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.
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.
Letter to The Honourable Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor, "Re: The Imperative to Prosecute the Abduction of the Schoolgirls in Nigeria as Genocide"
On April 14th, 2015, a year after the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, the Global Justice Center (GJC) is urging the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, to investigate whether Boko Haram, who recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is perpetrating genocide against the Christian community in Nigeria. The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, among others, in Nigeria is exactly the act of genocide, as defined in the Genocide Convention, called the “forcible transfer of children.” The essence of genocide is not mass killing but the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Removing children from a group destroys its future, and has been a tool of genocide for as long as the legal concept has existed.
If Prosecutor Bensouda examines Boko Haram’s gender-based abductions as genocide it would put all countries unequivocally on notice that genocide is occurring in Nigeria, propelling them to action. All states and the international community have the duty to prevent and halt genocide. It would also send a powerful message to other perpetrators, including terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria who are increasingly using the kidnapping of young girls and women as a tool in their campaign of terror, that genocide will not be tolerated.
Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Bosnia, and now South Sudan, each possess a history wrought with sexual violence. On January 22nd, The Huffington Post published a piece by Navabethum Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. After a recent trip to South Sudan, she offered her analysis of the human rights violations and was particularly explicit in noting the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, likening the situation to the atrocities in Rwanda during the late 1990s. Zainab Bangura, the UN’s envoy for sexual violence in conflict, described the violence as the worst she had seen in her 30 year career. In current conflict in South Sudan, women are being targeted based on their ethnicity or political ties and children have been raped and killed. Further, it is certain that sexual violence will escalate as long as the crimes remain unprosecuted.
Pillay cites the African Union’s Commission of inquiry as a means to forestall that escalation and demand accountability. The Commission’s final report is of particular significance, as it is said to detail innumerable human rights violations and possibly includes a list of individuals recommended for trial. It is hoped that the report–and ensuing prosecutions–will act as a deterrent to those committing rape crimes and ultimately assist in a peaceful resolution. Encouragingly, the Commission will present their report at the African Union Summit and advocate for the prosecution of guilty parties. Near the end of her piece, Pillay reiterates the importance of governmental involvement in ending impunity. If the government should oppose the prosecution of the perpetrators or prove incapable of providing a stable justice system, Pillay calls upon the international community for additional assistance in supporting the women who have been assaulted.
Of the assaults themselves, Pillay delineates rape as a weapon, a barbaric war tactic used to systematically devastate a group of people. The Global Justice Center has been explicit in condemning rape as an illegal method of warfare, though as of yet, places like South Sudan have failed to prosecute as such. Rape violates the parameters of legal warfare that state war tactics must not “cause superfluous injury, unnecessary suffering, or violate ‘principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience,’” yet it is employed more often than other prohibited tactics of war, such as biological weapons and starvation (GJC). Globally, not one state has faced prosecution for the use of sexual violence as weapon. The African Union’s Commission seeks to discipline the individuals responsible for the violence in South Sudan and GJC pursues a parallel global endeavor, demanding the confirmation of rape as a prohibited weapon and the prosecution of the states which continue to carry out sexual violence.
Executive Summary: The International Legal Framework of Peace Negotiations: Requirements and Recommendations for Enforcing Women’s Rights
Peace negotiations regularly exclude women participants and neglect to sufficiently address issues pertaining to women and girls. These omissions violate international law, including the Security Council Resolutions on women, peace, and security, which require that peace negotiations involve equal participation by women and ensure women’s rights. Getting women to the table is a critical first step, but it can only be the starting point to meaningful women’s participation in peace negotiations. Women must not only be present but also be equipped with knowledge of the international legal framework that governs how peace negotiations ensure the rights of women and girls. Their fellow negotiators must likewise be made aware of this body of binding international law, so that they are more likely to cooperate to advance, rather than obstruct, equal rights for women and girls. The Global Justice Center has developed a compilation of relevant provisions from international legal instruments that govern which rights must be ensured in the course of peace negotiations. While the compilation is not an exhaustive list of all relevant provisions, it provides a representative sample of important gender equality requirements. Following is a table identifying these provisions.
