Like a Doll: Brave 11-Year Old Rape Victim Betrayed by Chilean Government

In Chile, the debate over abortion has been rekindled by after the government has cruelly denied an 11-year old girl who was raped and impregnated by her mother’s partner. Instead, she is being forced to bear the child of her rapist. This young victim, Belén, faces a high risk of mortality. However, under Chilean law, she does not have the option of a safe abortion.

Since 1973, established under General Pinochet, Chile has had an abortion ban under all circumstances. This prohibition has sparked a national outrage with the fate of a child hanging in the balance between life and death.

During a recent interview, Belén said that having the baby “will be like having a doll in my arms.” Appallingly, Sebastian Piñera, the President of Chile, commended the young girl’s “depth” and “maturity”  for wanting to have the child, while it is clear that he is far from understanding the “psychological truth of an 11-year-old-girl.”

Chile is one of six countries in the world that has an absolute national abortion ban, with no exception even for life, rape or incest. The case of Beatriz in El Salvador similarly sparked an international debate over abortion bans in a Latin American country. Part of our human rights work at Global Justice Center is to combat medical discrimination against women. Denial of an abortion in life-threatening cases or in cases of rape is cruel and inhumane, and a form of torture to girls and women. In life-threatening cases, it denies a woman’s essential right to life. Therefore, the Global Justice Center wrote and sent a letter to the Chilean Minister of Health, Jaime Mañalich Muxi, urging the Chilean government to allow doctors to perform a therapeutic and life-saving abortion on the 11-year old.

Each year, 47,000 preventable deaths result from unsafe abortions. This could be ameliorated by ensuring women’s access to safe abortion services. Yet, even the United States perpetuates this abomination by denying access to safe abortions for girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict. Under the Helms Amendment, the US places an abortion ban on all its humanitarian aid, even in pregnancies which result from brutal rape used as a weapon of war. For the young girls under age 18 who represent half of these rape victims, this means potentially fatal health risks, and in too many instances, drives them to risk unsafe abortions or take their own lives in desperation and despair at this injustice. The Global Justice Center works tirelessly to hold the United States to the standards set by International Humanitarian Law and ensure that we live in a world which values the lives of girls and women equal to those of boys and men.

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European Parliament Pushes to Separate Aid to War Rape Victims from US Restrictions

European Parliament adopts second resolution urging humanitarian aid to be independent from US restrictions and ensure sexual violence survivors’ access to safe abortion.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on June 13, 2013, on the post-2015 UN Millennium Development Goals in which it specifically urged that the provision of EU humanitarian aid that contributes to the MDGs should be effectively excluded from the restrictions on humanitarian aid imposed by the USA and other donors on abortion. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty rates to promoting gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment, are agreed to by all countries and leading development institutions. However the implementation of these goals, in particular the reduction of maternal mortality is being jeopardized by the US who, despite unsafe abortion being a lead cause for maternal mortality, does not allow the use of humanitarian aid for abortion services in conflict zones.

The EP Resolution’s refers to the US “no-abortion” prohibition on humanitarian aid (section 31) and states:

31. Urges that the provision of EU humanitarian aid that contributes to the attainment of the MDGs and should effectively be excluded from the restrictions on humanitarian aid imposed by the USA or other donors, in particular by ensuring access to abortion for women and girls who are victims of rape in armed conflicts.

The US “no abortion” prohibition compromises all EU country level and European Commission funding, both for the medical treatment of victims of armed conflict and for ensuring enforcement of humanitarian law. EU countries donate to help victims of armed conflict through various ways, including through the UN, to groups like UNFPA or, to directly to groups working on the ground in conflict area. All these funds are commingled with US funds on the ground and thus compromised.

Click here to view the full resolution. 

Lessons from Beatriz: El Salvador & the Denial of Life-Saving Abortions Worldwide

“I don’t want to die,” Beatriz said.[1]

Beatriz is a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman who was recently denied the right to an abortion during her high-risk and potentially fatal pregnancy. Her court case has captured international attention, bringing to light the staunch anti-abortion policies of El Salvador and in other areas of Latin America, and around the world, even in life-threatening circumstances.

