The Akayesu Judgment at 20: looking back, pushing forward

On the 20th anniversary of the Akayesu judgement, Akila Radhakrishnan and Sareta Ashraph reflect on the landmark judgement.

As the push for accountability for the Yazidi and Rohingya genocides continues, it is essential that prosecutors and activists alike ensure that acts of genocide, beyond the act of killing, are fully investigated, properly indicted, and raised at trial. As women and girls are more likely to survive genocide, any ensuing trials rely heavily on what they have seen, heard, and suffered. A conception of genocide that relies on them bearing witness to killings (usually but not solely of male members of the group), and which turns away from all non-lethal acts of genocide (usually but not solely visited on female members of the group) is a harm to the survivors, the group, the historical record, and to our understanding of the crime of genocide.

When genocide is recognized only its most murderous articulations and gendered genocidal crimes such as rape, torture, forced pregnancy, and enslavement are ignored, States and international organizations lose much of their power to uphold the legal obligations to prevent and punish genocide. When the gendered crimes of genocide are excluded from prosecutions, the living survivors of genocide are denied justice and history yet again erases the experiences of women and girls.

Read the Full Article 

On Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, US Can’t Forget Women Overseas

Forty-three years ago today, the Supreme Court deemed abortion a constitutionally protected right for women in the United States in Roe v. Wade, taking a huge step forward for women’s equality. Since then, anti-choice lawmakers at the federal and state-level have been working concertedly to render this right meaningless by restricting access to abortion.

The Guttmacher Institute recently found that states have enacted 1,074 abortion restrictions since 1973.  One of the longest-standing restrictions is the Helms Amendments, which has been in place since December 1973 and prevents the use of U.S. foreign aid to pay for abortion services, even in the case of rape, incest or life endangerment.  

Shutting down federal funding for abortion services exacerbates one of the longest-standing barriers to abortion access: the cost. As anti-choice lawmakers have known for the past four decades, if the right to abortion can’t be eliminated, the next best thing is to make abortion access practically impossible.

The Helms Amendment impacts some of the most vulnerable women and girls in the world; those raped in war. Through the continued imposition of the Helms Amendment without exceptions, the U.S. is denying abortion access to women enslaved and raped by groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, and to girls as young as 12 raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The U.S. is laudably the world’s largest provider of development and humanitarian aid. Through this aid, the U.S. funds a variety of initiatives around the world, including health care services in conflict zones. But when girls and women present at these U.S. funded health centers for medical care, while they may have access to a wide range of services, safe abortion is not one of them. Insultingly, if these women seek out an unsafe abortion and have medical consequences, they can go to a U.S. funded health care provider for post-abortion care, but only after they have put their own life in danger. Not only is this policy illegal under international law, its consequences are dire and often deadly.

Yesterday, in a receiving line at a town hall in Iowa, Hillary Clinton was asked by an activist whether she would “help fix the Helms Amendment” as president, to which she gave a resounding yes.   There has been no stronger advocate of women’s rights and abortion rights in the current presidential campaign than Clinton. Rightly framing abortion as a class and racial issue, she’s drawn attention to the fact that making abortion unaffordable essentially renders the right to it meaningless, in particular for low-income women.  However, Ms. Clinton, as a part of the Obama Administration, had ample opportunity to act on the Helms Amendment but failed to do so.

During her tenure as Secretary of State, the Helms Amendment’s impact of women raped in war was raised with the Obama Administration multiple times, including during the 2010 Universal Periodic Review of the United States. However, despite the fact that President Obama can take steps through executive action to limit the impact of the Helms Amendment, he and his Administration have continually failed to take any action—to the detriment of countless women around the world.

Like Roe & the U.S. Constitution, a variety of international instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, enshrine and protect rights to abortion for women around the world. However, as long as the U.S. remains the world’s largest donor of development and humanitarian aid, abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, such as the Helms Amendment, will continue to impede the ability of women around the world to exercise their right to abortion services.  

Today, as we reflect on the legacy of Roe, and sit on pins and needles as we anticipate the arguments and Supreme Court decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, let us also reflect on the idea that the right to abortion is nothing without the protection of actual access to these services, including through public funding. And that policymakers in Washington D.C. shouldn’t be the reason that women are unable to exercise their rights around the world.

 

Akila Radhakrishnan is the Legal Director at the Global Justice Center. She has published articles in The Atlantic, Women Under Siege, RH Reality Check, Ms. Magazine, the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy and Reproductive Laws for the Twenty-First Century.

Myanmar's Long Road to Gender Equality: Issues for Myanmar's November 2015 UPR

Myanmar’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”) provides an ideal venue to question the Government of Myanmar (“Government”) regarding its failure to ensure substantive equality for women as required by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, and international treaties including CEDAW. Since 2011, Myanmar’s “democratization” has neither improved women’s status nor dismantled structural barriers preventing women’s equality.

Myanmar’s failure to ensure women’s rights arises from entrenched legacies of inequality that impede genuine reform in all aspects of law. Specifically, ongoing supremacy of the military, gender inequality embedded in the Constitution and other laws, and the lack of adequate justice mechanisms including an independent judiciary serve as structural barriers to equality. No Government reforms have addressed these issues. As a result, women in Myanmar face (1) gender discrimination embedded in law; (2) barriers to access to justice; and (3) exclusion from participation in public and political life.

