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

Friday, Missouri is moving toward passing a bill that would allow landlords and employers to discriminate against women who have had abortions or use contraception. The House passed an expanded version of the bill, known as SB 5, which the Senate first passed on June 14 during a special session called by Governor Eric Greitens. The session was intended to overturn an ordinance that prevents employers and landlords from discriminating against women because of their reproductive health choices. While the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against women who have had an abortion, it makes no mention of discrimination based on birth control.

Thursday, the United States rejected a United Nations resolution against gender-based violence because of a paragraph calling for access to reproductive health services, including abortion where it is legal. U.S. official Jason Mack said that while the United States agrees with the “spirit” of the resolution, it cannot endorse the paragraph on reproductive services because t the U.S. does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

Monday, the Polish government passed legislation restricting access to emergency contraception. The president signed a bill that classifies the “morning-after pill” as a prescription drug, meaning that women will now have to make a doctor’s appointment to obtain it. Polish doctors are allowed to refuse treatment based on religious grounds. 

Monday, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered a speech criticizing Western countries for undermining human rights, arguing that “the dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real.” He warned that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s threat to abandon human rights if they hinder terrorism investigations would encourage authoritarian regimes.  He also condemned the Trump administration’s travel ban and “flirtation” with torture.

Photo credit: Yassie CC-BY-SA-3.0

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Sunday, Executive Director of the U.N. Population Fund Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin died. He worked to ensure access to family planning for all. “Family planning is not a privilege but a right. Yet, too many women — and men — are denied this human right,” Osotimehin said.

Tuesday, Devex reported on how the Global Gag Rule has affected conflict-affected populations. In Colombia, a non-profit called Profamilia has provided reproductive health services and education like workshops on gender-based violence to vulnerable towns since 1964. In January, it chose not to comply with the expanded Global Gag Rule, and it lost $1.2 million of USAID funding, $1.5 million for a maternal mortality program, and $300,000 for a Zika prevention program.

Tuesday, authorities in Saudi Arabia detained prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. While the exact reason for her arrest is unknown, Amnesty International believes it relates to her women’s rights activism. In 2014, she was arrested and held for 73 days for trying to drive a car from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, the Trump administration suggested the possibility of a U.S. exit from the United Nations Human Rights Council. In her first address to the UNHRC and in an op-ed in The Washington Post, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley argued that the council exhibits anti-Israel bias and ignores the human rights violations of its members.

Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said the country needs to be more aggressive in combatting terrorism, “and if our human rights laws get in the way of doing it, we will change the law so we can do it.” May proposed making it easier to deport foreign terrorist suspects and to “restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects” against whom there is not enough evidence to prosecute in court.

Wednesday, The New Yorker explained how the Global Gag Rule affects Africa by targeting women in some of the world’s poorest countries. The United States provides more international health assistance than any other country, and in these regions, there are too few health centers to provide specific services like abortion. The Gag Rule also complicates treatment of women with H.I.V. and AIDS because providers cannot even raise the question of abortion to a woman who’s infected, which will result in more infected children and less money to treat them with.

Photo Credit: U.K. Department for International Development Flickr CC-BY-2.0

Countdown to August 12th: Will the U.S. Step Up to the Plate at This Year’s Universal Periodic Review?

At the 2nd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States, five countries- Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom- urged the U.S. to reconsider its stance on the Helms Amendment. This amendment makes it illegal for any U.S. foreign aid to be directed to abortion services. This leaves many women and girls who are victims of war rape no choice but to carry the child of their rapist or unsafely try to abort it themselves. The Helms Amendment impinges upon the rights of women and girls in conflict, and is in violation of the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Geneva Conventions.

The UN Security Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, countries and organizations around the world have recognized the gravity of the Helms Amendment and the necessity for clarification so that women and girls in conflict can have access to the medical care that they need.

Out of the 293 women and girls who were rescued from Boko Haram in Nigeria, one-third of them are pregnant. 214 of these women and girls are being denied proper care, and this is the fate of many others around the world.

The Obama administration has 3 months to respond to these charges and overturn the Helms Amendment and its abortion ban. GJC encourages President Obama to respond to these suggestions as soon as possible, as the end of the 3-month time frame for U.S. response to UPR recommendations, falls on August 12th, 2015. August 12th is the anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, and is also the inspiration for GJC’s August 12th Campaign to “Ensure the Right to Safe Abortion for Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict.”

