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. 

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.

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Statement on the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - August 27, 2018

[New York]– The Global Justice Center (GJC) welcomes the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s report on the crimes against minority groups, including the crime of genocide against the Rohingya committed by Myanmar’s security forces. In particular, GJC commends the Fact-Finding Mission for highlighting the military’s use of sexual violence as a tactic against all minority groups and recognizing the structural barriers to accountability in Myanmar.

For decades, the Myanmar army has targeted ethnic minority groups with impunity—burning villages, killing indiscriminately, and raping and sexually assaulting women and girls. These systematic and brutal attacks against civilians have been used to intimidate and terrorize local populations. Years of impunity for these atrocities have emboldened the military to escalate their policies of violence and repression, creating an opening for the genocidal campaign against the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s civilian government has neither the will nor the demonstrated capacity to end these horrific crimes and hold those responsible accountable. It is essential that the international community act expeditiously to address the situation in Myanmar, including the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya, and take action in line with the obligations to prevent, suppress and punish genocide.

The Devastating Consequences of Inadequate Medical Care Within ICE Detention

By Katya Kolluri

While Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly introduced the “zero tolerance” immigration policy in May that caused children to be separated from their families, another Department of Homeland Security policy was quietly instituted five months earlier. In December, Trump signed off on a new directivewhich allows the detention of pregnant women, except those in their third trimester of pregnancy.

One of the directive’s listed responsibilities is: “Ensuring pregnant detainees receive appropriate medical care including effectuating transfers to facilities that are able to provide  appropriate medical treatment”.

However, numerous pregnant detainees claimed this directive was not being followed. A recent journalistic investigation by BuzzFeedrevealed that pregnant women held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody under the Trump Administration were abused and denied medical care during their first few weeks of detention, with almost all of them miscarrying while still in custody. In addition, pregnant women were shackled tightly around the stomach when being transported between facilities, and were physically and psychologically abused while in detention. Five women who were pregnant while in ICE and CBP custody described jailers being unresponsive to their medical emergencies including while they were clearly miscarrying, and physical abuse from CBP officers who knew that they were pregnant. In the report, one woman claimed she had been pushed onto the floor by officers even after her telling them that she was pregnant. The officers were quoted as having said that they did not believe the woman, and that it was not their problem.

The Rwandan Genocide: Rape and HIV Used as Weapons of War

By Katya Kolluri

The Rwandan Genocide, a horrific event in human history, is once again making its way into current news due to Jina Moore’s recent article in The New Yorker. Moore’s piece explores how those responsible for the Rwandan mass slaughter (termed genocidaires), may be freed years before their sentence ends. One of them is Théoneste Bagosora, widely regarded as the mastermind of the genocide. Survivors and family members of victims are protesting the decision of early release, stating that this practice of the court is, “a new form of impunity.” Critics are challenging this aspect of the parole system, particularly due to the fact that the convictions of these genocidaires is considered a landmark ruling in international justice. Twenty percent of the convicts of Rwanda’s International Criminal Tribunal have been released early. Allowing these perpetrators of genocide to be paroled is an injudicious decision, especially when considering the brutal pain and suffering this campaign of violence has caused.

International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict: Reminders of the Rohingya

By Katya Kolluri

Tuesday, June 19, was the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, proclaimed by the UN in order to raise awareness of various forms of sexual violence perpetrated against women, men, girls and boys, that is either directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.

The effects of conflict-related sexual violence, including poverty, poor health, unwanted pregnancy, and extreme trauma, can endure across generations. The alternative for women who have been impregnated in conflict is abortion – with unsafe abortion the leading cause of maternal mortality in settings affected by war conflict.