Beatriz suffers from lupus and other medical complications which worsened during her first pregnancy. Her doctors at the National Maternity Hospital claimed that with the progression of the 26-week pregnancy, Beatriz’s risk of hemorrhaging, kidney failure and maternal death would increase exponentially. Additionally, the fetus had a birth defect called anencephaly, in which a baby develops without parts of its brain and faces very little chance of survival. As a result, Beatriz sought an abortion for the sake of her health and the well-being of her young child at home that she must care for. The Government of El Salvador denied her an abortion despite her, her doctors’, and the international community’s entreaties. On May 29, El Salvador’s Supreme Court upheld the Government’s decision to deny her an abortion, based upon its reading of the country’s abortion ban, which was an “absolute impediment to authorize the practice of abortion.” The court claimed that “the rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those” of the fetus.[2]

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) promptly responded and demanded that the government “immediately adopt the necessary measures to protect the life, personal integrity and health” of Beatriz.[3] In addition, the IACHR held that “the Salvadoran State is obligated to ‘guarantee that the treating medical team has the … protection to fully exercise its function according to the decisions that, based on medical science, said medical team should adopt.’”[4] Such protection of medical personnel—granting them the freedom to make decisions based solely upon medical ethics rather than political considerations—guarantees better outcomes for female patients facing dangerous pregnancies, as it permits medical personnel to prioritize the patient’s welfare above all else. This mandate is also found under international humanitarian law, to protect doctors who provide life-saving abortions in humanitarian settings from prosecution under local criminal abortion laws.

On May 30, El Salvador’s Ministry of Health overrode the Supreme Court’s decision. María Isabel Rodríguez, the Salvadoran Minister of Health, announced that Beatriz would be allowed to end her pregnancy “at the first sign of danger” through an induced birth.[3] As a result, on June 3, Beatriz underwent a Cesarean section. Her daughter was born without a brain, and died five hours later.[5]While the decision of the Ministry of Health should be applauded for having saved the life of one woman, it does not do the necessary work of challenging El Salvador’s strict ban on abortion. The law must be changed so that other Salvadoran girls and women with dangerous pregnancies are not forced into the same suffering, uncertainty, and risk of death as Beatriz faced.

While many countries in Latin America, like Uruguay, Mexico City, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina have relaxed their highly conservative abortion laws, other nations including Chile and Nicaragua continue to maintain misogynistic and repressive restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.[6]Beatriz is one example of thousands of women across Latin America – and the world – who are denied access to safe abortions, even in cases of high risk pregnancies or pregnancies resulting from rape.

Shockingly, the United States, too, perpetuates this inhuman policy, by denying access to safe abortions for girls and women raped in war. This violates the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law (IHL).

Here’s how this US policy violates the Geneva Conventions: The 1973 Helms Amendment places a blanket abortion ban on all US humanitarian aid, even for girls and women who are brutally raped as a weapon of war, and those who face potentially fatal health risks.

The Global Justice Center sent a petition, and has organized a letter-writing campaign, to President Obama and continues to take action to ensure girls and women are guaranteed the nondiscriminatory medical care that is their absolute right under IHL. Bans on abortion maintain a society in which women and girls possess rights to health and life that are less than those of men and boys. It is clear that, as one of Beatriz’s lawyers, Victor Hugo Mata, said: “Justice here does not respect the rights of women.”[2] Action must be taken to change these oppressive policies in El Salvador, the United States and around the world.

[1]Zabludovsky, Karla. “A Salvadoran at Risk Tests Abortion Law.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 May 2013. Web. 04 June 2013. available athttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/29/world/americas/pregnant-sick-and-pressing-salvadoran-abortion-law.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&ref=americas

[2]Palumbo, Gene and Karla Zabludovsky. “Salvadoran Court Denies Abortion to Ailing Woman.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 May 2013. Web. 04 June 2013. available at  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/world/americas/salvadoran-court-denies-abortion-to-ailing-woman.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

[3]Zabludovsky, Karla. “WORLD BRIEFING | THE AMERICAS; El Salvador: Doctors Can Induce Birth to Save Woman, Official Says.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 May 2013. Web. 04 June 2013. available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/world/americas/el-salvador-doctors-can-induce-birth-to-save-woman-official-says.html?src=recg

[4]Center for Justice and International Law, “Inter-American Court of Human Rights orders the Salvadoran State to interrupt the pregnancy of ‘Beatriz,’” May 30, 2013, available athttp://cejil.org/en/comunicados/inter-american-court-human-rights-orders-salvadoran-state-perform-a-therapeutic-abortion.

[5]Al Jazeera, “El Salvador abortion row baby dies,”June 4, 2013,http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2013/06/20136494818222545.html.

[6]Groll, Elias. “El Salvador’s ‘Beatriz’ and the Politics of Abortion in Latin America.”Web log post.Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy, 31 May 2013. Web. 2 June 2013. available athttp://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/05/31/el_salvador_beatriz_politics_abortion_latin_america

Prof. Louise Doswald-Beck, Leading Expert on International Humanitarian Law, Calls on President Obama to End US Abortion Restrictions on Aid to War Rape Victims

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 16, 2013 [NEW YORK, NY]

The Global Justice Center (GJC) applauds the letter sent by Professor Louise Doswald-Beck to President Obama, urging him to lift US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict. Prof. Doswald-Beck is a former head of the Legal Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and co-author of the 2005 authoritative codification of the customary rules of international humanitarian law.