Pressure is mounting and the clock is ticking. Will the U.S. overturn the Helms Amendment by the deadline, and show the world that it is upholding its obligations under the Geneva Conventions?

Click here to read more. 

Five Countries Directly Challenge US Abortion Restrictions at Universal Periodic Review

Today, during the Universal Periodic Review of United States, several member states of the UN Human Rights Council made statements condemning the anti-abortion restrictions that the US places on foreign aid, such as the Helms Amendment.

The UN Human Rights Council is responsible for monitoring the human rights records of the member states; every four years each country is reviewed and presented with recommendations on how to comply with their human rights duties.

The effects of Helms are can be seen in conflict zones around the world, most recently with the rescue of 214 pregnant Nigerian women from Boko Haram. The issue of comprehensive medical care has gained traction in recent months. As a result, today the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium and France orally recommended that the United States work to ensure access to safe abortions around the world and limit the negative impact of the Helms Amendment.

War rape is an illegal tactic of war, constituting torture or genocide, and denial of medical care allows the perpetuation of those crimes. The constraints of the Helms Amendment deny women and children access to safe abortions, and restrict aid agencies from even providing information about abortion services.

In September 2014, the Global Justice Center submitted a report to the UPR, highlighting the ways in which constraints against women’s reproductive rights are incompatible with the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In April 2015, GJC traveled throughout Europe advocating for countries to use the UPR process to question the current anti-abortion restrictions the US imposes.

In addition to the five oral questions, written recommendations were also submitted, requiring a response and justification, should the United States continue to uphold the Helms Amendment. The US government has three months to formulate a response. It is clear that the Obama Administration has a responsibility and urgent duty to remedy these violations.

Click here to read more. 

Violence in Africa: Sexual Assault and Legal Reparations

In 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that 29 countries used rape as a weapon of war. The states accused of using rape must be held responsible for employing intentional and systematic sexual assault to further a military objective, whether it be genocide, demoralization, impregnation, or HIV infection. A recent article, Africa: Sexual Violence in Conflict – What Use Is the Law?, distributed by allAfrica Global Media, illustrates the legal tools available to the survivors of the rape crimes and discusses the difficulties that have been encountered so far in attempts to prosecute rape as a war crime—difficulties such as the complex nature of the resources at the victims’ disposal. To access the available resources, survivors must possess a basic understanding of applicable laws—laws which are convoluted at best and unrecognized or invalid at worst.

For example, rape as a tactic of war is outlawed by the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. However, sexual violence is not specifically designated a ‘grave breach’ of convention, a distinction which, “obliges states to seek out and prosecute, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, anyone suspected of committing such acts, regardless of their nationality or of the country where the crime was committed.”

While rape is not explicitly delineated within the Geneva Conventions as a ‘grave breach’ in and of itself, it is easily definable as a violation of the law prohibiting “torture or inhumane treatment.” The case grows more complicated as the Geneva Conventions pertain to international disputes, rather than civil wars, where most of the crimes are taking place. Further, most ‘non-state actors’ do not act in accordance with the legal bindings applicable to the state and rebel groups are responsible for a large percentage of sexual violence during war.

However, prosecutors might look beyond humanitarian law and employ the definitions of the Rome Statute advocated by the International Criminal Court, which labels rape as a war crime. Further, there are proponents of “soft law” which is not legally binding but nonetheless a useful persuasive device in the courtroom. Margaret Purdasy, legal counselor at the UK Mission in Geneva, offers some hope to the prosecution, saying, “All the strands of law have their limitations and their setbacks, but they are not the same limitations; one helps to plug the gaps in the other.”

The Global Justice Center is at the forefront of this movement, demanding the recognition of rape as an unlawful crime. GJC states, “Rape is the most terrorizing and life-destroying unlawful weapon being used in armed conflict – yet not one rape-using state has ever been held accountable for the use of an unlawful weapon under the laws of war.”

The Global Justice Center espouses that rape be addressed as an unlawful weapon of war and offers a sampling of important results. Should the correct measures be taken, rape states will be held accountable for their action, accurate statistics of women raped in conflict will be created and made available, restitution will be gained by victims seeking legal retribution, and redress will be established for rape survivors who contracted HIV. Also, as stated in Africa: Sexual Violence in Conflict, the international community must also reach beyond legal services when providing aid and work to combat integral social attitudes, such as victim blaming. Further, survivors require emotional and medical resources, such as access to safe abortions, another issue championed by the GJC.

