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.
Mass Atrocity Crimes
This morning the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted the former Democratic Republic of the Congo vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, for two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging.) What is significant about this judgment is that Bemba is the first military commander to be convicted for crimes committed by troops under his command, and it is the first conviction at the ICC for sexual violence.
The ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said, “Today’s outcome is also another concrete expression of my personal commitment and that of my office to apply the full force of the Rome Statute in the fight against sexual violence and gender-based crimes. We will not spare efforts to bring accountability to such heinous crimes in future cases. Where some might want to draw a veil over these crimes, I, as Prosecutor, must and will continue to draw a line under them.”
Listen to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's statement on the case.
This verdict is a hugely important step in the international community holding perpetrators of war rape accountable.
Click here to read the full judgement.
On Sunday, NBC Nightly News interviewed Vian Dakhil, the only Yazidi woman in the Iraqi Parliament. Over the past year, Dakhil has helped over 1,000 Yazidi women and girls escape from ISIS territory, where they have been routinely captured and enslaved by ISIS militants. Due to a lack of state action to protect the Yazidis from genocidal crimes, individuals such as Dakhil have been forced to act to help defend these vulnerable women. In 2014, Dakhil made headlines with her impassioned speech to the Iraqi Parliament, where she cried, “My people are being slaughtered…I speak here in the name of humanity. Save us! Save us!”. Her continued efforts to defend the Yazidis from ISIS atrocities have made her the number one woman on ISIS’s hit list.
Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice just released a Special Issue of their newsletter focusing on two letters GJC has sent to the ICC asking them to address gender-based crimes. The letters call on the ICC to look at the genocidal crimes being committed against women and girls by groups like Boko Haram and ISIS.
Click here to read the full newsletter.
Human Rights Groups Call for Arrest and Prosecution of Myanmar’s Minister of Home Affairs for War Crimes and Human Rights Violations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—November 5, 2015
[GENEVA & NEW YORK] – Tomorrow, an alleged war criminal accused of torture, murder, enslavement, pillage, rape, and forcible population transfer, is scheduled to present Myanmar’s human rights record at the United Nations.
2015 marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which requires parties in a conflict to respect women’s rights and support their participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction. Yesterday the Security Council held its annual open debate under Argentina’s presidency calling upon UN Member to implement resolutions on women, peace and security. This year’s theme focused on the situation of women refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world.
With numerous crises from Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria to Somalia and Mali and the increase of extremists take control of territory, the shifting trend in conflict is seeing a heightening of targeted violence against women, girls and their communities, warned the UN Secretary-General whose statement was delivered by the Executive Director of UN Women Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. The Executive Director in her own statement stressed that women are among the most vulnerable group and the primary subject to violence. But it is women who should be empowered by giving them a voice in decision-making in order to protect them. She noted that “key decisions are still made behind closed doors, deaf to the voices of those directly affected.” Increasing the representation of women in leadership roles and electing them to governing bodies is a way to ensure their protection, as has been seen in Haiti and the Central African Republic.
One of the important issues raised by Member States was that rape is still too often used as a weapon of warfare with a devastating impact on victims of war. Gender based violence also contributes to displacement and women fleeing in hope for safety. Speakers admitted that most refugees are women, and they face a lack of medical assistance which they desperately need. For instance, services that enable the safe termination of pregnancy are fundamental for women to restore their lives after rape and yet are continually denied due to US policy. Failure to provide these services violates the rights of victims of rape.
A highlight of the Open Debate was the statement by the award winning Iraqi women’s rights lawyer Suaad Allami who delivered her statement on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security and spoke first-hand of her experiences in working with refugees and the threats to women’s rights by extremist groups such as ISIS. She paid tribute to her friends and colleagues who recently have been killed defending women’s rights. She ended her statement with applause and spoke the last words in Arabic “All human beings have the right to be safe and live a life of dignity.”
Click here to read the Presidential Statement on behalf of the Security Council.
For six years President Obama has failed to extend abortion funding to rape victims in war zones. At this Reproaction Act and Learn webinar, advocates and experts explained the Helms Amendment and how President Obama’s continued inaction hurts women around the world. We provided a clear answer to this common question: What’s the difference between Helms, Hyde, and the Global Gag Rule? Finally, we shared actions you can take to ensure Obama doesn’t leave a #BadLegacy on reproductive rights.
Featuring these guest panelists:
- Rev. Harry Knox, President/CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
- Akila Radhakrishnan, Legal Director for the Global Justice Center
- Beirne Roose-Snyder, Director of Public Policy for the Center for Health and Gender Equity (by advance remarks)
If you support Reproaction’s #BadLegacy campaign, or want to find out what it’s all about, you won’t want to miss this webinar.
