The Rwandan Genocide: Rape and HIV Used as Weapons of War

By Katya Kolluri

The Rwandan Genocide, a horrific event in human history, is once again making its way into current news due to Jina Moore’s recent article in The New Yorker. Moore’s piece explores how those responsible for the Rwandan mass slaughter (termed genocidaires), may be freed years before their sentence ends. One of them is Théoneste Bagosora, widely regarded as the mastermind of the genocide. Survivors and family members of victims are protesting the decision of early release, stating that this practice of the court is, “a new form of impunity.” Critics are challenging this aspect of the parole system, particularly due to the fact that the convictions of these genocidaires is considered a landmark ruling in international justice. Twenty percent of the convicts of Rwanda’s International Criminal Tribunal have been released early. Allowing these perpetrators of genocide to be paroled is an injudicious decision, especially when considering the brutal pain and suffering this campaign of violence has caused.

Rebuilding Iraq Should Include Mental Health Care for Yazidi Survivors

By Maftuna Saidova

The Yazidi community are an ethnic minority formerly located in northern Iraq. They are one of the groups who suffered under the brutal and inhumane control of ISIS. When ISIS captured Sinjar, they abducted thousands of Yazidi women and sold them into slavery within the lucrative sex trade created among ISIS fighters. Human rights activists and lawyers have demanded ISIS be held accountable for employing Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) as a weapon of war. According to OHCHR, SGVB can include “any harmful act directed against individuals or groups of individuals on the basis of their gender,” including rape, sexual abuse, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced prostitution, and sexual enslavement.  Although many Yazidi survivors are now free and Iraq has regained territorial control, adequate mental health treatment should be the priority of the Iraqi government as the treatment of the survivors is crucial for Iraq’s gradual rebuilding process.

Iraq’s Criminal Laws Preclude Justice For Women And Girls

In light of the gender dynamics at the root of Daesh’s violence, gender must also be at the center of accountability. With justice for Daesh beginning, this Briefing details how Iraq’s current legal framework precludes meaningful justice for women and girls. It highlights the gender gaps in Iraq’s criminal laws and identifies opportunities for broader reform to better protect Iraqi women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence.

Introduction

For years the world watched in collective horror as Daesh committed brutal atrocities. Central to this violence was sexual and gender-based violence, with explicit targeting of women and girls. Daesh used rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and torture—distinct crimes on their own as well as constituent elements of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes—as tools for recruitment, conversion, forced indoctrination, and the fundamental destruction of community cohesion.1 For many, the only thing that stood in opposition to these crimes was the prospect, however far away, of justice.

Justice, however, is complex. It requires accountability, redress and a focus on preventing the recurrence of violations. Justice efforts must be independent, credible, inclusive, and accepted by impacted communities, with special respect and recognition for the dignity of victims. Importantly, and as this Briefing illustrates, it must reflect the full scope and scale of the crimes that occurred.
As the international community and the Iraqi government begin the process of holding members of Daesh accountable for their crimes, it is critical to examine the legal systems that will be responsible for these prosecutions. Prosecutions to date, which have all been conducted under Iraq’s 2005 counter-terrorism law, have failed human rights standards and do not suffice the interest of justice. 

This Briefing highlights one such example—specifically how Iraq’s current laws fall far short of the requirements for justice, as they are unable to punish the most egregious of Daesh’s gender crimes. Iraq’s Penal Code is a patriarchal patchwork rooted in preexisting peacetime gender inequalities and violence.2 The way and manner in which the Code defines sexual and gender-based violence crimes is steeped in language and perspectives that are inherently and overtly discriminatory against women and fall short of international standards. Any justice mechanism organized under these laws will fail to provide full accountability and redress to Daesh’s female victims. 

In order to highlight these challenges, this Briefing: (i) identifies particular categories of Daesh’s gender crimes and considers how these crimes are currently codified in Iraqi law; (ii) details the gaps where Iraq’s laws do not entirely capture the ways in which Daesh committed sexual and gender-based violence; and (iii) describes international standards for defining and understanding the many facets of these crimes.

A complete reckoning with the planned and inherently gendered elements of Daesh’s violence is essential for Iraq to begin the transition out of armed conflict. These first steps of putting this history behind it must provide justice for victims, combat these victims’ marginalization, and prevent future violations against women, girls and other communities targeted on behalf of their gender. 