Open Letter to Commissioner Georgieva

GJC writes open letter to Commissioner Georgieva of the European Commission in response to her September 8, 2014 letter explaining the European Union's position on abortion and the Geneva Conventions.

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Women’s Bodies, Today’s Battleground: A Personal Story of Courage from the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

(*Unless otherwise cited, the information in this article is based on GJC Program Intern Isabella Szabolcs’ interview with Haitian human rights advocate Jocie Philistin on June 6, 2014. It has been translated from French to English with Ms. Philistin’s consent.)

Jocie Philistin is sitting in the conference room of the Global Justice Center before catching a flight to London, where she will represent the most critical voice at the UK Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict: women working on the ground in conflict zones. She is thousands of miles away from her home in Haiti, where she works as a human rights advocate for Haitian survivors of sexual violence. When asked about what event impacted her most in her work with female survivors, Jocie recounted a story of a thirteen year-old girl who has been raped:

Just minutes after her water broke in Port au Prince, Haiti, the thirteen year-old girl was refusing to go into labor. She was terrified of giving birth to her own flesh and blood, a chilling reality that was all too literal. Raped by her twenty-eight-year-old brother, a member of Haiti’s military force, the girl was one of the few survivors of sexual violence to see her perpetrator imprisoned. Although her brother was detained, her trauma was far from over. He terrorized her over the phone threatening to kill her for reporting the assault, and his fellow paramilitaries attempted to set her on fire. In spite of the imminent death threats, it was the idea of bearing a child born of rape and incest, a child she could not accept or care for, that was the more frightening reality for the pregnant girl.

Had it not been for the support from the International Civilian Mission—who Jocie worked for—the girl’s story would have ended like so many others, culminating in further abuse or even death. As Jocie points out, this young girl’s harrowing account is not unique. This is the experience of thousands of women and children who are victims of sexual violence in armed conflict zones around the world. The traumatizing effects of sexual violence remain with the survivor forever.

Jocie’s Story

A girl never forgets the daunting memory of being sexually violated.

Her Haitian name, as she proudly recounts, means “God is gracious.” For Jocie, her name became an emblem and a source of her empowerment as she began her mission of helping rape and sexual assault survivors find hope, peace, and justice.

When Jocie was sexually assaulted three times by a senior member of the military, she experienced stigmatization and a lack of adequate access to care. It became clear to her that greater attention had to be given to sexually abused victims. “When you are violated or sexually assaulted, you never forget the experience or its lasting effects. I wanted to help these girls, give them hope and prevent such dehumanization from happening again. My similar experience to these victims allowed us to understand and psychologically help each other.”

For the past 16 years, Jocie has worked with Haitian victims of sexual abuse, a population whose numbers increased drastically as a result of the 1991 military coup d’état and the 2010 earthquake. After the coup d’état, Jocie began her work at the International Civilian Mission, which is run by both the UN and the Organization of American States. Through the mission, she helped victims of sexual violence find justice and faith, and pressured the government to take action and to hold the perpetrators accountable. She also helped pioneer a seminal 2005 law making rape a crime in Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake, Jocie worked for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, an international law firm that provided free legal and security assistance to survivors of sexual violence and KOFAVIV, a local grassroots organization whose acronym translates to the “Commission of Women Victims for Victims” and lends social, psychological, and medical support and empowerment to survivors.

Currently, Jocie works as an evangelical preacher and women’s rights advocate. She founded her own organization, the Yahweh-Rapha Foundation (“The Lord Who Heals” Foundation), where she trains youth groups to become knowledgeable activists in the church and community on the prevention and care of victims of sexual abuse. Her goal is to raise awareness about the reality of sexual violence in Haiti and reduce the stigmatization attached to these victims. By creating dialogue on a conventionally taboo subject, Jocie hopes to increase reporting for sexual violence crimes, end the vicious cycle of “victim-blaming” and ostracization, demand accountability, and ensure immediate medical attention within 72 hours of the attack.

Support and Hope for Survivors

Last week, the Global Justice Center had the privilege of bringing Jocie to attend the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London. Her presence at the Global Summit, like those of other survivors and those working with sexual violence survivors on the ground, is vital when the international community comes together to discuss ways to protect and respond to sexual violence against women in conflict zones. Jocie represents the voice of a victim and it is essential that policymakers give a platform to survivors to direct their own future. These are exactly the kind of voices that must be amplified and the Global Summit was the perfect opportunity.

