Statement on the US Decision to Withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - June 19, 2018

[New York]– Today’s decision to withdraw from the UN  Human  Rights  Council  is shortsighted and will further marginalize the United States in the international arena.

The Council is an important venue to address the human rights records of all countries, including the United States. Just yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the Trump Administration’s family separation policy “unconscionable” and demanded its immediate cessation. The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights is scheduled to present a report to the Council this Thursday that criticizes US policies as “cruel and inhuman,” and driven by a “contempt for the poor.” 

As the Trump Administration continues its abhorrent racist, xenophobic and misogynist policies, withdrawal from the Human Rights Council will not shield the United States from being held accountable under the human rights framework.

President Trump Puts Women At Risk With U.S. Abortion Gag Rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – May 23, 2018

[NEW YORK] – The Trump administration proposed a domestic “Gag Rule” last night, banning health centers that provide, refer, support, or assist women in accessing abortion services from receiving Title X funding. This dangerous policy will deny women their fundamental human rights.

Like the Global Gag Rule reinstated by President Trump in 2017, the Domestic Gag Rule will coerce doctors into staying silent about the option to terminate a pregnancy (except in extremely limited circumstances) under threat of losing their government funding. In effect, the Domestic Gag Rule will prevent doctors from providing complete and accurate medical guidance to women. Even if a patient asks directly where she can obtain an abortion, a Title X provider will not be able to provide her with direct information in order to allow her to access her constitutionally protected right.

Read Akila Radhakrishnan's Speech at the Feminist Majority Foundation's 2018 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference

2018 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference
March 17, 2018 Washington, DC
Text of Preparted Remarks

"I think we all remember the image of Donald Trump, on his third day in office, surrounded by a group of white men, with Mike Pence looking anxiously over his shoulder, signing an executive order stripping women and girls around the world of their access to safe abortion services. And he didn’t just do it like Presidents before him—like Regan and George W. Bush—he did it bigly. 

US Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Aid and Their Impact on Free Speech and Free Association

The United States (US) imposes restrictions on its foreign aid that limit both services and speech related to abortion. They attach to nearly all recipients of foreign aid—limiting the activities, speech, and information that can be legally provided by doctors, health professionals, experts and advocates. These restrictions violate the US’s fundamental human rights obligations to protect free speech and free association.

This brief explains the restrictions on free speech and association imposed by the US Congress (the Helms and Siljander Amendments) and by the executive branch (the Global Gag Rule [“Gag Rule” or “GGR”]). It then details the US’s human rights obligations to respect freedom of speech and association, focusing on obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR only allows for the restriction of these rights in narrow circumstances: where the restriction is adequately provided by law, where it serves a legitimate aim (such as national security or public health), and where the state demonstrates that the restriction is necessary and proportionate in achieving that aim. This brief demonstrates that the Helms and Siljander Amendments and the GGR all fail that strict test, and therefore violate US obligations to ensure and protect the rights to free speech and association guaranteed under international human rights law.

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Weekly News Roundup

By Julia d'Amours

On Thursday, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos claimed the Department of Education would reform how universities handle accusations of sexual assault. Though DeVos did not say what specific changes would be made, she remarked that universities are “ill-served by a quasi-judicial process.” DeVos’s statement focused on the rights of the accused, whom she claimed are mistreated under current systems. Critics from the Right claim DeVos’s proposal grants disproportionate weight to the testimonies of victims, while voices from the Left say it undermines essential changes made during the Obama Administration. 

On Sunday, federal prosecutors in Brazil opened an investigation of ten murdered indigenous tribe members. The altercation arose when the members of the previously uncontacted tribe encountered Brazilian gold miners along a river near the Colombian border. This is the second reported killing of uncontacted indigenous peoples this year. Survival International, an indigenous rights organization, claimed that given the diminished populations of uncontacted tribes, a single armed conflict could carry serious repercussions for the survival of the ethnic group.

On Monday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that California will file a law suit against the Trump Administration over the repeal of DACA. This comes after a coalition of 15 states announced joint legal action against the proposed repeal. California is estimated to be home to more than one in every four DACA recipients. 

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported on the bleak living conditions of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya living in Pakistan. Residents of the Rohingya-populated Arkanabad slum report police brutality, malnutrition, and lack of work and education opportunities. Rohingya in Pakistan wish to see the country taking a more firm stance against military persecution in Burma, as it holds the highest concentration of Rohingya outside of their native lands. 