While some of these instruments are legally binding, either on all parties due to their incorporation into customary international law or on certain parties that have agreed to be bound, others are persuasive in that they represent the growing consensus of States.
In 2000, the United Nations (UN) Security Council passed a historic resolution as its clarion call for ending sexual violence in conflict. This Resolution, SCR 1325, as well as the succeeding Resolutions, that together form the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Resolutions recognized the gender-specific impact of conflict and historic gender discrimination in criminal accountability for sexual violence in conflict, and underscored the need for women to participate in post conflict reconstruction. The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence (the Summit) has been convened to create a “sense of irreversible movement to end the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict” and, therefore, is a time to assess how the WPS Resolutions have translated into protections for women during conflict.
Using the current conflict situation in Burma as a test of the WPS Resolutions demonstrates how ineffective they have been in providing protection and remedy for women on the ground during conflict. Despite the mandates of the WPS Resolutions, credible evidence continues to indicate that the military uses sexual violence against ethnic women in Burma as a means to assert its authority and to destroy ethnic communities. The military continues to operate with Constitutionally-sanctioned impunity for its actions. Moreover, current peace negotiations, intended to end decades of ethnic conflict, have almost completely failed to include women, especially ethnic women.
United Nations Stakeholders Alerted of Continued Use of Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War in Burma's Ethnic Areas
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - April 24, 2014
[NEW YORK, NY] - Today, at a side-event to the Security Council’s annual debate on conflict-related sexual violence, the United Nations was presented with a troubling account of continuing sexual violence committed by the military against ethnic women in Burma. On the eve of the April 25 debate, Ms. Naw K’nyaw Paw, Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization, presented compelling reports of heinous crimes committed by the military and called on the United Nations, international donors and governments to investigate these human rights violations, denounce the use of sexual violence in Burma and support women’s groups on the ground who are attempting to combat this pervasive pattern of abuse.
The Spotlight on Burma: Calling for the Elimination Sexual Violence and Inclusion of Women in Peace Talks
On Thursday, April 24th, the Global Justice Center, along with the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Amnesty International, and the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security, hosted a side event to the Security Council’s Open Debate on Conflict Related Sexual Violence at the United Nations with the intention of shedding light onto the continued plague of sexualized violence in Burma. The panel consisted of special guest speaker, Naw K’nyaw Paw who is the Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization and a grassroots activist working on empowering women and assisting sexual violence survivors in Burma; H.E. Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative to the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and H.E. David Donoghue, the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations. This standing room only event highlighted the ongoing dangers and abuses that the women and girls of Burma face at the hands of the Burmese military and strengthened the call for international action as well as the inclusion of women in the peace process.
Naw K’nyaw Paw poignantly voiced the concerns of an entire nation of women and girls who face the threat of sexual violence on a daily basis, with girls as young as eight years old suffering these heinous attacks. She called out the Burmese government for its ingrained culture of impunity for these crimes, stating that there is no accountability for the perpetrators, most of whom are members of the Burmese military forces. SRSG Bangura went on to assert that sexual violence should not be attributed as an inevitable element of conflict; to do this only marginalizes the plight of those victimized. The stigma attached to sexual assault, as well as fear of retribution, often prevents women and girls from reporting their attacks or seeking aid and, because of this, there is no way to know the true range and scope of these crimes.
The conversation turned toward the absolute necessity of the inclusion of women in peace processes. Ambassador Donoghue reaffirmed Ireland’s full support of Security Council Resolution 1325, which stresses the importance of gender parity in all areas of governance and peace-building. Naw K’nyaw Paw voiced her concerns over the exclusion of women in the Burmese peace processes, stating that women from all ethnic groups must be present at the negotiation tables. When faced with an argument posed by a representative of the Burma Mission that the Burmese government has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), she swiftly countered that to sign was not enough, the practices must be adopted into law; the realities of CEDAW must be visible on the ground, not merely on paper. With regard to planning talks, Naw K’nyaw Paw emphasized the need to strengthen the existing community structures, as opposed to approaching the situation as one in need of complete rebuilding. This, she said, was necessary for sustainable peace in Burma.