Rebuilding Iraq Should Include Mental Health Care for Yazidi Survivors

By Maftuna Saidova

The Yazidi community are an ethnic minority formerly located in northern Iraq. They are one of the groups who suffered under the brutal and inhumane control of ISIS. When ISIS captured Sinjar, they abducted thousands of Yazidi women and sold them into slavery within the lucrative sex trade created among ISIS fighters. Human rights activists and lawyers have demanded ISIS be held accountable for employing Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) as a weapon of war. According to OHCHR, SGVB can include “any harmful act directed against individuals or groups of individuals on the basis of their gender,” including rape, sexual abuse, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced prostitution, and sexual enslavement.  Although many Yazidi survivors are now free and Iraq has regained territorial control, adequate mental health treatment should be the priority of the Iraqi government as the treatment of the survivors is crucial for Iraq’s gradual rebuilding process.

Global Justice Center Report Quoted in Myanmar Times

The Global Justice Center's joint report with Gender Equality Network (GEN),  “Facing Barriers to Gender Equality in Myanmar”, was quoted in a Myanmar Times article, "Culture to blame for violence against women: Yangon official". 

The Myanmar Times notes that, 

According to a 2016 report titled “Facing Barriers to Gender Equality in Myanmar” by the Global Justice Center and Gender Equality Network, out of all ASEAN countries, only two lack laws against domestic violence - Myanmar is one of them. It also has no laws against physical or sexual abuse of women or to protect victims from attackers.

Submission to the UN Human Rights Council for US UPR

GJC sends a mid-term report submission for the Universal Periodic Review of the United States of America. The report examines the restrictions that the US puts on foriegn aid regarding the provision of abortion services and the ways those restrictions violate international law.

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Women and Girls Deserve Equal Protection for Medical Services Under IHL

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — May 15, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] -  Today, the UN Security Council holds its Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence under Uruguay’s presidency. In the concept note, Uruguay reflected on the findings of the new UN Secretary-General’s report on how rape is used as a weapon of terrorism and genocide. They cited the example of the crimes Daesh is committing against ethnic minorities such as the Yazidi in North Iraq and Syria, including using rape as a non-killing crime of genocide. Yet, to date, no trial has been held to prosecute perpetrators of this ongoing genocide.

OMCT & GJC Report to CAT: Sri Lankan laws condone torture of women and girls

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—November 14, 2016

[NEW YORK and GEVENA (OMCT-GJC)] — Tomorrow, the Committee Against Torture (CAT), during its 59th session, will examine Sri Lanka’s fifth State party report. In October, the Global Justice Center (GJC) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) jointly submitted an alternative report focused on how Sri Lankan law violates the Convention Against Torture by banning abortion in most circumstances, and by authorizing rape in certain instances and child marriage.

Growing International Consensus that US Must Lift Abortion Ban

by Liz Olson

Denying women raped in war zones access to abortions is a violation of their fundamental human rights ­­-- yet the US continues to do so in the face of growing international criticism. Under the Geneva Conventions, women raped in war zones fall under the category of the “wounded and sick,” meaning that they are entitled to all necessary medical care to treat their condition. Failing to provide abortion access to these women not only violates their rights under International Humanitarian Law, it subjects them to further trauma, as they are again stripped of control over their bodies.  These women, forced to carry the children of their rapists, face additional pain, suffering, and stigma.

The Helms Amendment, enacted in 1973, prohibits US humanitarian assistance funds from being used to pay for abortions “as a method of family planning.” Since then, the law has been incorrectly interpreted as a blanket ban on abortion services, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.  By denying women and girls raped in war zones access to this necessary medical procedure, the US is violating the “principle of adverse distinction” under the Geneva Conventions, which stipulates that IHL cannot be implemented in ways that are less favorable for women than for men. Men and women wounded in war must be provided with all necessary forms of medical care. For women raped in was zones, this includes access to abortion services.

Access to abortion service has been increasingly recognized by the international community as a right under humanitarian law, and the US ban has come under growing criticism. The United Nations, United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and the European Union have all come out in strong support of providing safe abortion access to women raped in conflict zones, and it is time for the US to follow suit.