On Wednesday, it was announced that Burma’s defacto leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be skipping the UN General Debate, which is scheduled to begin on September 19th. Burma has been under heavy criticism for its treatment of the Rohingya, and the UN has accused it of ethnic cleansing. Spokespeople for Ms. Suu Kyi claimed that she “has more pressing matters to deal with” and she will “speak for national reconciliation and peace” on national television instead.

Photo by Htoo Tay Zar

The Winding History of the Global Gag Rule

By Julia d'Amours

On September 7th, Senate lawmakers presented “a twofold rebuke” to the Trump Administration’s abortion policy. The proposed legislation would reinstate funding to the United Nations Population Fund and overturn the Global Gag Rule, a hallmark Republican presidential policy that bans US support for international organizations that offer or promote abortion services.

The first segment of the bill regards support for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which has a winding and tumultuous relationship with the United States. The UNFPA aimsto promote family planning, maternal health resources, and improved childcare in developing countries. It was founded at the urging of President Nixon in 1969, with the US being one of its core leaders. By 1984, however, President Reagan became one of the UNFPA’s greatest adversaries, accusing it of supporting the Chinese “one-child” policy.  He pulled funding from UNFPA through the Kemp-Kasten anticoercion law, which revoked US support from any organization that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization”. Since then, funding for the UNFPA has waxed and waned with the party of presidential leadership, with Democrats offering support for the organization and Republicans being quick to rescind it.

The second facet of the proposal is an amendment presented by Jeanne Shaheen (D- New Hampshire) to undo the “Mexico City Policy”. The Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, bars federal aid to foreign organizations that provide or promote abortion. Under Trump, however, the policy has been expanded to all organizations that receive global health funding, such as those offering maternal health, anti-Zika, and preventative HIV/AIDs programs.The proposed legislation would undo Trump’s reforms, limit future efforts to reinstate the Mexico City policy, and restore US funding to UNFPA. The Amendment narrowly passed in a 16-15 vote with Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Ark) casting the final votes in favor.

The proposal has been praised across party divides. Shaheen applauded the bipartisan support for the new policy, claiming it would “preserve and restore funding levels for international organizations that help to prevent over 50 million unintended pregnancies around the world, and reduce the number of maternal deaths we see from those accessing unsafe abortions when the lack of family planning leaves them without options.” Family planning proponents hailed the move for “sending the message that the lives of girls, women, and families who rely on reproductive healthcare matter here and abroad,” said Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President of the Population Connection Action Fund.

Despite the acclaim, the future of the amendment remains uncertain. Unlike previous efforts to reinstate UNFPA funding and repeal the Global Gag Rule, the amendment has to pass through a Republican Senate, House, and Executive branch. Social conservatives in the House have controlled the US reproductive health agenda since 2011. Typically, the Senate has rebuked their more radical proposals, but now that social conservatives have more control there, the fate of the bill is even more uncertainRemarked Dixon, “[the bill] has to be passed by the full Senate… It’s hard to know what they’re going to do… At some point, these two bills are going to get negotiated into something that both houses will pass.” Senator Lindsay Graham (R- S.C.) commented that the GOP-dominated house would insist on keeping Trump’s policy in place. “This is the same debate we have every year, probably with the same outcome,” he claimed.

Another indication of the amendment’s uncertain future is that the House spending plan includes no financial provisions for it, hinting that the proposal is unlikely to pass or at least will be watered-down before becoming law. Historically, Capitol Hill has opted to retain a traditional budget that preserves the status quo, and the foreign aid required to enact an amendment restoring funding for the UNFPA and rescinding the Gag Rule could amount to as much as $8.8 billion.

This bureaucratic push-and-pull between Republicans and Democrats on the Global Gag Rule may appear strictly political, but it has a very real effect on people’s lives and health throughout the developing world. For example, the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association received 426,000 condoms from USAID over two years during the Clinton Administration. Once the Gage Rule went back into effect upon the election of Geroge W. Bush, the shipments ceased because the association was the only accessible conduit for condoms in the entire country, in which one in four women was HIV/AIDS positive.