Download PDF

Angelina Jolie Gives Speech on Sexual Violence at African Union Summit

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.

Lift the Ban: The Impact of US Abortion Restrictions on Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

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.

Download PDF

GJC Meets with European Women's Lobby in Brussels

EWL met with Global Justice Center in Brussels to discuss access to full medical care for female war rape victims.

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men.

Click here to read their article about the meeting. 

Sexual Violence, Focal Point of Beijing20

Countries around the world have been coming under scrutiny, as it becomes apparent that even with some improvements in women’s rights, violence against women remains alarmingly prevalent. News stories have been inundated with multiple incidents of sexual violence in India, Iraq, Sudan, and the United States. While each country has its own unique narrative in terms of violence towards women; globally, more than one in three women will suffer physical violence and one in ten girls under 18 will be raped. Regardless of individual political or cultural circumstances, the protection and empowerment of women is a global issue.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark conference on women in Beijing, and the UN is set to review the successes and failures of women’s rights in the past 20 years. In terms of successes; pre-school age children are now composed of equal numbers of boys and girls, twice as many women operate in legislative bodies than did 20 years ago, and maternal mortality has been halved, (though it must be noted that number would be significantly improved if abortions were provided to women in armed conflict.)

Despite these successes, sexual violence remains an unchanging and constant threat to women and girls. Some countries have yet to outlaw marital rape, and even countries with explicit, binding laws against sexual violence usually outright fail to implement them. If moral incentives are not enough, violence against women and children costs 4 trillion dollars yearly on a global scale. Sexual violence remains largely unpunished and is regularly used as an effective military tool in armed conflicts. It is the responsibility of international bodies such as the UN to change such realities. Furthermore, as it has been noted, it is important the people and media continue to speak about these issues and spread awareness, so that the next 20 years we can look back and see a marked improvement on the lives of women and girls.

IHL & Abortion Mentioned During UN Security Council Open Debate

Today, at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Ms. Illwad Elman, a Somali-Canadian social activist  who works at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, used GJC language and mentioned both IHL & abortion in her statement, saying:

“Implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL) in a gender responsive manner is key to enhancing the protection of civilians. Women must have equal access to accountability mechanisms, reparations and non-discriminatory medical care, including safe abortion and post-abortion care for survivors of sexual and gender based violence.”

This is the first time abortion was referenced in connection with the important right to non-discriminatory medical care and IHL at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.

Click here to read the entire statement. 

“A Devastating Year for Children”

This year has been one of the worst years for children, according to the United Nations. “As many as 15 million children are caught up in violent conflicts in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the State of Palestine, Syria and Ukraine,” said the Unicef’s report. “Globally, an estimated 230 million children currently live in countries and areas affected by armed conflicts.

“This has been a devastating year for millions of children,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”

© UNICEF

In the Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, South Sudan, Nigeria millions of children are affected by ongoing conflicts. Young girls are being kidnapped, tortured, forcibly impregnated, forced marriages, withheld from education, raped and turned into sex slaves. Half the victims of rape in conflict zones are children.

The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict that took place in London this June recognized that rape and sexual violence in conflict often has a much bigger impact than the fighting itself, and that one should not underestimate the depth of damage done to individual rape victims. “Sexual violence in conflict zones includes extreme physical violence, the use of sticks, bats, bottles, the cutting of genitals, and the sexual torture of victims who are left with horrific injuries. Many die as a result of these attacks. But survivors can also face a catastrophic rejection by their families and may be cast out from their communities”.

Compounding the suffering is a US foreign policy that denies safe abortion services to girls raped in armed conflict. GJC’s August 12th Campaign challenges this routine denial of full medical rights to war rape victims as a violation of the right to non- discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols.

Young girls who become victims of rape used as weapon of war are forced to bear the child of their rapist. This also is an “unspeakable brutality”.

Republicans Congress Threatens Women Worldwide

Republicans in Congress are committed to efforts to drain U.S. aid from international family planning programs. Now, as they are freed from the knowledge that a Senate controlled by Democrats would surely block their most extreme measures, they can succeed and harm women worldwide. The United States should be increasing, not decreasing, its current investment of $610 million in funding to international family planning programs, which already prohibit the use of U.S. foreign aid to provide safe abortions “as a method of family planning.”

The prohibition, introduced in 1973 as part of the Helms Amendment, does not define what constitutes “family planning,” yet Republican and Democratic administrations, including Mr. Obama’s, have treated it as a total ban on funding of abortion under any circumstance. As a result, help is denied to women and girls who are victims of rape or whose lives are threatened by carrying a pregnancy to term.

However, there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel, even despite the serious threats posed by this new Congress to women around the world, The President doesn’t need congressional approval to reinterpret the Helms Amendment. The President should act to clarify that the law allows aid to be used to provide safe abortion to women and girls raped in armed conflict.

GJC urges President Obama to issue an executive order lifting U.S. abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict. Mr. Obama should use his executive authority to end a longstanding misinterpretation of the Helms Amendment, which prohibits foreign aid money from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”

After all, the denial of abortion violates the medical care guarantees of international humanitarian law and the absolute prohibition on gender discrimination under international humanitarian law. It also constitutes torture and cruel treatment in violation of international humanitarian law.

Lift the Ban. Save lives.