GJC is leading the August 12th Campaign, which aims to ensure that girls and women raped in armed conflict have access to safe abortions in humanitarian settings as a part of their rights under international humanitarian law. Lifting the US abortion restrictions is a critical component of our efforts, and Professor Doswald-Beck joins influential legal and human rights groups, Parliamentarians and global legal experts who support the Campaign.

GJC President Janet Benshoof states that “Professor Doswald-Beck's impeccable credentials as one of the world‟s leading authorities on international humanitarian law make her letter to the President on the illegality of the US abortion ban put on humanitarian aid a 'must read' for all of us who care about the role of the US overseas.”

Professor Doswald-Beck's letter details the ways in which omitting an abortion option from medical treatment for female war rape victims violates the protection and care guarantees of the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law:

The denial of abortion violates the medical care guarantees of international humanitarian law.The failure to provide abortions as part of medical care for girls and women raped in war violates the categorical care and protection guarantees of IHL, which are “unchanged since 1864.” These include the rights of the “wounded and sick” to all necessary medical care, as required by their condition, under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

The denial of abortion violates the absolute prohibition on gender discrimination under international humanitarian law. The denial of abortions for girls and women impregnated as a result of war rape violates the IHL prohibition on “adverse distinction,” including discrimination based on gender, since boys and men raped in war receive all necessary medical care. Professor Doswald-Beck states that IHL, as well as human rights law, precludes using biological differences to justify less favorable treatment for women and that although the medical treatment for female victims of rape may be different from that of male victims of rape, under IHL, “the outcome for each gender” must be the same.

The denial of abortion constitutes torture and cruel treatment in violation of international humanitarian law. Given that pregnancy aggravates the serious, sometimes life-threatening, risks of the injuries from brutal rape perpetrated in armed conflict, the failure to provide abortion violates the prohibition against torture or cruel treatment under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Professor Doswald-Beck states that although the parties to a conflict have primary obligations to provide care, all states, including the US, have a duty to “respect and ensure respect” for IHL under common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions, including in the provision of humanitarian aid to war victims. Accordingly, Professor Doswald-Beck urges President Obama to lift US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid, which she describes as leading to a “thoroughly inhuman” situation.

Benshoof adds “The President should heed her call and that of thousands of others. This terrible and shocking US policy is killing some women impregnated by war rape and causing lifelong suffering for others. No girl surviving brutal rape in armed conflict should be forced to bear the child of her rapists-torturers. President Obama should be seeking ways to advance, not subvert, the rights of girls and women raped in war under the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law.”
 

Visit www.globaljusticecenter.net to learn more about the Global Justice Center's August 12th Campaign.

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Letter to President Obama: United States Restrictions on Abortion Access Violates International Humanitarian Law

Louise Doswald-Beck, the former Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross' Legal Division (ICRC), former Director of the University Centre for International Humanitarian Law (CUDIH) and former Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists wrote to President Obama on how the US abortion prohibition attached to humanitarian aid violates the rights of women and girls raped in armed conflict under IHL, and is a form of torture.

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Santa Barbara Women Lawyers' Letter to President Obama

March 11, 2013

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

Excerpt:

Rape and forced pregnancy are frequently part of violent attacks intended to torture or even kill girls and women. Those who survive such rapes frequently suffer from life-long physical, psychological and social consequences. These consequences are amplified for those girls and women who become pregnant from the rapes. Girls and women who survive these attacks often lack access, funds or information to abortion- related services; thus denying them the full range of health care services.

All victims of armed conflict are entitled to receive complete, appropriate and non-discriminatory medical care. The United States abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid undermine the rights of survivors of rape in armed conflict to non-discriminatory medical care and should therefore be lifted.

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CSW 57: Commission on the Status of Women

This month is International Women’s Month! We are joining several groups tomorrow, March 7, at 12pmET to discuss abortion coverage restrictions and the consequences that it has on women. Follow #hydehurts and #helmshurts on twitter and join us in being a voice for many women around the world who are unable to speak out!

The Commission on the Status of Women is being held at the UN during these next two weeks, and GJC will be in attendance as a consultative member of the NGO working group on women, peace, and security. Janet Benshoof, GJC president, will be speaking on two panels to highlight the importance of ending violence against women in conflict.