Below you can read the question that Janet asked Wunna Maung Lwin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, about accountability for human rights abuser General Ko Ko at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Thank you very much, my name is Janet Benshoof, Global Justice Center. After a 4 year on the ground investigation, Harvard Law School Lawyers concluded, using the standards of the International Criminal Court that Myanmar’s Major General Ko Ko has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Karen ethnic group. I have a two-part question:
First, could you explain, given that Myanmar has been in armed conflict for 60 years if there have been any prosecutions of military commanders for international crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. And second, could you explain the government process by which 6 months after the Harvard report, the government selected General Ko Ko to present and defend Myanmar’s human rights record before the Human Rights Council next month. Thank you very much.
Response by Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister of Foreign Affair of Myanmar
To answer your first question, there is no Myanmar General prosecuted or facing any kind of trial in the International Criminal Court or any other court because some of the allegations were unfounded and untrue. Because whenever there is a military operations or whenever there is an insurgency problem, every country has to defend their people, especially the innocent people who were hampered their livelihood by those insurgent groups. So for the military commander that you have mentioned, he is the Commander of the Southern Myanmar regions. So in his region there were insurgent problems and he commanded some of the military operations in that area. He is doing his responsibility as a military commander to defend those people from the scourge of insurgency. This is one question.
Another thing is that in the next month I think we will be submitting our universal periodic review report to the Human Rights Council. So we will be sending a delegation and we will be submitting our universal periodic review for the second time.
Today marks exactly one year since ISIS declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. An NBC News article by Cassandra Vinograd and Ammar Cheikh Omar published this morning discusses the strength that ISIS has amassed during the past year. ISIS has maintained control and been strengthened by territorial expansion and the far-reaching influence of its ideology. Affiliates of ISIS have even sprung up around the world, for example in Nigeria, where Boko Haram has pledged its allegiance to ISIS. It is even speculated that Boko Haram will soon declare a caliphate of its own.
There have been many attempts to curb ISIS’s power over the past year. However, the Iraqi military is not effective at fighting ISIS, and even though the United States has tried to weaken ISIS with airstrikes since last August, ISIS does not seem to be faltering. There are also hundreds of rebel groups that are currently fighting ISIS under the FSA, but they are not well organized and are lacking in resources, ammunition, and arms. Conversely, ISIS is extremely coordinated and well-resourced. In fact, “more people than ever are perpetrating violence in the group’s name.” The propaganda issued by ISIS is “infectious” and is successful at attracting fighters. So far the coalition forces have not been able to stop this trend, or ISIS itself.
According to Human Rights Watch’s April 15, 2015 publication “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systemic Rape,” ISIS has been committing war crimes against women and girls by systemically raping them, assaulting them, and subjecting them to sexual slavery. These women and girls are regarded as property and are forced to endure intense torture. The exact number of captive Yazidis is unknown due to the fact that the conflict is ongoing and many Yazidis have had to flee. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, roughly 3,000 Yazidis are still in captivity while other sources, such as local officials and community activists, believe that the numbers are much higher.
While it is important for the international community to be working towards the long term goal of weakening ISIS, there are steps that can be taken immediately to help the woman and girls who suffer daily under their reign of terror. For example, Yazidi women and girls are being systematically raped by ISIS and are being forced to carry the child of their rapist due to an antiquated US policy. It is crucial that President Obama overturn the 1973 Helms Amendment, which prevents any US aid from funding imperative, safe abortions to these women and girls who are in desperate need of relief. The international community should also be working to end impunity for the perpetrators of sexual violence. For example, it is vital that the International Criminal Court recognize the gendered abductions of these Yazidi women and girls as genocide. Recognizing this as genocide will cause an immediate duty to act among states and send a clear message to the perpetrators of this sexual violence that it will not be tolerated. The women and girls living in Iraq and Syria cannot wait another day, and the US and international community cannot wait another year to take actions on their behalf.
On June 11, 2015 Angelina Jolie, a special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, gave an address at the African Union Summit in Johannesburg. Jolie highlighted the sexual violence that women and girls in conflict zones are subject to due to “the near-total impunity that exists worldwide for crimes against women, in conflict zones in particular.”
