GJC Participates in Third Annual Women Law Summit at the NYU School of Law, titled, "Women in Conflict: Gender, Violence, and Peacekeeping"

Friday, 20 February, 2015 at 11:30am - 5:15pm

At Vanderbilt Hall, Greenberg Lounge

On February 20th,  NYU School of Law held its third annual  women's law summit which coincided  with  the 15th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325. The Summit sought to educate participants about  women's roles within conflict and their various means of empowerment, especially within  the legal system. The all-female panels were composed of practicing lawyers, doctors, academics, and theorists. GJC founder and president Janet Benshoof gave the keynote address, highlighting the organizations projects, such as a campaign for the prosecution of rape as a prohibited weapon,  and a campaign seeking the provision of abortions for women  in conflict. Further, GJC, who advocates "power, not pity," was referenced several times throughout the following panels, as speakers detailed  the ways in which women  might act in conflict. Akila Radhakrishnan, legal director  of GJC sat on the final panel about  women  and the transformation of the legal space, where she spoke on the opportunity for transforming women's rights in Burma.

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Over the Line: Sudanese Denial of Collective Rape, and ISIS Pamphlet

Fighting against use of rape as a weapon of war is extremely difficult even when there are clear evidences proving the crimes. The task becomes more difficult when evidence is hidden and the investigation on behalf of the UN is rejected.

In Sudan a joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping mission knows as UNAMID was twice denied permission from Sudanese authorities to investigate rape. “The Sudanese military is deliberately making it hard for its peacekeepers to investigate the claims.”  After Radio Dabanga reported a collective rape of “more than 200 women and girls“, the UNAMID had no access needed for a proper investigation of the situation.  The authorities threaten the local population to avoid publicity of rape crimes.  “None of those interviewed confirmed that any incident of rape took place in Tabit on the day of that media report,” says the official UNAMID report.

However, the leaked internal report shows the investigators concerns that the Sudanese military was preventing witnesses from coming forward. This only proves the failure of Sudanese authorities to treat the conduct of war as a war crime and protect women and girls from becoming rape victims. Sudan has even asked the UN to close its human rights office in Khartoum.

While Sudanese authorities refuse to follow international law in regard to rape, we see ISIS releasing a list of rules on treating females slaves, women and children once they captured by Jihadi warriors. That is how ISIS chooses to respond to the international uproar caused by ISIS kidnapping Yazidi girls and women and turning them into sex slaves. The published pamphlet reveals the horrifying truth of the way ISIS treat their female hostages: not only they see the illegal sexual intercourse with non-Muslim slaves, including young girls, to be a right thing to do, but they also allow to beat them and trade them in.

Rape is a prohibited weapon under the criteria set by the laws of war. It is illegal and inhuman. GJC urges the international community to give a strong response to these outrageous crimes conducted on behalf of Sudanese military, ISIS, and other authorities in war zones and prosecute those that use rape as a tactic of war. The time has come to go beyond the recognition that rape is being used as an illegal weapon/tactic of war – it’s time to start treating it like one.

The African Union’s Commission and Ending Impunity for Sexual Violence in South Sudan

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.

IHL & Abortion Mentioned During UN Security Council Open Debate

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

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

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

Click here to read the entire statement. 

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.

“A Devastating Year for Children”

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

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

© UNICEF

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

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

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

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

End Torture

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture. By formally accepting this treaty 20 years ago, the U.S. Government made a commitment to end the use of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Yet to this day, the U.S. repeatedly fails to meet its commitments under the treaty with its abortion restrictions on foreign assistance to girls and women raped in armed conflict.

© UNHRN

In advance of the 53rd session of the Committee against Torture convening on November 3 in Geneva, the GJC and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) submitted a Shadow Report on “US Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Assistance that Deny Safe Abortion Services to Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict” to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) that monitors implementation of the Convention. Forty three other reports were submitted through the USHRN (U.S. Human Rights Network) to the Committee as well.

Rape is torture. Forcing women to carry the child of their rapist by denying safe abortion services to war rape victims results in extended and intensified physical and psychological suffering. It is a legal and moral imperative to provide all necessary medical care, including abortion services, to war rape survivors. Currently, as a result of the Helms Amendment, the US has a “no abortion” policy placed on all US foreign aid. GJC & OMCT in their Shadow Report urge the Committee Against Torture to call on the United States to reassess and change this policy that is in violation of the convention.

CAT Day of Action  © UNHRN

Today, GJC is participating in the CAT Day of Action. Next month, human rights activists will gather for the United Nations’ review of the U.S. Government’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture. Join GJC in urging President Obama to issue an Executive Order overturning the Helms Amendment on the 20th anniversary of US ratifying CAT.