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GJC’s statement on the situation in Rakhine State, Myanmar

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 9, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] - In light of ongoing violence in Rakhine State, the Global Justice Center issues the following statement: 

The Global Justice Center calls for the immediate cessation of all acts of violence and the protection of civilian populations in Rakhine State. The Myanmar government must swiftly investigate credible reports of horrific crimes and human rights abuses against civilians in Rakhine State, including acts by its own military and security forces, and provide meaningful punishment, redress and reparations for violations. The government must allow investigators access to Rakhine State and cooperate fully with international investigations, including the UN Fact-finding Mission authorized by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017. Further, the government must ensure the safety of all civilians, including the Rohingya population, and facilitate humanitarian access and aid to affected communities. 

Women and Girls Deserve Equal Protection for Medical Services Under IHL

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — May 15, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] -  Today, the UN Security Council holds its Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence under Uruguay’s presidency. In the concept note, Uruguay reflected on the findings of the new UN Secretary-General’s report on how rape is used as a weapon of terrorism and genocide. They cited the example of the crimes Daesh is committing against ethnic minorities such as the Yazidi in North Iraq and Syria, including using rape as a non-killing crime of genocide. Yet, to date, no trial has been held to prosecute perpetrators of this ongoing genocide.

On Anniversary of Rwandan Genocide, GJC Calls on the International Community to Uphold the UN Genocide Convention

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — April 7, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] - Today marks the 23rd Anniversary of the start of the Rwanda genocide when 80% of the Tutsi population in Rwanda was exterminated. Over the course of 100 days, up to a half million Tutsi women were raped, sexually mutilated or murdered. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handed down the first conviction for the use of rape as an act of genocide.

Jordan Must Arrest Al-Bashir and End Impunity for Genocide and War Crimes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— March 29, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] - Yesterday, Jordan welcomed Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s President, for the Arab League’s annual summit. Bashir is attending despite two longstanding arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his actions in Darfur, including rape, murder, torture and extermination. He has been charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and has been a fugitive from the ICC since 2009.

GJC Weekly News Roundup

Tuesday, Republicans are having and will continue to have trouble repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The reality is that the Republicans do not have a credible, alternative health care plan and continuing to criticize ACA is turning away groups of people that depend on Obamacare. More and more people are supporting ACA and the Republicans are having trouble garnering support for getting rid of it. However, Republicans can still repeal certain aspects of ACA and that includes Birth Control coverage. This means that birth control will no longer be cost free as it has been under Obamacare.  

Tuesday, the article encourages the Australian government to take action to support Australian women who will suffer from the Global Gag Rule, citing the issues that may arise from the lack of funding and access to health care and health benefits.

Wednesday, despite reassurance that women’s health is on Trump’s agenda, benefits and funds are still being slashed for women’s health organizations and charities. This is resulting in various protests around the globe and even prompting female Democrats to wear white during Trump’s speech to Congress.    

Thursday, more and more countries are joining the fight against the Global Gag Rule. The “She Decides” conference that is held in Brussels this week is a platform of powerful leaders that seek to raise $600m. According to news sources, around 50 governments will attend the conference to raise funds. There will be representatives from Canada, UK, Afghanistan and Chad and other countries who are standing up for women’s rights and availability of reproductive healthcare.

Thursday, after further investigations, the United Nations declared that all Syrian sides that fought in Aleppo committed war crimes. According to Dawn, there is proof from the investigation that a humanitarian convoy was deliberately targeted in Aleppo province on September 19. These recent events have also attracted the attention of many human rights workers who want to bring to the public’s attention that Syrian civilians are often targeted and that the “warring parties” do not fear consequences for their actions regardless of the international laws that are put into place.

Trump could be committing serious war crimes and crimes against humanity

by Eva Marie Wüst Vestergaard

Over the course of the campaign trail, US president elect Donald Trump suggested many proposals on how to defeat ISIS. Many of which, including the use of torture, drone strikes, and nuclear weapons, would violate international law if fulfilled.

Trump has previously criticized the US for their politically correctness in the fight against ISIS, and he has instead offered proposals that if enacted, would constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In one proposal, Trump approves torture as a tool in the war against terrorists. In an interview for NBC he said, “Well I’m not looking to break any news on your show, but frankly the waterboarding, if it was up to me, and if we changed the laws or have the laws, waterboarding would be fine,”. Trump supported this with the argument that ISIS do not follow the law; “You know, we work within laws. They don’t work within laws – they have no laws. We work within laws. The waterboarding would be fine, and if they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding.”

