies and investigations went too far in ignoring the rights of the accused.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Thursday, an appeals court ruled that abortion law in Northern Ireland should be determined by a legislature, not by courts or local government. It ruled against a change in law to allow abortions in cases of rape or fatal fetal abnormality. Abortion restrictions are stricter in Northern Ireland than they are in the rest of the United Kingdom; it is legal only if there is a serious risk to the mother’s health or life. Abortion rights advocates are hoping the case will proceed to the Supreme Court. The same day, the UK government passed legislation allowing women in Northern Ireland to have abortions for free in England under the National Health Service.

Thursday, the state prosecutor’s office charged Antonio Benavides, the former head of Venezuela’s National Guard, with human rights violations. He was removed from his post last week and reassigned to a position as head of Venezuela’s Capital District government after a video of his troops shooting handguns at protestors was released. The office also said they had evidence that his forces used “excessive force” against demonstrators, tortured protestors, issued raids without warrants, and more. Anti-government protests have swelled in recent months, pushing for the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro and demanding general elections.

Monday, the New York Times reported that while the Trump administration has not followed through on policies that help women and families, states have. Experts say that states have been increasingly active on these policies, which have widespread support, because of the slow pace of policymaking in Congress. Recent state legislation includes paid family leave and breast-feeding breaks and lactation rooms in the workplace.

Wednesday, aid groups protested Australia’s decrease in foreign aid spending on family planning and urged the government to compensate for the family planning aid void left by the Trump administration’s Global Gag Rule. Their recently released overseas development assistance budget shows that aid funding for family planning went from AU$46.4m in 2013-2014 to $23.7m in 2015-2016.

Photo credit: Diliff (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Monday was the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year’s theme was “Preventing Sexual Violence Crimes through Justice and Deterrence.” The UN held a panel discussion at Headquarters in New York, and Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement, writing, “Rape and sexual violence in conflict are tactics of terrorism and war, used strategically to humiliate, degrade and destroy, and often to pursue a campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

Monday, Human Rights Watch submitted a report to the Canadian government on police abuse of Indigenous women in Saskatchewan. Their investigation found patterns of physical assault, sexual harassment, neglect of domestic violence reports, and inappropriate body and strip searches.

Monday, France elected a record number of women to Parliament. Of the 577 newly elected representatives, 223 are women (compared to 155 elected in the last election). This brings France from 64th to 17th in the world rankings of women in parliaments. The increase is due to President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party prioritizing women on their candidate list.

Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that while the lack of Republican women in Congress is often attributed to the Democratic Party’s focus on women’s rights and a stronger political pipeline for Democratic women, it could also be influenced by money. In the Democratic Party, unlike in the Republican Party, female donors give disproportionately to female candidates. This allows female Democratic candidates to raise as much money as their male counterparts, which is not true for female Republican candidates. Only 26 of the 104 women in Congress are Republican.

Tuesday, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against anti-abortion protestors who stand outside of Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens. The suit seeks to prohibit protestors blocking entrance into the clinic, threatening patients, or protesting within 16 feet of the clinic.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Friday, the New York Times published an editorial about the United States' mixed messages on human rights. While U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley emphasized U.S. commitment to human rights in her address last week, the editorial board writes, “In President Donald Trump’s transactional worldview, human rights are annoying obstacles to making deals.”

Friday, Devex reported that Sweden’s state secretary for international development, Ulrika Modéer, said that Nordic countries cannot fill the gap created by the U.S. Global Gag Rule alone. She said the European Union must take more action on family planning, and non-European countries need to join alliances for reproductive rights.

Monday, Canada released an International Assistance Policy that heavily focuses on gender equality. Within five years, Canada will allocate 15% of its international aid to gender equality programs. Its Women’s Voice and Leadership Program will direct funding to international grassroots organizations that promote women’s rights and gender equality.

Monday, Politico published an investigation into the gender imbalance in U.S. politics. It found that barriers like media and voter sexism, party influence, and fundraising have lessened in importance. Now, the gap stems mostly from the lack of women who run for office. Interest has spiked since the presidential election, however. Politico suggests a few strategies for encouraging this interest: identifying female candidates earlier, pushing women elected to bodies like school boards to run for higher office, and changing the sales pitch used to recruit women by framing politics as a way to fix problems.

Tuesday, the United Nations ruled Ireland’s abortion ban to be a human rights violation. In 2010, an Irish woman traveled to the U.K. to terminate her pregnancy when she learned that the fetus had a fatal birth defect. The United Nations Human Rights Committee released a decision ruling that Ireland owes her damages for the cost of the abortion and “high level of mental anguish.” The UN made a similar ruling on Ireland’s laws last year.

Photo credit: Dmitry Dzhus Flickr CC-BY-2.0

A Snapshot of GJC's 2014 Achievements

At the UN

  • The UN Security Council affirmed its 2013 declaration of the rights of women impregnated by rape in armed conflict to abortions in October 2014. Read the statements by the Netherlands and Australia at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security affirming the abortion rights of girls and women raped in war.
  • Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in his September 2014 Report on sexual violence in conflict underscored the need for safe abortions for female war victims and emphasized that international humanitarian law governs medical care for female victims of war, not national laws.
  • The Dutch and French governments also made statements at the UN Security Council, acknowledging that women raped in war are entitled to abortion services under the Geneva Conventions in April 2014.

Domestic Advocacy

  • GJC submitted a Shadow Report to the UN Human Rights Council on how US abortion restrictions on foreign assistance violate its international law obligations for the 2015 Universal Periodic Review of the US.
  • GJC submitted a Report on how US abortion restrictions perpetuate torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to the UN Committee against Torture in a historic partnership with the World Organization against Torture comprised of some 297 affiliate organizations, for the November 2014 review of the US by the UN Committee Against Torture.
  • GJC published documents obtained from the Department of State and the USAID through the Freedom of Information Process on GJC’s website.

International Advocacy

  • The UK became the first country to implement the objectives of the August 12th Campaign by UK/DFID mandating that all UK funded entities to comply with the Geneva Conventions and ensure that war rape victims are provided access to safe abortion, irrespective of national anti-abortion laws in June 2014. The UK became the first country to recognize, as called for by GJC’s Rape as a Weapon of War Project, that rape is an illegal method of war under international humanitarian law. Furthermore, former UK Foreign Minister Hague announced that States using rape as a weapon of war are accountable for the additional war crime of using an unlawful weapon under the laws of war, opening up the justice framework for victims of war rape and gives them “two bites at the apple of accountability.”
  • The incorporation of GJC’s language and arguments on Burma’s Constitution and gender equality in Burma into two reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. These reports called for the amendment of the Constitution so as “to be in line with international standards,” the military to be put under civilian rule, an end to impunity of the military for crimes including sexual violence, and women’s participation in the peace process.
  • Wrote an analysis of the unlawfulness of the US abortion ban put on all UN peacekeeping funds, in preparation for 2015 advocacy with military, the UN and NATO.
  • Published an analysis of the European Union’s (“EU”) policy on abortion and the Geneva Conventions as violative of EU fundamental law and international humanitarian law as the basis for 2015 advocacy with the EU and potential litigation in the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Co-authored with the Leitner Center at Fordham Law School a White Paper on the extent to which Burma has met its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”) and the current situation of women in Burma in preparation, which will serve as a key document for our upcoming work with partners in Burma assisting them with Burma’s forthcoming review by the CEDAW Committee.

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