In closing, it was reiterated that women’s involvement in Burmese peace talks is of the utmost importance as is the transition to a civilian government. Both of these factors, as well as the elimination of sexual violence which rages on unhindered, devastating the lives of thousands of women and girls, must be realized in order for there to ever be true peace in Burma.
Yesterday in the inspiring and informative event, “What Success Looks Like on the Ground,” women leaders from Burma, Haiti, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo gathered to discuss their personal experiences in combating sexual violence in conflict. The panel was a side event to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
It was moving to hear directly from local women leaders who battle everyday with their governments, militaries, other institutions, and social mores. Together they painted a stark picture of the very real difficulties women face in armed conflict zones around the world, as well as lessons they have learned in working against sexual violence and in supporting survivors.
Panel speaker Julia Marip, from the Women’s League of Burma, noted that “when women have been raped, they suffer twice: once at the rape and again when they become pregnant.” Ms. Marip then pointed out that not only is abortion illegal in Burma, but also that reforming laws – including those criminalizing abortion – is overly difficult due to the constitution’s discrimination against women and the military’s embedded position within the government. She also emphasized the importance of having women at the political table in order to improve the lives of women, including by ending rape and increasing accountability. Ms. Marip and her organization, the Women’s League of Burma, recently launched a report on sexual violence in their country,Same Impunity, Same Pattern: Report of Systematic Sexual Violence in Burma’s Ethnic Areas, about which the Global Justice Center hosted an event and wrote an article.
Similarly, Leonie Kyakimwa Wangivirwa, an activist working with women survivors of sexual violence in Congo, spoke of the power of women to end sexual violence in conflict. She called for solidarity, saying that women around the world “must band together as survivors if we want to fix this on a global level rather than go case by case.” She further urged the world to end the crisis in Congo – one of the world’s longest running conflicts – saying that the Congolese “are begging the people who are bringing war to us to take it away.” Without this step, she explained, sexual violence would continue.
Leonie then described the consequences of the ongoing sexual violence in her country, including the suffering of women with unwanted pregnancies from rape, who are often shunned by their families, and the dangers and difficulties that face children born of rape. An audience member from the Congo, Justine Masika Bihamba, of Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence, echoed Leonie’s point, reporting that “every day we are losing women to suicide who have become pregnant from rape.”
Zeinab Blandia, of the Vision Association in Sudan, shared her experiences advocating against sexual violence in her country, and explained that where peace has been established in areas of Sudan, the situation for women has improved. Like her fellow panelists, Zeinab called on the international community to help bring the conflict in her country to an end. She said that if the war and its associated violence against women were to continue, it would be a “shame on the international community and on CSW.”
The panel also touched upon successes combating sexual violence in Haiti, where the 2010 earthquake left women and girls increasingly vulnerable to sexual attacks. The event highlighted the work of KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), a grassroots organization run by women survivors of sexual violence that supports other women survivors in Haiti. Marie Eramithe Delva, executive secretary of KOFAVIV, recounted the success of their campaign distributing whistles to women and girls in the displaced person camps of Port-au-Prince, noting that in at least one camp it had led to a drastic reduction in the number of reported rapes.
The Global Justice Center (GJC) is grateful to have heard these women leaders speak of their experiences and advice for combating sexual violence and supporting survivors. We believe our vision of success on the ground mirrors their calls for justice and accountability for rape in armed conflict, for increased participation of women in government and peace negotiations, and for expanded and non-discriminatory access to sexual and reproductive health services. GJC is eager to partner with women leaders such as these, as it has done with Ms. Bihamba, whose organization sent a letter to President Obama as part of GJC’s August 12th Campaign, urging him to lift the ban on abortions attached to U.S. humanitarian aid. For further information on GJC and its projects, please visit:http://www.globaljusticecenter.net.
Letter to Secretary Hillary Clinton, April 2012, Re: US Security Council Presidency and Next Steps on Myanmar/Burma
The very definition of “sovereignty” or of a “sovereign” state like the Union of the Republic of Myanmar, assumes that the state has complete legal authority over the military and over constitution amendment processes