The UN General Assembly Ignores Gender in Debates on the Responsibility to Protect

By Hannah Sarokin and Brandon Golfman

The 90s were a time of multiculturalism, grunge music, Friends, and the world-wide web.  It was also a decade marked by devastating humanitarian crises, including widespread sexual and gender-based violence.  From Rwanda to the Balkans, mass conflict and genocide rattled global security and peace processes and shed light on the resounding failure of the international community to act.  The principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was born from such atrocity.  

First addressed by the UN during the World Summit in 2005, R2P is the collective recognition that protecting vulnerable civilians from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity is both a domestic and international obligation.  The three pillars of R2P oblige states to protect their populations from such atrocities, require the international community to assist in that protection, and if a state has failed, other states must take appropriate actions to intervene.  Despite a unanimous commitment to R2P at the World Summit, there remains a severe gap in domestic implementation, especially in regards to gender.

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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Human Rights Org Send Open Letter to Iraqi Prime Minister on establishing an Investigative Team for Crimes Committed by Daesh, including Yazidi Genocide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October, 30 2017

[NEW YORK and BAGHDAD] –  Today, the Global Justice Center along with the Eyzidi Organization for Documentation, the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, the Iraqi Women Network, Madre and Yazda sent a joint open letterto the Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Haider al-Abadi regarding the Terms of Reference currently being drafted for UN Security Council Resolution 2379 (2017).

Recommendations for the Terms of Reference and Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2379 on Da’esh Accountability

Subject: Recommendations for the Terms of Reference and Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2379 on Da’esh Accountability

Your Excellency,

We are writing to you to call on your leadership in ensuring successful implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2379, initiating an Investigative Team for crimes committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, hereinafter referred to as “Da’esh”).

Below, please find a list of recommendations which we hope will be reflected in the Terms of Reference for the Resolution, with the purpose of establishing a commitment to the highest standards of international law and guaranteeing inclusiveness and accountability, including through gender justice and a victim-centered approach.

The adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2379 on September 21, 2017 marks an important milestone in the enormous task of holding members of Da’esh accountable for their commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. In this respect, we particularly emphasize the need to investigate and prosecute all forms of sexual and gender-based violence which can constitute acts of genocide as well.

We hope the Investigative Team will lay the groundwork for an inclusive and comprehensive justice process for all those affected by the conflict and atrocities committed.

We thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Global Justice Center Eyzidi Organization for Documentation
Iraqi Al-Amal Association   Iraqi Women Network
Madre Yazda

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UN Security Council Adopts Resolution - One Step Towards Justice for the Yazidi Genocide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 21, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] – Today, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted UNSC Resolution 2379 (2017) on Daesh accountability, paving the way for an investigative team to collect evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Iraq. Since 2014, Daesh has been perpetrating a genocidal campaign against the Yazidi and potentially other ethnic minorities in Northern Iraq but yet to date no perpetrator has been held accountable for genocide.

Trumps's First UN General Assembly Week: What to Expect

By Julia d'Amours

The 72nd UN General Assembly will start on Tuesday, September 19th. This year’s theme is “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet,” as chosen by this year’s GA President Miroslav Lajčak of Slovakia. Lajčak has designated six themes for this year’s GA: improving the lives of ordinary people; prevention and mediation to sustain peace; migration; achieving SDG and climate standards; human rights and equal opportunities for both genders; and improved quality of events hosted by the UN General Assembly Presidency.

The UNGA always garners international attention as the “hottest ticket in diplomacy,” but this year’s is leaving delegations in heightened anticipation as President Trump makes his UN debut. According to State Department officials, the US delegation will be smaller than earlier years, scaling down attendance from 1,000 to about 300 US personnel.  US diplomats will also reportedly need permission to attend the myriad side events and debates hosted throughout the week. This diminished presence is partly due to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s aims to scale down departmental spending. It’s also sending the message, however, that the US is disengaging from its international obligations and the UN as a whole.

President Trump will be present for three days of the UNGA, more time than most US Presidents have traditionally spent, beginning his participation with an address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, September 19th. From there, he will proceed to several key events, such as a luncheonhosted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. The Trump Administration has indicated counterterrorism, conflict in Syria, North Korea, and UN reform as its priorities during this GA session.

Another change in this year’s GA will be the venue of the negotiations. Typically, the US hosts meetings at the UN or in nearby hotels. Trump has opted instead for his New Jersey golf club. It is rumored that his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner will play significant roles in these discussions.