Impunity for the use of sexual violence is one GJC has been confronting head on. On April 15, 2015, one year after the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped, GJC sent a letter to the International Criminal Court urging the prosecutor to consider charging Boko Haram with genocide. Properly characterizing these targeted abductions as genocide will hold states accountable and encourage them to take action. As stated by GJC President Janet Benshoof in an op-ed in PassBlue,“It will make clear Nigeria’s own obligations to stop this conduct and to prosecute it vigorously; it will send a message to other perpetrators, including those currently targeting Yazidi women and girls in Syria and Iraq, that genocide will not be tolerated; it will fulfill the prosecutor’s own commitment to fully prosecute crimes aimed at women and girls and to integrate a gender perspective into every stage of its work; and finally, it will trigger the international community’s responsibility to protect the Nigerian population.”
As more and more wars are being fought using women’s bodies, it is important that the laws of war apply to and protect women as well as men. When the laws of war were initially drafted, rape was not recognized as a weapon; however, it is now identified as a tactic to win military objectives. Global Justice Center’s “Rape as a Weapon of War” campaign recognizes the discrimination and suffering that women and girls face in conflict zones. GJC urges governments and international organizations to hold states where rape is being used as a weapon accountable for their actions.
As Jolie stated, “We need policies for long-term security that are designed by women, focused on women, executed by women.” With these policies, gender equality is achievable and we can see an end to impunity for sexual violence.
Human Rights Hypocrisy: Burma’s Lieutenant General Ko Ko, Suspected of Crimes Against Humanity, to Lead Burma’s Delegation to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review
In November 2014, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic published a legal memorandum revealing that Lieutenant General Ko Ko is one of the leading actors in crimes against humanity committed in Burma. Despite this comprehensive report, General Ko Ko has been appointed by Burma to lead its delegation to this year’s United Nations Universal Periodic Review. Every four years states are subject to this review process that provides states the opportunity to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.
To have General Ko Ko- a man explicitly linked to human rights violations- as the leader of Burma’s upcoming human rights review is sheer hypocrisy. As stated in Harvard Law’s Human Rights Blog “Human Rights @ Harvard Law,” “Ko Ko should not be the face of human rights in the new Myanmar.”
In response to Burma’s decision to have General Ko Ko lead their delegation to the UPR this fall, the U.S. Campaign for Burma has created a petition to add General Ko Ko to the U.S. Sanctions list.
As the petition states, “General Ko Ko has a long history of committing crimes against humanity and human rights abuses throughout Burma. During his post as Regional Commander in Karen State, tens of thousands of Karen fled for safer borders as they faced rape, extrajudicial murders, forced labor and portering, human shields and land grabs. Now, as Home Affairs Minister, General Ko Ko continues his attacks on any individual who supports democratic principles and desires justice. “
Sign the petition and tell President Obama to add General Ko Ko to the Specially Designated Nationals List.
On May 29, 2015 The Washington Post’s editorial board published an article titled “An Inhumane U.S. Policy.” This piece focuses on the harrowing experiences of women and girls around the world living in conflict zones, and emphasizes the reality of rape being used as weapon of war and the great need for President Obama to overturn the Helms amendment.
The Washington Post reports on the conditions of the women and girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The victims described their conditions in captivity, stating that they would often be locked up in houses and raped. Oftentimes, the militants would rape the women and girls with the intention of impregnating them so that Boko Haram’s mission could be sustained. The Washington Post also mentions a report done by Human Rights Watch on a similar scenario in northern Iraq, in which it was documented that Yzidi women and girls experienced perpetual sexual violence by Islamist militants in the area. It is important to note that sexual violence is also currently being used as a tactic of war in Syria, South Sudan, and other places worldwide.
Due to the Helms Amendment of 1973, these women and girls who are raped and impregnated by Boko Haram and other militant groups are not able to get lifesaving abortions. Many are often left with the limited choices of attempting to bear the child or unsafely trying to abort the child themselves, both of which engender numerous medical and social consequences. The Helms amendment has harsh restrictions on United States foreign aid, and mandates that this aid cannot be used to fund abortions regardless of reason. More than 200 of the women and girls recently rescued by Boko Haram in Nigeria are pregnant; with the Helms Amendment and subsequent abortion ban in place, what can be done to help them?
The answer lies in the overturning of the Helms Amendment, which can be done with an executive order from President Obama. While President Obama has acknowledged that rape is a weapon of war, he has not taken definitive action. As an integral part of Global Justice Center’s “Rape as a Weapon of War” project, we have urged President Obama to sign an executive order that clarifies exceptions to the Helms Amendment when rape, incest, or a life-threatening situation is present.
Overturning the Helms Amendment would mean providing appropriate medical care and lifesaving abortions to the women and girls who are victims of war rape. President Obama must stand up for the rights of women and girls to reduce their hardship and set an example for the rest of the world to follow.