Co-chaired by the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, and attended by 129 governments, foreign ministers, UN officials, and civil society, the summit was a milestone for women’s rights. This is the first global meeting to focus on sexual violence in conflict-affected areas. Yet this historical achievement is only the first step towards progress. The Summit raised many concerns and key areas for change that must be addressed in the struggle for ending sexual violence in conflict. One much-needed area for improvement in advancing these human rights is international support for civil society’s role in this fight for justice. However, the Summit, while ambitious in its scope, did not adequately incorporate human rights organizations and grassroots advocates in engaging “governments to take meaningful action…to stop rape and gender violence in conflict” and which limited the scope of the conversation. This effect was evident by the conclusion of the summit when only 46 of the governments made “any concrete commitment towards addressing the issue.”

As the Global Summit Chair’s report states, “survivors must be at the centre of the response to sexual violence in conflict, to ensure re-empowerment and to avoid further victimization.” The Global Justice Center aimed to do exactly that at the Summit by bringing experts such as Jocie, however as noted by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jody Williams, the opportunities to hear survivors’ voices were limited and many stories, such as Jocie’s, were never heard in the official sessions attended by ministerial policy makers.

Rape used as a Weapon of War & Structural Barriers to Justice

The purpose of the Global Summit was to address how to end impunity for perpetrators and bring justice to survivors. As concluded in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence Chair’s Summary, it is essential to “improve accountability at the national and international level, through better documentation, investigations and prosecutions…and better legislation implementing international obligations and standards.”

Rape “or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity,” as included in 2002 by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, was declared a crime against humanity when systematically committed against civilians during armed conflict. Despite the devastating consequences for states and entities engaging in sexual violence in conflict, “no state has ever been held accountable for the use of rape as a prohibited tactic.” The failure to penalize states for using rape as a tactic of war contradicts the laws of war, unequivocally violates human rights, and explicitly discriminates against and subordinates women and children.

In Haiti where Jocie works, the destabilization that resulted from the coup d’etat and the earthquake “unleashed a wave of torture, massacre and systematic sexual violence against women.” The weakening of state systems of security and political control, contributed to an epidemic of sexual violence that to this day, ravages the country. Furthermore, the aftermath of the attack poses a second trauma for the victims. Their attackers continue reigning terror with impunity because rape cases seldom are prosecuted in court or result in a conviction. Even in cases where a conviction succeeds, the survivor’s safety is constantly under threat. It is common for perpetrators to bribe their way out of jail or to use friends and family to terrorize the victim. For this reason, safe homes (hebergements) were created to ensure that the victims receive adequate care and protection from their abuser.

As stated by the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, civilians – especially women and children – suffer the most devastating casualties in today’s war-ravaged areas. Rape is used as a strategic political and military tactic to terrorize enemies, destabilize society, destroy families and communities, and traumatize victims. Perpetrators use rape to assert their control and achieve objectives such as ethnic cleansing and deliberate dissemination of diseases such as the HIV virus.

Another common and devastating result of sexual violence in war is the impregnation of rape victims. Forced with the prospect of carrying out life-threatening pregnancies to bear the child of their rapists, survivors often resort to unsafe abortions or in too many tragic circumstances, suicide.

The dire need for legislation in international and national policy recognizing and punishing rape as a tactic of war, cannot take effect without a change in attitudes towards victims of sexual violence.

It is essential to listen to the voices of these survivors when discussing ways to combat and respond to sexual violence in conflict, a greater emphasis that should have been placed during last week’s Global Summit.

Women, specifically survivors of sexual violence, play a critical role in engaging communities in response, reconciliation and prevention efforts of sexual violence in conflict. The contribution of these women in sustaining international peace and security is crucial, since they often are more accepted and have greater access to such conflict zones than government officials and representatives. For this reason, it is imperative that victims of sexual violence are given a voice to be heard, especially in high-profile venues such as the Global Summit.

Moving Forward

The Global Summit Chair’s Summary emphasized, “this Summit is just the beginning.” We need to translate rhetoric into action. The International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council must take further action to punish those responsible for the illegal use of rape as a tactic of war. In addition, donor states such as the U.S. must comply with the Geneva Conventions to ensure that its humanitarian aid to survivors of sexual violence in war provides “complete and non-discriminatory medical care” including access to safe abortion services in life-threatening circumstances.