Waterboarding is an act of torture and hence violates the Convention against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and bounds parties in armed conflicts to treat hostages humanely. Torture is immoral because it dehumanizes people. Not just the tortured but also the torturers are severely affected.

Using torture as a tool in war would also have negative consequences for the US as a state because it infringes on the global rule of law. Instead of a social system based on justice, the system would be based on force. This goes against the fundamental values, such as independence and democracy, on which America has been built and which define America’s strong role in the world today.

Even more alarming, in the war against terrorism, Trump has said he would take measures that would kill innocent people. The president elect has expressed willingness for using drone strikes and nuclear weapons to fight terrorists. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Trump said, “As far as drones are concerned, yes, to take out terrorists. The only thing is I want them to get it right. But to take out terrorists yes I think that is something I would continue to do.” In another interview for the MSNBC, he questioned the lack of using nuclear weapons against ISIS; “Somebody hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?”

Such actions would not merely hit ISIS but also civilians in war zones. A consequence which Trump did not seem to care for when proposing to hurt terrorists through their potentially innocent families in an interview with Fox News; "The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”

Attacking civilians violates the Geneva Convention which prohibits attacks on civilians and bounds distinction between civilians and combatants. Non-combatants are innocent people that may not be supporting the conflict. This includes children, women and elderly. The US should not be recognized as a state that explicitly targets and kills innocents.

The intention to defeat ISIS is not a cover for committing illegal acts. Violating international law will not make America great, only worse. Therefore, it is more important than ever that America upholds its obligations to the international community and not break humanitarian law. It is equally important that the international community hold the US accountable if and when it commits such crimes.

Photo: Gage Skidmore

On Nuremberg Anniversary, Call for Justice for Rape Victims

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On the 70th Anniversaryof the verdict in the Nuremberg trials, it is more important than ever that the international community recognizes and prosecutes when rape is used as a war crime or crime against humanity.

Today, extremists groups like Boko Haram and ISIS regularly use rape as a tactic of terror. Join the GJC in calling for the International Criminal Court to open up an investigationinto the war crimes committed by ISIS against women and girls.

As Amal Clooney, who is representing Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who escaped from ISIS captivity, said at the United Nations,

“Nadia and others like her are not seeking revenge, they are seeking justice,and the opportunity to face their abusers in an international court at the Hague.”

Remembering ISIS' Crimes of Genocide Against Yazidis on the Anniversary of the Sinjar Massacre

by Jessica Zaccagnino

With the rise of non-state terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State, the strategic face of war has changed. This shift has subsequently altered the experience of civilians in armed conflict. In this changing landscape, women and girls face distinct horrors in comparison to men.

Groups such as ISIS have been perpetuating genocide against minorities in controlled territories, notably against the Yazidis. These violent extremists target women and men differently when committing crimes of genocide. In addition to systematic murder, ISIS subjects women to sexual slavery, forced marriages, rape, forced impregnation, and other gender-specific crimes of genocide. Despite the distinct tactics that are being used to commit genocide, the gender reality of genocide is often overlooked when enforcing the Genocide Convention. Global Justice Center’s Genocide Project fights against the gender-gap in responding to crimes of genocide perpetrated by extremist groups, like ISIS, and seeks to ensure that the laws of war work for, and not against, women.

On the morning of August 3rd, 2014, ISIS forces entered the Sinjar region in Northern Iraq, only months after declaring itself a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria. The region has a high population of Yazidi people, an ethno-religious Kurdish minority that has been heavily targeted by the ISIS insurgency. In Sinjar alone, 5,000 men were killed, thousands of women were systematically raped and sold into sexual slavery, and over 150,000 Yazidis were displaced. When ISIS took Sinjar, men and boys over the age of ten were separated from women and children, and most, as evidence of mass graves suggests, were killed. In the process of fleeing, an estimated 50,000 Yazidis were trapped in the Sinjar Mountains, with ISIS forces surrounding them. Although a majority of those trapped were able to eventually escape the mountainous region, the Sinjar Massacre left thousands dead, and thousands more enslaved. Yazidi women “have been systemically captured, killed, separated from their families, forcibly transferred and displaced, sold and gifted (and resold and re-gifted), raped, tortured, held in slavery and sexual slavery, forcibly married and forcibly converted.” These women have been targeted by ISIS solely on the basis of their gender and ethnicity, and such acts make clear ISIS’ genocidal intent to destroy the group in whole.