Nor do Republicans’ intentions to curb abortions through rescinded funding seem productive. The claim that cutting family planning funding will make “abortion more rare” has never been supported with data. Studies by Stanford University and a survey of abortion rates in Ghana have shown the contrary to be true. Moreover, cuts to family planning services means abortions are more likely to be performed unsafely, a leading cause of maternal death. 

The global trend towards liberalizing family planning services throughout the world indicates the common understanding that access to family planning services and abortion is a right and essential dimension to healthcare. Limiting maternal health and family planning resources does not reduce rates of abortions, but raises the death tolls for women and their children, meaning Republicans’ “pro-life” policy is actually the contrary. 

 

GJC Weekly News Roundup

By Julia d'Amours

Chile proceeds with the repeal of its total anti-abortion laws. In August, legislation was presented to permit abortion in three cases: if the life of the mother was in danger, if it the fetus would not survive, or if the pregnancy was a result of rape. Lawyers argued that a total abortion ban was inhumane and a violation of women’s rights. Though polls indicate more than 70 percent of the population supports more lenient abortion laws, the Catholic Church and elite upper class staunchly opposed the bill. The repeal is considered a major victory in women’s rights and reproductive rights, and many hope it will lead to similar legislation in the region.

Last Friday, Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled that the re-election of the sitting president would be revisited after discovery that the vote counts had been irregular. It is the first example in Africa in which a court voided the re-election of an incumbent. Many are at unease considering Kenya’s fragile political landscape—the last disputed election in 2007 resulted in at least 1,300 dead and 600,000 displaced around the country.

On Sunday, Cambodia arrested Kem Sokha, the main opposition leader, accusing him of treason. This follows accounts of government harassment on the free press and expulsion of NGOs, such as the pro-democracy National Democratic Institute. A Human Rights Watch official called the arrest “a disastrous setback” for Cambodia as the country prepares for elections next year.

On Monday, Malala Yousafzi joined an increasing number of human rights activists in publicly criticizing Myanmar’s effective leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma. More than 73,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh after they were attacked by Burmese military factions on August 25th. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar has described the situation as “grave.” Widely seen as a champion of democracy, Suu Kyi has remained quiet on the subject of the Rohingya.

On Tuesday, President Trump broke headlines by announcing the end of DACA—the federal program that protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He claimed DACA’s establishment was an abuse of electoral power and rebuking it would establish rule of law. Many of those enrolled in DACA already have families, started careers, or enrolled in higher education in the US. Permits that are set to expire in the next six months will be renewed, but the Department of Homeland Security will stop processing new applications for the program. Officials say there will be no formal guidance that former DACA recipients are not eligible for deportation.

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration introduced a Security Council resolution that would empower the United States Navy and Airforce to interdict North Korean ships and evaluate if their cargo contains military equipment. It also included a ban on the shipment of crude oil, petroleum, and natural gas, which would have severe results for the North Korean population as winter approaches, and aims to block the assets of Kim Jong-un. The resolution is careful not to encompass a total blockade, which is an act of war, but permits the US and UNSC to “nonconsensual inspections.”

On Thursday, a federal appeals court permitted thousands of refugees who had been blocked by President Trumps’ travel ban to enter the country. Since June, the government has frozen refugee resettlement applications and brought resettlement programs to a standstill.  Yesterday’s ruling mandated that the government resume refugee resettlements in the next five days. It also upheld a lower court decision that exempted grandparents and other relatives from the ban. A Justice Department representative remarked that they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Also on Thursday, the High Court of Australia ruled that a postal survey on the legalization of gay marriage was legitimate, despite the objections of same-sex marriage advocates. The results of the survey could not make same-sex marriage legal or illegal, but it could spark a vote in Parliament. Polls suggest that a “yes” vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage will prevail. The results will be announced the 15th of November.

Photo by Alsidare Hickson 

Global Justice Center Applauds Senate Committee Vote Against Global Gag Rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 8, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] – On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved to reinstate funding for the United Nations Population Fund and overturn Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the Global Gag Rule. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire proposed an amendment to the 2018 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that would overturn Trump’s expanded version of the Gag Rule, reinstate US contributions to UNFPA and limit the power of any future president to reinstate the Gag Rule. The amendment was approved with the votes of two female republicans, Senator Collins from Maine and Senator Murkowski from Alaska, but still needs to pass the full senate to become law.