Beyond the necessary international role, advocates such as Jocie are critical in effecting change. In order for such international policies to take effect, a new attitude towards victims of sexual violence must be taken. The population needs to internalize the belief that “there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence [but rather,] the shame is on the aggressor.” Only then, can these victims be treated with the dignity and respect that they so rightly deserve.

UK-led Call to Action to End Violence Against Women and Girls in Emergencies

On November 13th, governments, UN heads, international NGOs and civil society organizations gathered in London to develop a fundamental new approach to violence against women and girls (VAWG) in emergency situations, both man-made and natural disasters. These leading humanitarian agencies met to endorse a global commitment acknowledging that, “prevention and response to VAWG in emergencies is life-saving and should be prioritized from the outset of an emergency, alongside other life-saving interventions.”  Nine donor governments (including the UK, US, Australia, Sweden and Japan), six UN agencies, the ICRC, the International Organization for Migration and 21 international NGOs endorsed a communiqué outlining future action and commitments.

When the rule of law crumbles, one of the first things that happen is women become the targets of violence. In times of disaster, such as the recent crisis in the Phillippines, hundreds of thousands of women and girls will become dramatically more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse, rape, forced marriage and trafficking.  Experience has shown that every single humanitarian crisis puts women and girls at great risk, yet during the first stage of an emergency, targeted interventions for VAWG are not prioritized because the violence is not considered life-threatening, according to UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening. Child sponsorship data collected in Bangladesh in 2012 revealed that 62% of children under 18 who had married in the previous five years did so during the 2007 Cyclone Sidr. 18 months after the earthquake in Haiti, sexual abuse and exploitation were widespread because girls and women could not get the goods and services needed to survive. Furthermore, the rates of unwanted pregnancies, maternal mortality, disability, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections including HIV, rise during times of displacement and economic hardship. Thus this Call to Action is built around recognizing that the prevention and response to VAWG is life-saving and must be prioritized, not as an afterthought but as standard practice.

These discussions have put forth the political will to take concrete steps to fundamentally influence systemic change while also addressing the root causes of VAWG. According to Julia Drost, policy and advocacy associate in women’s human rights at Amnesty International USA, “addressing gender-based violence can’t just be done in emergencies; it has to occur 24/7 and involve all government entities working overseas.” Which is why the commitments made by UN agencies, governments, donors and NGOs were framed as just the beginning of a process for improving the protection of women and girls in emergencies. These commitments aim to ensure that efforts to prevent and respond to VAWG become standard practice and result in real, positive change through the implementation of an accountability framework.

The humanitarian community has historically not prioritized the protection of women and girls in emergencies claiming lack of funding or lack of trained specialists. In order to reform the humanitarian community’s response to violence against women and girls in emergencies, this Call to Action will involve researching the historical challenges of implementing gender-based violence programs and address them with innovative techniques and sustained commitments.

Responding to VAWG in the first 72 hours of an emergency is a central focus of this initiative as well as sexual and reproductive health services, effective measures to eliminate impunity for the perpetrators of violence, empowering women and girls as a means and an end for tackling VAWG and proactively linking the work being done by the UK government and internationally to ensure commitments made complement existing initiatives. Other important commitments include identifying 20 priority countries that should be adequately stocked with post-rape treatment supplies by 2015; creating new posts in response teams for gender-violence experts; installing solar street lamps in camps and settlements; and increasing funding for gender-based violence initiatives.

UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening.

Another positive aspect of these discussions were that The Department for International Development (DFID) announced £21.6 million in new funding to protect women and girls in emergencies. In comparison to the United States’ Safe from the Start initiative to address gender-based violence in global humanitarian emergencies announced on September 23rd, UK provisions for humanitarian aid are able to provide a life-saving service that the U.S. program is not – access to safe and voluntary abortion for rape victims. Thus, the UK-funded medical care will be able to address the distinct needs of women and children in disasters, providing safe and non-discriminatory access to humanitarian assistance.

Tentative optimism is circulating around this event, with the hopes it can put forth measurable improvements by being prepared rather than reactionary when a disaster strikes. According to Sweden’s International Development Minister and event co-chair Hillevi Engström, “empowerment and protection should go hand in hand.” By focusing on gender inequity, the root causes of violence against women and garnering enough support from donors and humanitarian actors, this Call to Action has the potential make significant progress in filling the gap in disaster planning. Now, where do we go from here? Ms. Engström commented, “We have all the paperwork, polices and resolutions in place. But implementation is the weakest link in the chain. It’s time to stop talking and start acting.” As we are starting to see change and increasing attention to gender-based violence in crisis situations, let’s help give women and girls what they deserve – power, not pity.