Recent tensions between the Trump Administration and UN have left foreign diplomats with apprehension. At the White House in April, Trump remarkedthat he has “long felt that the UN is an underperformer but has tremendous potential”. Ambassador Haley toldthe UNSC in April, “You don’t see the United Nations, like, solving conflicts.” The relationship between the White House and the UN has only grown more contentious over the summer. Last month, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN Human Rights Chief, said that Trump’s repeated denouncements of the press and incitement of violence was “poisonous.”

Historically the US has used the UNGA to demonstrate its commitment to global leadership and indispensable role in the UN. This year, however, many expect touting an “America First” agenda. On September 18th, Trump will chair a meetingon streamlining UN services which will give him and Haley the opportunity to present themselves as big UN reformers. It is anticipated Trump will threaten to revoke funding in certain reforms are not made.

With the increasing hostility with North Korea, the ongoing conflict in Syria, global terror attacks and countries all over the world dealing with the ravaging effects of climate change, the world needs national level leadership to meaningfully address international crises.  Unfortunately, the signs are pointing to Trump’s visit to the UN further fraying global tensions.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

U.S. Aversion to International Human Rights Treaties

By Marie Wilken

The United States prides itself on being a champion of human rights. Since its founding, the United States has often identified its belief in inalienable rights as a trait that has differentiates it from other countries. The United States pioneered international human rights law when Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the precursor to many international human rights treaties. In the U.S. Department of State’s annual Human Rights Reports, it judges other countries’ human rights records. However, it is difficult to take U.S. commitment to human rights seriously when it regularly favors domestic political concerns over the international human rights community and continually demonstrates a unique reluctance to ratify international human rights treaties.

The United States is alone among other industrialized Western countries in its reluctance. It did not begin to ratify major human rights treaties until the late 1980s, taking almost 40 years to become the 98th country to ratify the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It still has not ratified many significant human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights—part of the International Bill of Human Rights. The United States also has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), one of only seven countries who hasn’t including Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga. The United States and Somalia are the only countries that have not ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child.

When the United States does ratify treaties, it uses a unique process that diminishes the treaties’ intended effects. Before the treaty is voted on, Justice Department lawyers search the documents for human rights protections that are more stringent than, and therefore would add to, U.S. law. When found, the United States limits the scope of the treaty by drafting a reservation, declaration, or understanding (RUD) to combat it and sends the treaty, RUDs attached, to the Senate for ratification.

To further strip the treaty of power, the United States declares that treaties are “not self-executing.” This means that without implementing legislation (domestic law guaranteeing the same protections), the treaty is unenforceable in domestic courts. The government often argues that implementing legislation is unnecessary because all the rights in the treaty (except those excluded in the RUDs) are already protected by U.S. law. This leaves citizens without the ability to invoke the treaty in court.

Moreover, because the United States has not ratified the first Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, citizens cannot appeal to UN Review committees—groups of experts who hear complaints from citizens who believe their treaty rights have been violated. These U.S. procedures prevent substantive participation in the international system of human rights, leaving citizens to rely on non-comprehensive domestic protections.

There are a few factors motivating U.S. aversion to international human rights treaties. Many scholars point to the historical context of when the treaties were first being developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Cold War fostered fears about the spread of communism and totalitarianism, and these fears became linked to the international human rights project. Conservatives also opposed these treaties because they viewed them as the federal government’s effort to address racial segregation and discrimination in the South.

This doesn’t explain why these attitudes have persisted. Some suggest that it is the nature of the U.S. government. Treaties require the approval of two-thirds of the Senate or “congressional-executive agreements”—but the latter are not used for human rights treaties. But what prevents ratification via Senate supermajority? The answer: an attitude.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth describes the American attitude towards international human rights law as “fear and arrogance—fear that international standards might constrain the unfettered latitude of the global superpower, and arrogance in the conviction that the United States, with its long and proud history of domestic rights protections, has nothing to learn on this subject from the rest of the world.” Scholars suggest that this isolationist attitude—partly driven by fears that international treaties would erode federalism—leads to acceptance of international human rights law only when it merely affirms existing domestic law.

Refusing to ratify human rights treaties weakens U.S. international leadership and deprives American citizens of protections they deserve. The United States is willing to sign onto substantive trade agreements but not human rights agreements, and this superficial participation in the international human rights community reveals its priorities. Human rights treaties are more than symbolic affirmations of values. They are legal foundations that can translate into human rights victories for citizens. (For examples of how international treaties like CEDAW have been used in domestic courts in other countries, see GJC’s CEDAW Casebank.) Only after ratifying these treaties, making them self-executing, and using domestic law to uphold them can the United States genuinely be the human rights champion it has so long claimed to be. 