See Jen Sorensen’s Great Political Cartoon: “Thanks to This US Law, Boko Haram Rape Victims Can’t Get Abortions”
On May 26, 2015 political cartoonist Jen Sorensen posted a caricature of the United States’ abortion policy in relation to the 600 Nigerian girls who were rescued from Boko Haram, an estimated 214 of whom had been raped and impregnated by the militants. Sorensen calls the United States’ abortion policy “utterly retrograde” and cites GJC’s work of urging President Obama to end the abortion ban, as it is imperative that “the UN Population Fund can do its job.”
Read the full post here.
Recently hundreds of girls were rescued from Boko Haram. These military rescues have been widely applauded and measures are being taken to help the women in their healing. Tragically, certain Nigerian communities look upon the survivors of Boko Haram’s abductions with distrust and dislike. The animosity stems from hatred for the terrorist organization and fear of their tactics, but nonetheless, the victims are entirely innocent and deserve to be treated with respect.
Those who managed to escape from the famous Chibok abduction last April have been taunted and ridiculed. It is thought that their time with the organization somehow tainted them as ‘Boko Haram Wives.” Some of these girls, who were only in captivity for a short time, have chosen to leave their homes because the harassment can be so intense.
Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno, created further challenges, when he said “I am seriously worried with the fact that most women tend to hate and abandon children they deliver from rape. Now, the problem is that these children could go to the streets unattended to, they then lack access to food, health care and education. The result is that they could indeed inherit their fathers’ ideology somehow.”
From interviews, it has been ascertained that the survivors of Boko Haram feel deeply shamed. There are numerous organizations working to provide support, critical now, as hundreds of women and children have recently been rescued and need medical and psychological attention.
The one medical service these organizations cannot provide is abortion. Due to the Helms Amendment passed in 1973, which bars any US foreign aid funds from going to an organization that provides abortion services, international aid organizations are hamstrung in their ability to fully help these girls.
Rape as a weapon of war constitutes torture and, in some cases, genocide. As survivors of war rape, these girls are allowed the protections provided to victims of war and torture and deserve comprehensive medical rights, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. The denial and restrictions of these rights puts the United States in direct conflict with the Geneva Conventions.
Even pro-life supporters will admit that there should be an abortion exception for rape. The women and girls who survived Boko Haram are victims of war rape and sexual slavery. Those that returned pregnant are facing additional suffering due to being denied their rights under the Geneva Conventions. Many of the impregnated women are young and malnourished, leading to complications in the pregnancy and further, if these women were to delivery safely, it is likely that their children would be endangered by the same distrust and associations with Boko Haram.
It is more urgent than ever, for the women and girls who are being kidnapped by terrorist groups, that President Obama overturn the Helms Amendment and grant them full access to medical care.
Click here to read the full article.
Today, during the Universal Periodic Review of United States, several member states of the UN Human Rights Council made statements condemning the anti-abortion restrictions that the US places on foreign aid, such as the Helms Amendment.
The UN Human Rights Council is responsible for monitoring the human rights records of the member states; every four years each country is reviewed and presented with recommendations on how to comply with their human rights duties.
The effects of Helms are can be seen in conflict zones around the world, most recently with the rescue of 214 pregnant Nigerian women from Boko Haram. The issue of comprehensive medical care has gained traction in recent months. As a result, today the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium and France orally recommended that the United States work to ensure access to safe abortions around the world and limit the negative impact of the Helms Amendment.
War rape is an illegal tactic of war, constituting torture or genocide, and denial of medical care allows the perpetuation of those crimes. The constraints of the Helms Amendment deny women and children access to safe abortions, and restrict aid agencies from even providing information about abortion services.
In September 2014, the Global Justice Center submitted a report to the UPR, highlighting the ways in which constraints against women’s reproductive rights are incompatible with the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In April 2015, GJC traveled throughout Europe advocating for countries to use the UPR process to question the current anti-abortion restrictions the US imposes.
In addition to the five oral questions, written recommendations were also submitted, requiring a response and justification, should the United States continue to uphold the Helms Amendment. The US government has three months to formulate a response. It is clear that the Obama Administration has a responsibility and urgent duty to remedy these violations.
Click here to read more.
The Nigerian military has continued to advance, recovering many of the women and girls captured by Boko Haram. It is thought that Boko Haram originally kidnapped over 2,000 women and girls. This week, the military is said to have rescued several hundred, most recently 234 from the Sambisa forest. There are reports that the military has secured all of the Boko Haram strongholds, though it must be noted that the media has often exaggerated their successes. It is unclear whether the Chibok girls are among the rescued women. Grievously, it is thought that the school girls may have already been killed.