The United Kingdom’s Duty under International Humanitarian Law to Ensure Non-Discriminatory Medical Care to Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict, including Access to Safe Abortion Services

Excerpts of UK, EU and International Laws, Policies & Practices Relevant to this Duty

Updated as of October 8, 2013

The duty of the United Kingdom ("UK") to respect international law, and in particular international humanitarian law, is firmly rooted in its body of domestic law which implements the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols, and is further supplemented by the laws, regulations, and guidelines of the European Union.
For women raped in armed conflict, abortion is a legal right under international humanitarian law ("IHL"). Girls and women raped in armed conflict are "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions and are entitled, as the ―wounded and sick, to "receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition." This care must also be non-discriminatory. To deny a medical service to pregnant women (abortion), while offering everything needed for victims who are male or who aren't pregnant, is a violation of this requirement of non-discrimination. Therefore, IHL imposes an absolute and affirmative duty to provide the option of abortion to rape victims in humanitarian aid settings; failing to do so violates the Geneva Conventions, its Additional Protocols, and customary international law.

These protections are further supported by international human rights law. The Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee have both declared the denial of abortion to be torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in certain situations. Furthermore, under these treaties, which apply concurrently with humanitarian law during armed conflict, State Parties are required to provide the highest standard of rehabilitative care for torture victims, which includes the provision of complete medical services for injuries resulting from torture. In the case of impregnated female rape victims, such care must include the option of abortion.

This compendium contains excerpts from British legislation, policy, and practice which underscore the UK's commitments to ensure that its humanitarian aid to girls and women raped in armed conflict affords them their full and inalienable rights to medical care under IHL. This requires: (1) access to a complete range of health and life-saving treatments including abortion, and (2) compliance with the tenet of non-discriminatory humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.

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Compendium: The Obligation of the United Kingdom to Protect the Inalienable Rights of Girls and Women Raped in Armed Conflict to Non-Discriminatory Medical Care Including Access to Abortion: Excerpts of Relevant UK Laws, Policies, & Practices

The duty of the United Kingdom (UK) to respect international law, and in particular international humanitarian law, is firmly rooted in its body of domestic law which implements the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols, and is further supplemented by the laws, regulations, and guidelines of the European Union.

For women raped in armed conflict, abortion is a legal right under international humanitarian law (IHL). Girls and women raped in armed conflict are “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions and are entitled, as the “wounded and sick,” to “receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition.” This care must also be non-discriminatory. To deny a medical service to pregnant women (abortion), while offering everything needed for victims who are male or who aren’t pregnant, is a violation of this requirement of non-discrimination. Therefore, IHL imposes an absolute and affirmative duty to provide the option of abortion to rape victims in humanitarian aid settings; failing to do so violates the Geneva Conventions, its Additional Protocols, and customary international law.

These protections are further supported by international human rights law. The Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee have both declared the denial of abortion to be torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in certain situations. Furthermore, under these treaties, which apply concurrently with humanitarian law during armed conflict, State Parties are required to provide the highest standard of rehabilitative care for torture victims, which includes the provision of complete medical services for injuries resulting from torture. In the case of impregnated female rape victims, such care must include the option of abortion.

This compendium contains excerpts from British legislation, policy, and practice which underscore the UK’s commitments to ensure that its humanitarian aid to girls and women raped in armed conflict affords them their full and inalienable rights to medical care under IHL. This requires: (1) access to a complete range of health and life-saving treatments including abortion, and (2) compliance with the tenet of non-discriminatory humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.

The UK is a global leader in providing humanitarian aid and assistance to the victims of armed conflict. The UK should continue to endeavour to comply fully and faithfully with the rights and protections these victims are accorded under IHL.

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Health Promotion Tips for Women

March 6, 2013, 15:30-17:30

At United Nations Church Center, 2nd Floor

Hope Medical Enterprises is a not for profit Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) based in the United Kingdom, with a focus on helping Iraqi women and children in Iraq and in Europe in all aspects of their daily lives. The discussion will focus on HIV in Iraq and possibilities to support women and children affected. Among the speakers will be Dr. Hamid Al-Bayati, UN Ambassador of Iraq and Janet Benshoof, President of the Global Justice Center. 

UK Queen's Counsel Letter to President Obama

February 1, 2012

Letter sent to President Obama by a group of UK Queen's Counsel as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

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