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. Lacks Concrete Domestic and International Modes of Legal Protection for U.S. Women

By Marie Wilken

Most Americans—80%—believe women’s rights are guaranteed by the Constitution. Most would likely similarly assume that the U.S. is one of 189 countries to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). But the United States neither constitutionally protects women’s rights nor is a state party to the treaty considered an international bill of rights for women. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and CEDAW share similar stories of failed ratification: both passed the initial stages of adoption in the 1970s but, despite decades of activism, have yet to be ratified, denying women in America access to rights they are entitled to and deserve.

The United States has a current set of laws protecting women’s individual rights, so why are CEDAW and the ERA necessary? Both serve as tools to advance gender equality by codifying women’s rights and providing stronger legal frameworks to combat discrimination. CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that pursues equality between men and women in all areas of life. The UN General Assembly adopted CEDAW in 1979, and a committee to ensure compliance was established in 1982. While Jimmy Carter signed the treaty in 1979, it did not get the necessary two-thirds vote from the Senate to ratify it. This puts the United States in the company of a small number of countries—Somalia, Iran, the Holy See, Sudan, Tonga and Palau—that have not ratified CEDAW.

Ratification would positively influence both policy and court case decisions. When the United States previously considered CEDAW and other human rights treaties, it watered them down with reservations, understandings, or declarations (RUDs)—conditions that limit the applications of the treaties by preventing them from being more stringent than standing domestic law. Assuming that the United States didn’t adopt prohibitive RUDs, CEDAW could significantly strengthen protections of women’s rights.

By ratifying CEDAW, the United States would agree to periodic reviews by the independent experts on the CEDAW Committee to evaluate its implementation of the treaty. Other countries’ reviews have prompted public debate, policy decisions and national equality action plans. CEDAW’s provisions cover many areas in which the U.S. is still lacking, such as equal pay, parental leave, domestic violence and healthcare access. In the courts of countries that have ratified CEDAW, it has been used to strike down a number of laws criminalizing abortion and other laws that contradict the Convention. CEDAW has also often been applied in domestic court cases (see the examples in GJC’s CEDAW Casebank).

Ratification of the ERA would similarly benefit women’s rights. The ERA was introduced by suffragette Alice Paul in 1923 after women won the right to vote. In 1972, pushed by the women’s movement, Congress passed the ERA, but it was three states short of the 38 states needed to ratify a constitutional amendment before the deadline (last year, 35 years past the deadline, Nevada ratified the ERA).

The ERA would constitutionally guarantee women’s equal rights. The main section of the short amendment simply states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Other than the right to vote, the Constitution currently does not explicitly guarantee equal rights for men and women. The 14th Amendment, created to ensure freed slaves equality, is often interpreted as also including equal rights for women—but it hasn’t been and still isn’t always interpreted this way. The amendment was ratified in 1868, but it wasn’t until 70 years later that women won the right to vote and not until 1971—almost a hundred years after ratification—that the 14th Amendment was applied against sex discrimination in Reed v. Reed. The 14th Amendment does not provide the same uniform protections that the ERA would, and its ambiguity endangers women’s rights. The late Justice Antonin Scalia said explicitly that the Constitution does not prohibit sex discrimination. He applied this specifically to the 14th Amendment, saying, “Nobody thought it was directed against sex discrimination.”

The ERA would defend advancements in women’s rights from such ambiguity in judicial interpretation and changes in legislation. While there are rights for women protected under individual laws, such as Title IX, the Equal Pay Act, etc., these could just as easily be reversed. Only by enshrining these rights in the Constitution will cases on sex discrimination be subject to strict scrutiny, the highest level of judicial review. This would shift the burden of proof to those charged with discrimination, and it would heighten the level of justification, making it equal to the level applied to cases related to race and religion.

Both CEDAW and the ERA remain viable options for women in the United States. Ratification of CEDAW would require the support of 66 senators, and there are two possible strategies for ratification of the ERA—restarting the traditional amendment process or extending the previous deadline to gain the support of the two additional states needed for ratification. In the meantime, progress has been made on both CEDAW and the ERA at the local level, with a Cities for CEDAW movement growing and many states adopting versions of the ERA in their constitutions. In a political climate where women’s rights are increasingly under threat, we should not leave them vulnerable to changes in legislation or judicial interpretation. It's time that the United States justified the majority of Americans' belief that women’s rights are guaranteed by making it true.