Hundreds of women and girls have been forcibly impregnated by Boko Haram. Unofficially, 214 of the recently rescued girls have been reported pregnant after facing horrific circumstances of sexual slavery and violence. Organizations like the UNFPA are working as best they can to provide for the women, with a spokesperson saying, “We look after them and ensure they get antenatal care and that they deliver properly and that they even get cesarean section when necessary.” While UNFPA are doing good work helping these pregnant women and girls, they are hamstrung, by a decades old US policy, from providing the full range of medical services these women and girls require.
Women and girls who are raped in areas of conflict suffer from extensive physical and psychological injuries, making pregnancy and delivery dangerous. Several studies have found that pregnancy from rape in wartime compounds the physical, psychological and socials consequences of the survivors. While experts have acknowledged that pregnancy from rape can exacerbate the consequences of the rape, little has been done to actually address and resolve this problem. The vast majority of women who become pregnant from rape in conflict lack access to safe abortion services. These women could resort to non-sterile or non-medical methods, which can lead to scarring, infection, sterilization, or death.
The Geneva Conventions guarantees that war victims receive all the medical care required by their condition, for women and girls raped in armed conflict, that medical care includes the option of abortion. In 1973, Senator Jesse Helms passed the Helms Amendment, which bans the sending of any US foreign aid money to any organization that performs or even discusses abortion services. Four decades later, this misguided amendment is still in place and having very real consequences for the aid organizations providing services to the brave women and girls rescued in Nigeria.
GJC president Janet Benshoof says, “war rape victims are honorable heroines and victims of war crimes and they should be protected, honored, and respected.” For women and girls kidnapped and forcibly impregnated by terrorist groups, it is now more urgent than ever for President Obama to overturn the Helms Amendment, so that these survivors can have access to the full medical care they desperately need.
On Tuesday the Nigerian Army declared its success in rescuing almost 300 girls and women from terrorist organization Boko Haram. Many false reports have been leaked previously, as is expected given the extensive coverage of the large-scale abduction of the Chibok girls over a year ago. However this report has been confirmed several times. The famous Chibok school girls are not among the recovered, but Nigeria has made great strides against Boko Haram in recent weeks. It is thought that these newly rescued girls had been kidnapped during some of Boko Haram’s smaller, less publicized attacks and abductions.
The recovery of these girls is indeed good news but Boko Haram still requires immediate attention and condemnation from the international community. During the mission to recover the girls, dozens of corpses were found in a nearby river. The actions of Boko Haram certainly constitute genocide—their ethnically and religiously killing as well as their systematic violence against women—and it is time for those actions to be treated as such. GJC advocates for continued vigilance in seeking the abducted girls and has called upon the ICC to investigate and prosecute Boko Haram in this way, ending impunity for a group that has faced few consequences and deterring other groups who practice similar illegal tactics.
Click here to read the full article.
During activities for International Women’s Day of 2015 issues of escalating sexual violence were highlighted on a global scale and UN Secretary General explicitly called for action against groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS, who employ rape as a weapon of war. A report was released Monday in which the UN reiterated concern about the pervasive sexual violence in areas such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and Yemen.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence, such as forced pregnancy and marriage, are being condemned as a method of terrorism, employed by extremist groups in 19 different countries. The UN report criticizes 45 different groups for their use of sexual violence and particularly decries Boko Haram for their continued abuses.
The New York Times says, “In Sudan’s western Darfur region, it said the number of displaced civilians has increased over the past year and so have reports of sexual violence. And in South Sudan, it said sexual violence remains prevalent — including gang rape, castration, forced nudity and forced abortion — which is ‘exacerbated by impunity and a militarized society in which gender inequality is pronounced.’” However, Congo has made some encouraging progress, prosecuting officials for sexual violence and offering reparations to survivors.
In terms of Boko Haram’s violence, the report states, “Forced marriage, enslavement and the ‘sale’ of kidnapped women and girls are central to Boko Haram’s modus operandi and ideology. Abducted girls who refuse marriage or sexual contact within marriage have faced violence and death threats.”
The Global Justice Center has made recent efforts on behalf of the Chibok school girls, on the anniversary of their kidnapping, GJC posted a letter to the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, urging action be taken against Boko Haram. GJC asked that the Chief Prosecutor investigate the kidnappings as an act of genocide, so as to spur immediate action and forestall the inevitably increase in similar attacks. Speaking about Boko Haram, General Ban Ki-moon said that actions such as these were, “an essential part of the fight against conflict-related sexual violence.”
EWL met with Global Justice Center in Brussels to discuss access to full medical care for female war rape victims.
The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men.
Click here to read their article about the meeting.