Despite the air drops of food, water, and supplies, the Yazidis trapped in the mountain siege survived in grim conditions—circumstances intended by ISIS to destroy the group. In addition to air drops, President Obama invoked the need to “prevent a potential act of genocide” as a justification for launching air strikes to rescue those trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Just this year, Secretary of State John Kerry officially declared that ISIS is committing genocide. It is vital for the United States to recognize the unique aspects of genocide that specifically target gender within the persecution of Yazidis when taking action against ISIS. Although the United States has taken a big step in declaring ISIS’ genocide, the United States must move beyond words. In fact, the United States is required by the Genocide Convention to take action against genocide. Yet, as the two-year anniversary of Sinjar approaches on August 3rd, the United States has still not taken any necessary further steps to combat ISIS’ genocidal crimes.

GJC Published in Newsweek on Anniversary of Sinjar Massacre

Grant Shubin, a Staff Attorney at GJC, and Pari Ibrahim, the Founder and Executive Director of the Free Yazidi Foundation published an op-ed in Newsweek about the state of Yazidi women on the second anniversary of the Sinjar Massacre.

Click here to read the full article. 

Thinking of Yazidi Women and Girls on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

On June 19, as the international community observes the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, rape remains a central reality of war for women and girls around the world.

War rape is both a historical and contemporary part of war: it is not simply a byproduct of fighting but often serves as a central military tactic. In Yugoslavia in the 1990s, “the systematic rape of women … [was] in some cases intended to transmit a new ethnic identity to the child.” Yugoslav women were “often […] interned until it was too late for them to undergo an abortion,” thereby ensuring the creation of a new ethnic reality.

Today, in ISIS controlled territories, ISIS leaders “elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.” Multiple accounts by former ISIS captives detail month-long rapes, severe physical and mental trauma, and forced pregnancies.

War rape thus serves to traumatize and create fear in the short term and to extend genocidal effects by producing new ethnic identities in the long term.

Yet despite the horrific psychological and biological results of war rape the United States’ Helms Amendment precludes any US humanitarian aid from being used for abortion services.

Denying abortions to war rape victims endangers innocent women’s lives, helps to perpetuate genocide and its effects, and violates the Geneva Conventions.

Even though the Hyde Amendment, a similar domestic amendment to the Helms Amendment, includes exceptions for rape and cases in which the mother’s health is in danger, foreign victims of war rape are not afforded these rights.

In 2015, Obama noted that the “Golden Rule,” that “seems to bind people of all faiths,” is to “treat one another as we wish to be treated,” — to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” If victims of war rape are to receive the medical care they deserve, the Obama Administration must apply this Golden Rule not only to domestic victims of rape, but to war rape victims in other countries as well.This involves recognizing their rights to non-discriminatory medical treatment and issuing an executive order that limits the scope of the Helms Amendment.

UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria Recognizes Yazidi Genocide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—June 17, 2016

[NEW YORK, NY] – Yesterday, the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria concluded that ISIS is committing genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the Yazidi people. The report, “They Came to Destroy”: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis, recognizes that the genocide is ongoing and is being committed not just through mass killings but also through gendered non-killing crimes such as rape and sexual violence.

Justice in Sri Lanka Must Include Investigations of Genocide Allegations

Seven years ago this month, a quarter century of armed conflict in Sri Lanka reached its violent conclusion. The Government of Sri Lanka’s take-no-prisoners approach to defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the “Tamil Tigers,” was accompanied by massive violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international criminal law. From January to May 2009, the military killed at least 40,000 to 70,000 Tamil civilians and also targeted Tamil women with rape and sexual violence. However, there have been no UN recommendations to investigate this onslaught as genocide, despite evidence of genocidal intent. The silence on both genocide and the crimes unique to women flows from the politicization of genocide and perpetuates gender discrimination and crimes. Next month, the topic of reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka is on the UN Human Rights Council’s agenda. The time is now for the international community to call for investigations into genocide and to use the specific protections and obligations under genocide law to redress the ongoing harms against Tamil women, including rapes and denial of their reproductive rights.

The war started in “Black July” 1983, when the Government of Sri Lanka sponsored violence against Tamils across the country. For about one week, in a classic hallmark of genocide, the Government provided voter registration lists identifying Tamils by ethnicity and incited Sinhalese mobs to kill and rape their Tamil neighbors and to destroy their homes and businesses. Over two decades later, the war ended as it started, with Government forces killing and committing sexual and gender-based violence against the Tamils. All of these crimes were seemingly committed with the intent to destroy the Tamil population, in whole or in part—a crucial component of genocide.