Why a U.S. Exit from the UNHRC is Counterproductive

by Marie Wilken

On Tuesday, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the first time. The UNHRC adopts resolutions and orders investigations into governments’ violations of human rights. Though the United States began a new three-year term in January, there are rumors it is assessing the possibility of pulling out of the council. During her appearance and in an op-ed in The Washington Post, Haley asserted that the council gives too much negative attention to Israel and that many of its 47 members are serious human rights violators. A politically-motivated exit from the council, however, is a counterproductive strategy, not a solution to the United States’ objections.

The UNHRC is undeniably flawed. As with most political bodies, politics often sway decisions, and some voices are given more weight than others. Also as with other political bodies, loopholes distort well-intentioned rules of operation. For example, countries are elected to the UNHRC through a regional voting bloc system, but because backroom negotiations often result in a noncompetitive number of candidate countries, many human rights-violating countries are elected to the council. In her op-ed, Haley does suggest worthwhile changes – one of which is addressing this issue by making the voting for membership more competitive and inviting true consideration of countries’ human rights records.

If the United States wishes to see these changes, it should use its seat to continue to advocate for them. Disengaging from the council entirely would be counterproductive to its goals. A January Council on Foreign Relations report found that U.S. involvement in the UNHRC has “improved the body’s performance in several ways.” These even include the Trump administration’s objections to the UNHRC; the report found that U.S. involvement in the council can combat anti-Israel bias and encourage accountability for countries that violate human rights. It also found that the United States could create further positive change through “catalytic leadership” – not by withdrawing. Many fear that a U.S. withdrawal could allow for even more human rights violations. A U.S. departure would not end the discourse on Israel. If anything, it could encourage it.

Furthermore, consideration of withdrawing from the UNHRC follows a trend of the United States retreating from international cooperation such as the Paris climate accord and President Donald Trump’s criticism of the U.N. and NATO. This goes further back than Trump’s administration, though: the United States has a tendency to not sign onto international agreements or resolutions that have global consensus. (For example, only seven of the 194 U.N. countries have not ratified the U.N. Convention to Reduce All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the United States is one of them.)

This creates contradictions in U.S. policies regarding human rights and international intervention and cooperation. International cooperation toward ideals as morally unambiguous as women’s rights or human rights is criticized as too much of an international intervention and a threat to sovereignty for the United States. However, the United States has no problem intervening in other countries using more extreme means such as military intervention. And what has the United States often used to justify this intervention? Human rights. This hypocrisy is heightened by the Trump administration’s disregard for human rights in other arenas, such as its immigration policies, friendliness with Russia, and the ban on Muslims.

If the United States’ goal truly is to strengthen the UNHRC, its strategy should not be to delegitimize it. A senator unhappy with Congress’s political agenda, mode of operation, or composition would not resign in protest. Why? Because it’s better to be an active force working for change than to quit. Institutions like the UNHRC, though flawed, have merit. Change from within is more powerful than a denunciation and resignation. Exiting the council would place politics above the mission of human rights. To improve the council and signal U.S. devotion to human rights, the United States should heighten, not end, its involvement in the UNHRC.

Photo credit: United States Mission Geneva Flickr (CC-BY-ND-2.0)

Yes, Human Rights belong in the UN Security Council, but they also belong in the White House

As global tensions mount and with daily atrocities in the news, there is increasing concern over how to protect civilians and vulnerable populations. The US holds the Presidency of the UN Security Council for April and has a chance to take a strong stance in defense of human rights. Instead, the US’ plans to hold an open briefing on human rights at the Security Council has some concerned it will serve to undermine already existing international bodies devoted to protecting human rights and further polarize attempts to address human rights abuses.

The discussion is being branded as the first ever human rights debate in the Council, which is not entirely true. Human rights are regularly discussed in thematic agendas and contexts such as peacekeeping, issuing of sanctions, or when setting up commissions of inquiry or referrals to the International Criminal Court. Viewed in isolation, a discussion highlighting the nexus of human rights and international peace and security is welcome and appears extremely timely. For some time, advocates and the UN have been calling for a preventative approach by putting human rights at the heart of the Security Council’s actions, given the Council’s failure to act in light of the most egregious human rights abuses.

ISIS is Committing Genocide: Now What?

by Jessica Zaccagnino

On March 17th, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that ISIS is committing acts of genocide against Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria, launching the United States into a complex discussion of how to feasibly prosecute ISIS. Although there is not universal ascension to the Genocide Convention, customary international law has enshrined obligations of the international community to prevent, suppress, and punish perpetrators of genocide. Akila Radhakrishnan, the Legal Director of the GJC, emphasized in an interview that “the prohibition on genocide is actually considered to be so widely important that it has attained an even higher status of customary international law called jus cogens,which means it is absolutely non-derogable in every context.” The United States, party to the Genocide Convention, is required by both international conventions and customary international law to take action against genocide. Declaring that ISIS is committing is relatively easy, but actually prosecuting ISIS poses a unique set of challenges in part due to their non-state actor status: logistical, legal, and otherwise.