Stop Violence. End Torture.

US Abortion Restrictions of Foreign Aid Perpetuate Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – October 21, 2014 

[NEW YORK, NY & GENEVA] - Today marks the 20th anniversary of U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Yet to this day, the U.S. repeatedly fails to meet its commitments under the treaty with its abortion restrictions on foreign assistance to girls and women raped in armed conflict.

The Voices of “2014 Sister-to-Sister” Participants

Last Friday NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (NGOWG) held an informal meeting with three outstanding young women activists who are part of the Nobel Women’s Initiative “Sister-to-Sister Mentorship”. Maha Babeker, Alice Vilmaro, and Andrea Ixchíu do a fascinating job defending women’s rights in Sudan, South Sudan and Guatemala. Each of them shared with us their stories of everyday fight with violence and women’s rights abuse.

Maha Babeker has worked alongside Salmmah Women’s Resource Center in Khartoum, Sudan since 2010. Maha is currently a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and is coordinating a project to advocate for the reform of adultery laws in Sudan. She has a long history as an activist—including participating in “One Billion Rising” and “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence”. She is engaged with promoting social justice and equality, reproductive and health issues, leadership training and education. Her greatest concern is criminal law of Sudan which infringes upon human rights and women’s rights in particular.  Truly striking are examples of criminalized apostasy and adultery punishable by death. All Sudanese are subject to the government’s interpretation of Shari’ah (Islamic law). Apostasy from Islam is legally punishable by death under Article 126 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, same way as adultery is under Article 149 (by stoning!). Women are also bound by Shari'ah laws the way that men are not: while men can marry women of any religion, women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men. Women, unlike men, cannot choose. In connection with this, there is a significant issue of forced marriages which is a way for some families to get rid of a ‘burden’ daughter.  Not to mention women being arrested and detained even for their outfit. Women are deprived of their rights by their country’s law.

Andrea Ixchíu is a journalist and workshop facilitator dedicated to promoting indigenous women’s rights in Guatemala. Since childhood, Andrea has organized local campaigns to denounce violence against women in her community. She now delivers workshops to youth on preventing gender violence. As a journalist, Andrea writes for local and municipal papers to promote indigenous women’s participation in traditional leadership structures. Andrea told us that social movements, particularly women’s rights movements, become criminalized in Guatemala. The military government use war logic in domestic policies, war weapons against civilians and commit war crimes throughout the country. In Guatemala, where “minority is the ruling elite, not the thousands of civilians on the street” they are fighting with, women remain in danger of being raped. Andrea admitted that arrested women are treated in a different way than men which seems to be a minor fact comparing to the more than 200 rape cases per year taking place in Guatemala. What is more, the government not only has its spies in media, it also bribes women to lie about the situation publicly. However, they cannot cover all the terrible facts. For instance, they cannot cover the story of Yolanda Oquelí who was shot last year for being an activist and a human rights defender.

Alice Vilmaro, who is a Gender and Planning Officer with the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) in Juba, South Sudan, coordinates programs that promote the involvement of women and girls in South Sudan to achieve a lasting peace. CEPO’s program focuses on reporting human rights violations such as sexual and gender based violence, mitigating community conflicts and promoting peaceful co-existence among conflicting communities, as well as strengthening civic education in communities and public participation on governance issues. Alice believes that women can fill in the gaps between conflict groups in South Sudan and play a significant role in peacebuilding after the conflicts. She is also working alongside a civil society monitoring team to effectively implement UN Resolution 1325, which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and in post-conflict reconstruction, in the country. Alice told us that partnership programs with international missions as UNFPA and UN Women, and local missions as GBC (Greater Bor Community-USA programs focus on agriculture, promotion of education, promotion of quality public health and peace-building initiatives among the communities in Southern Sudan) are extremely important.

The reason why these women gathered together at this table is because they share something really important – desire to help women and stop the violence against them. They believe that pressure on their governments on the international level, diplomatic missions and data collecting could help women’s rights issues in their countries. They care, and they share their stories with us.

“Do not raise your hands in violence - raise your voices to stop it”

Last Saturday UN Women launched a campaign called “HeForShe”.

HeForShe is a solidarity movement that changes traditional perception of gender equality: it is not just women’s fight for their rights; it is men’s responsibility as well. To quote the Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland, who also participated in the launching: “This is no longer about women or men, but rather about women and men working together”.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was the first man to sign the HeForShe Commitment, which has already been signed by more than 147,000 men all around the world.  He also delivered a speech at this special event in UN Headquarters in New York. He emphasized the importance of men’s participation in preventing violence against women. “One in three women is a victim of violence – but this is a men’s issue. Men are responsible for most of the threats and violence against women. Often, these men are close to the victims – fathers, husbands, boyfriends or supervisors.” He appealed to men and boys: “Do not raise your hands in violence – raise your voices to stop it”.