The Global Justice Center is working diligently to advocate for gender inequality in conflict and post conflict situations. Our August 12th Campaign is challenging the routine denial of medical rights to war rape victims as a violation of the right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions. Thousands of girls and women raped in armed conflict are routinely denied their rightful access to safe abortions, and we must put a stop to this. Furthermore, girls and women are raped daily to accomplish military objectives, including genocide. Rape is more effective and cost effective than any other unlawful weapon used in armed conflict today, yet it is routinely overlooked by the international community. GJC’s Rape as a Weapon of War project is working to ensure that states using this method of warfare are held accountable for their actions.

Stephanie Johanssen, legal counsel for European and UN affairs at GJC, has been working tirelessly on behalf of GJC as a member of the working group on women, peace, and security to monitor implementation of Security Council resolutions on the role and rights of women in conflict situations. GJC uses its consultative status with the United Nations to be a leading voice urging UN bodies to fulfill their obligations to act against fundamental law violations. The UN is the epicenter of global efforts to end impunity for perpetrators of war crimes, and gives GJC the ideal access point to strengthen the impact of our legal arguments.

Please support us in making a difference in the lives of thousands of women worldwide!

CSW 57: The Gap between Image and Reality

The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) is over and the agreed conclusions have been adopted. Some delegations made reservations but did not block the adoption of the final draft. Every year, the CSW session also serves as a forum for UN member states to do a bit of PR for themselves. Words like “committed,” “dedicated,” “acknowledge,” and “affirm” are heard often and most countries have an interest to show the world how they are leaders when it comes to furthering women’s rights. However, all too often, these statements stand in stark contrast with a country’s foreign policy. The United States is one example.

In explaining the US position on the Agreed Conclusions of this year’s CSW, U.S. Deputy Representative to ECOSOC Terri Robl, said in a statement on March 15: “Reproductive rights and the full implementation of these international agreements are essential to the prevention, mitigation and elimination of violence against women and girls. The United States reaffirms our continuing commitment to protect and promote reproductive rights.” If the United States is committed to protect and protect women’s reproductive rights why not lament the Agreed Conclusion’s weak reference concerning the right to safe abortion access which was limited to national laws?

Because reality looks very different:

USAID administrative policy, formally adopted in 2008, contains no exception for abortions for rape or to save the life of the rape victim, and is, at least on paper, more restrictive than federal statutory requirements (including the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, which first placed abortion restrictions on foreign aid in 1973).

As the largest provider of humanitarian aid in the world and by funding most major humanitarian actors, the US is able to dominate the field of humanitarian aid with its no abortion policy and is responsible in large part for the global failure to provide the option of abortion to victims of war rape. Many have joined with the Global Justice Center to challenge this inhumane US policy as a violation of the rights of girls and women to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions.

CSW may be over, but the time is now for the US to live up to its rhetoric.

European Women Lawyers' Association

August 12, 2011

Letter sent to President Obama by the European Women Lawyers' Association as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

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Global Justice Center's Letter to President Obama

August 12, 2011

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

The letter was also signed by: Alliance for Justice; American Jewish World Service; Association for Women's Rights in Development; Center for Health and Gender Equity; Center for Women's Global Leadership; Center for Women Policy Studies; Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights; Engender, South Africa; Feminist Majority Foundation; Femmes Africa Solidarite; Gender Action; Global Network of Women Peacebuilders; International Federation of Women Lawyers; FIDA, Kenya; FIDA, Nigeria; Legal Momentum; National Organization for Women Foundation; Partners in Health; Physicians for Human Rights; Unione Degli Atei E Degli Agnostici; Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, U.S. Section; and V-Day.

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EngenderHealth's Letter to President Obama

August 18, 2011

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

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Network for Africa Letter to President Obama

June 13, 2012

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

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UK Queen's Counsel Letter to President Obama

February 1, 2012

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

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Global Day of Action: Help GJC fight for safe abortion access for girls & women raped in war

For over two decades, women’s rights organizations in Latin America have mobilized around September 28th, which is also the day slavery was abolished in Brazil. Today, the Global Justice Center joins the Women’s Global Network for Reproduction Rights, who have declared September 28th Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. As part of our August 12thCampaign, GJC fights for full medical rights for girls and women raped in war, including access to safe abortions. We urge President Obama to lift the blanket abortion on US humanitarian aid that denies a girl or woman raped in war the option of an abortion, even in life/threatening situations.

War rape victims are forced to carry the child of their rapists in conflict areas such as Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Sudan, where systematic rape is often used as a weapon of war. It is even used to accomplish military goals such as genocide and ethnic cleansing. Apart from being inhumane, the American ban also violates the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee non-discriminatory medical care to the “wounded and sick”. The situation is presented in a recent article by GJC Senior Counsel Akila Radhakrishnan, published in The Atlantic.

Sign the petition on Global Action Day, or donate to the GJC and help us in the fight to lift the ban, on behalf of girls and women raped in war.