The prosecution of ISIS for genocide raises numerous, difficult questions: first, what body should carry out trials? In a resolution released days prior to Kerry’s announcement, Congress indicated support for trial in an internationally-run court, such as the International Criminal Court, or an entirely new tribunal, would be the best course of action. The White House has yet to indicate a plan of prosecution. Similar questions of logistics, such as who to hold responsible and where to hold large numbers of detainees, have also been raised. The existence of a defined administrative hierarchy within ISIS raises questions as to what extent subordinates should be held accountable for acts planned by their superiors; however, this is a question that plagues most tribunals.

In terms of prosecuting foreign fighters, it will likely be easier for the United States to turn over detainees to Iraq, an ally, than to Syria, as the US has been supporting rebel groups wishing to oust President Bashar Assad. Since ISIS utilizes many foreign fighters, estimated at 27,000, the use of national jurisdiction over these fighters may open up opportunities for a case in the ICC, even though Iraq and Syria are not party to the Rome Statute, or domestic trials in the US if extradited. The final problem is one of evidence: genocide is a very difficult crime to prove. Due to the “specific intent” portion of the definition, more extensive evidence is required than general charges of crimes against humanity or war crimes. This means, in order to prosecute ISIS, there must be a careful collection of evidence, all while in an active war zone.

To successfully prosecute ISIS for crimes of genocide, the US and international community will have to parse through numerous complex challenges in the near future and focus their energy not on only combatting ISIS militarily, but also constructing a clear prosecutorial strategy.

Although prosecuting ISIS for crimes of genocide poses a unique set of challenges, they are not impossible to overcome. The United States and the global community have a duty to prosecute crimes of genocide under international humanitarian law. ISIS’ prosecution, with the US playing an active role, is of utmost importance, especially now that both the US and UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria have come to the consensus that ISIS is perpetuating genocide. Countries must engage with these challenges proactively and address them head on in order to make substantial progress towards prosecution.

Clickhere to read the full interview with Akila Radhakrishnan and Grant Shubin, lawyers at Global Justice Center, about the US’ declaration of ISIS’ genocide.

UN Security Council Adopts Eighth Resolution on Women, Peace & Security, Linking the Agenda to Countering Violent Extremism

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October 14, 2015

[NEW YORK, NY] – Yesterday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted its eighth resolution on Women, Peace & Security, directly connecting the global agenda on combating violent extremism and terrorism to women’s experiences of conflict. The new Resolution 2242 emphasizes women’s role in preventing violent extremism and recognizes that sexual and gender-based violence can be part of the strategic objectives and ideology of terrorist groups. The Resolution comes at a time when unspeakable atrocities by groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS dominate headlines, including sexual slavery, forced marriage, rape and forced pregnancy, with some of these crimes possibly amounting to genocide.

Learn from Srebrenica and Recognize Boko Haram Violence as Genocide

July 11th, 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica and the resultant genocide. In response to the anniversary of the massacre, The Economist published an article titled “Stop Genocide Early” which calls for early action by the international community in conflict situations.

On July 11th, 1995 Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic overthrew UN Dutch peacekeepers’ “safe area” of Srebrenica. The worst violence to happen in Europe since World War II ensued. Mladic was able to carry out this violence with impunity due to a deadlock between the United States and NATO. This hesitancy to act resulted in roughly 8,000 deaths and gave birth to the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. This doctrine states that countries are morally obligated to prevent genocide that is taking place in other countries. It is immoral to sit idly by while people are being massacred. “This is the chief lesson of Srebrenica: governments should heed the early signs of mass slaughter and act swiftly to prevent it.”

In northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram is forcibly transferring and abducting children with the intention of destroying the Christian community. The targeted abduction and forced religious conversion of the Chibok schoolgirls is genocide, and action must be taken to stop this violence.

On April 14, 2015 the Global Justice Center sent a letter to the International Criminal Court prosecutor urging her to charge Boko Haram with genocide in her investigation of their crimes. Formally declaring Boko Haram’s actions as genocide will send other countries the important message that they have a moral, humanitarian obligation to put an end to the brutality.

The international community must learn from the mistakes made at Srebrenica 20 years ago by recognizing the forced abductions and violence perpetrated by Boko Haram as genocide. The world must act swiftly in providing aid to the victims and must work together to stop Boko Haram.

Read the full article here.

Read about GJC’s Genocide project here.