© HeForShe.org

This event gathered together devoted leaders as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (UN Women Executive Director), Wolf Blitzer (Executive Director of UN Women), Tarja Halonen (the first female president of Finland), Gary Barker (Director of the gender, violence and rights team for the International Center for Research on Women), Kiefer Sutherland, and other speakers. UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson’s speech was particularly noteworthy and inspiring. She condemned the harm that gender discrimination causes to both men and women: “The reality is that if we do nothing it will take 75 years, or for me to be nearly a hundred before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work; 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children; and at current rates it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education.” These facts are striking.

Speaking at the event, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka also addressed some frightening facts. “Fact: Many women experience violence and even death from their intimate partners.​

35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. In some national violence studies that figure goes as high as 70 per cent.

Of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.

Fact: Rape has been a rampant tactic as a weapon of war. Women are abducted and sold as sex slaves and taken as spoils of war.” She urged men to stop this violence and protect women. It is in men’s power to stop forced marriages, denial of education, and rape, especially in conflict regions: “Whether it is in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, or Ukraine, this violence—which rages as we speak—has a particular impact on women and girls”.

Men and boys can change the course of history. And if we do not start now, when? And if it is not us, who?

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.

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Women, Peace, and Security: Janet Benshoof, President, Global Justice Center

The last two decades have seen a dramatic transformation in the Security Council’s (Council) role in advancing and enforcing international humanitarian law (IHL). The changing nature of armed conflict, the universal acceptance of human rights, the calcification of certain precepts of international law into jus cogens, and advances in international law have all redefined the limits of state sovereignty and influenced the modern understanding of the Council’s mandate under the United Nations Charter (Charter).

Within this new paradigm, the Council has made protecting civilians in armed conflict central to its duty to maintain international peace and security. As part of this effort, the Council has passed a series of resolutions addressing the impact of armed conflict on women and the use of sexual violence in conflict (Women, Peace and Security Series, WPS Series).2 Despite these efforts, the resolutions have failed to achieve one of the Council’s main goals – ending sexual violence perpetrated against women in armed conflicts around the world.

The chapter, Women, Peace and Security, in the forthcoming publication, Security Council in the Age of Human Rights, examines the Council’s actions in the WPS Series against its duties to act under the evolving imperatives of IHL, in particular those rules considered jus cogens. The chapter argues that the Council has a duty to take stronger and more effective measures to address sexual violence against girls and women in armed conflict, in order to successfully deter its use.

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Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security in Practice: The Failed Case of Burma

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.

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Updating State National Action Plans to Ensure the International Humanitarian Rights of Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict

On the occasion of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Global Justice Center encourages States to exercise global leadership on the protection of women and girls raped in armed conflict by updating their National Action Plans (NAPs) to include explicit language accepting their international humanitarian law obligations to provide non-discriminatory medical care, justice, and reparations to war rape victims.

Women and girls raped in war are among the “war wounded,” therefore protected under international humanitarian law (IHL) by the absolute prohibition on adverse distinction, including on the basis of sex. In reality, however, women and girls raped in war are regularly subjected to discrimination in the medical care they receive and in the justice, accountability, and reparations measures available to them. The prohibition against adverse distinction applies to how all IHL rules are implemented, and it is so fundamental that it constitutes customary international law. Adverse distinction is interchangeable with the term “non-discrimination:” in all cases IHL cannot be implemented in ways that are “less favorable” for women than men.

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How the US is Blocking Access to Safe Abortion Services for Women and Girls Impregnated by Rape in Syria

Throughout the Syrian conflict, Syrian government forces and government-controlled militia (Shabiha) have reigned terror over the civilian population. Alma, a victim of this violence, describes being held in a cell where she would kick and scream alongside 20 other women while they were drugged, blindfolded, and gang-raped.

In the worst embodiment of this campaign, rape is used as a weapon of war against Syrian women and girls. Alma continues, “I’ve been through everything! I’ve been battered, flogged with steel cables, had cigarettes in the neck, razor blades all over my body, electricity to my vagina. I’ve been raped while blindfolded everyday by several men who stank of alcohol and obeyed their superior’s orders, who was always there. They shouted: ‘You wanted freedom? Well here it is!’” A different victim illustrates the scene at a Syrian detention center in which a doctor visited each woman’s cell to note the dates of her period and to hand out birth control pills: “[w]e lived in filth, in blood, in [feces], with no water and barely any food. But we had such an obsessive fear of becoming pregnant that we took these pills scrupulously.” Still other victims of these crimes against humanity described situations in which their “bodies have become battlefields and torture chambers.”

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