Respect Rape Victims’ Right to Abortions in Syria

by Carolina van der Mensbrugghe

Since 2011, the Syrian civil war continues to inflict irreparable harm on its civilian population and has resulted in over one quarter million civilian deaths. A disturbing and specific factor of the Syrian conflict is the brutal and systematic use of rape and other forms of violence against women. Rape ­– whether perpetrated by ISIS militants, the Damascus regime, or other rebels, is a fate far worse than death for many Syrian women.

In Latakia, a woman reportedly committed suicide because was unable to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Another woman was thrown off a balcony by her own father after he found out she was pregnant as a result of gang rape. Countless other women provided testimony that speaks to the gravity of the violence inflicted on their bodies, be it as an act of genocide, seen with Yazidi women kidnapped by ISIS, or as a weapon of war to destroy and divide rebel communities in opposition of the Assad regime.

To quote writer and Syrian refugee, Samar Yazbek, “[women’s] bodies have become battlefields and torture chambers.”

The Syrian conflict is considered the “largest humanitarian crisis of our time,” according to USAID. A recent report from the Syrian Refugees Websitea project of the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute in Florence, indicates that there are about 11 million refugees and over 13.5 million civilians in need of humanitarian aid.Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), wants to direct more international aid towards assisting women and girls, who he describes as “the most vulnerable and the ones who suffer most.” Women and girls, he further notes, are facing a campaign of widespread rape combined with a woeful lack of reproductive health services.

An estimated 500,000 pregnant Syrian women remain in the war-torn country or are in nearby nations. More than ever, access to abortion services is a critical form of medical care for these wartime rape victims, as well as protected right under the Geneva Conventions. Yet safe abortion services remain woefully lacking. Post-abortion care (care that’s required when women have undergone unsafe abortion procedures), has been identified as one of the major challenges in refugee camps.

Misallocation of funds is partly to blame, which Osotimehin concedes is due to the prioritization of providing food, shelter, and water over “women’s issues.” The resulting gendered bias towards issue-areas renders the discussion of “the dignity, the welfare, and the security of women (…) something that doesn’t play out at all” in donor nations discussions according to Osotimehin. The resulting impact this bias has had on dictating how to address and allocate humanitarian aid is devastating.

Another reason that fewer rape victims are receiving the essential medical care they need is that nearly all the major humanitarian groups in Syria, including UNFPA, are subject to American anti-abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid. The United States, through USAID, continues to be the largest government donor to the Syria crisis, with contributions of nearly $5.6 billion, between 2011 and 2016, matching the next three largest donors’ funding combined. This US monopoly limits in large part the services humanitarian aid providers can make available and equipment they can buy with US funds,

This summer, the Democratic Party, in a historic first step, has included in its platform a vow to overturn all domestic laws that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including the Helms Amendment. The reversal of this ban would allow US foreign aid to be used for abortions and other reproductive medical care desperately needed by thousands of women in Syria and throughout the world.

This year is the 67th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. We must reflect as a nation on both the historical legacy, as well as the ongoing protections the treaties afford civilians in conflict. In its inception the Geneva Conventions sought to define the scope of international humanitarian law by regulating armed conflict in service of offering combatants and civilians unalienable protections.

Just as the Geneva Conventions, and their application, have expanded over time in recognition of the evolving nature of armed conflicts, so too must convention signatories commit to modifying domestic policies that obstruct adherence to the treaties’ binding obligations. Such obligations include providing the right to all necessary medical care, which includes access to abortion services for war rape victims.

It is President Obama’s last opportunity to seize this call to action and pass an Executive Order that lifts the Helms Amendment restrictions and recommits American policy to its humanitarian legal obligations. USAID has already recognized the gravity of the Syrian crisis, both in terms of policy commitment and total aid donations. Now, with the support of the new democratic platform, it must incorporate a gender-sensitive commitment to the women of the Syrian crisis in its aid packages, which must include abortion services as obligated by the Geneva Conventions.

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