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

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

U.S. Continues to Prioritize Anti-Abortion Policy Over The Wellbeing of Women

By Marie Wilken

The United States recently rejected a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on violence against women because it contained language calling for access to abortion in countries where it is legal. This is yet another example of the Trump administration using international aid and laws to limit access to abortion around the world. Like the Global Gag Rule, this rejection ignores that in addition to infringing on reproductive rights, these actions have many negative ramifications that are unrelated to abortion.

After a resolution aimed at eliminating violence and discrimination against women, introduced by Canada, was adopted by consensus, the United States dissociated from the consensus because of a sentence about abortion.  While abortion was not a primary focus of the resolution, it stated that all women should have access to “comprehensive sexual and health-care services” including “safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law.” U.S. First Secretary to the U.N. in Geneva Jason Mack delivered a statement saying that the U.S. agrees with the “spirit” of the resolution but cannot endorse the paragraph on reproductive services because the U.S. does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

This is not a singular action; its motivations and effects parallel other Trump administration policies. Congress’s new health care bill defunds Planned Parenthood—a policy that, though driven by anti-abortion sentiment, will have a much broader impact on women’s health care. This year President Trump reinstated and greatly expanded the Global Gag Rule. The administration refuses to fund international aid even loosely related to abortion, and its rejection of the UN resolution suggests it is adopting a similar approach toward international law. Because of the Gag Rule, organizations are afraid to even reference abortion out of fear of losing their U.S. funding. There is now fear that the same chilling effect to mentions of abortion and other reproductive rights will spread to international law. The Global Gag Rule, health care bill, and rejection of the UN resolution not only violate women’s reproductive rights, but all also deny women unrelated services and protections.

The United States’ resistance to international reproductive rights is dangerous. By denying women around the world safe and accessible abortion, it risks the lives of women and girls. Approximately 830 women die from preventable pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes per day. U.S. policy forces some of the world’s poorest women to choose between giving birth to a child they cannot afford to care for and seeking an unsafe abortion. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 225 million women in developing countries want to prevent pregnancy but are not using contraception, mostly due to the limited reproductive health services available.  The administration’s policies are also dangerous because of the message they send the international community about abortion and U.S. ideals. Abortion is a reproductive right, and reproductive rights are an essential aspect of women’s rights—but Mack’s statement separated abortion from other rights and reproductive health services and demonized it. He wielded United States influence over international norms to push them backwards, away from progress toward equal protection of rights.

Because of one sentence on abortion, the United States obstructed the entire resolution. In addition to attacking women’s reproductive rights, the U.S. missed its opportunity to show commitment to improving the lives women through preventing violence and eliminating discrimination. By doing so, the Trump administration reaffirmed its willingness to sacrifice women’s rights, health care, and even lives.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Monday was the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year’s theme was “Preventing Sexual Violence Crimes through Justice and Deterrence.” The UN held a panel discussion at Headquarters in New York, and Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement, writing, “Rape and sexual violence in conflict are tactics of terrorism and war, used strategically to humiliate, degrade and destroy, and often to pursue a campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

Monday, Human Rights Watch submitted a report to the Canadian government on police abuse of Indigenous women in Saskatchewan. Their investigation found patterns of physical assault, sexual harassment, neglect of domestic violence reports, and inappropriate body and strip searches.

Monday, France elected a record number of women to Parliament. Of the 577 newly elected representatives, 223 are women (compared to 155 elected in the last election). This brings France from 64th to 17th in the world rankings of women in parliaments. The increase is due to President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party prioritizing women on their candidate list.

Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that while the lack of Republican women in Congress is often attributed to the Democratic Party’s focus on women’s rights and a stronger political pipeline for Democratic women, it could also be influenced by money. In the Democratic Party, unlike in the Republican Party, female donors give disproportionately to female candidates. This allows female Democratic candidates to raise as much money as their male counterparts, which is not true for female Republican candidates. Only 26 of the 104 women in Congress are Republican.

Tuesday, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against anti-abortion protestors who stand outside of Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens. The suit seeks to prohibit protestors blocking entrance into the clinic, threatening patients, or protesting within 16 feet of the clinic.