Abortion Access in Conflict
A letter was sent by the Association of the Bar in New York City as a part of GJC's August 12 Campaign challenging the legality of US abortion prohibitions imposed on US humanitarian aid for women raped in armed conflict.
March 4, 2011
Letter sent to President Obama by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid and that he accept Norway's Universal Periodic Review recommendation on abortion for rape victims.
On International Women’s Day, GJC Salutes the NY City Bar Association for Challenging the Legality of the US Abortion Prohibitions Imposed on US Humanitarian Aid for Women Raped in Armed Conflict
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—March 4, 2011
[NEW YORK, NY]- On March 4, 2011, the Association of the Bar of New York, on behalf of some 22,000 members, wrote to President Obama urging the Administration to lift the abortion prohibitions put on all US humanitarian aid for women and girl survivors of rape used as a weapon of war. The Association argues that “the denial of the full range of medically appropriate care to victims of rape in situations of armed conflict constitutes a violation of their rights under applicable international law.”
Conscious Magazine publishes Michelle Goldberg's article "All at Sea: USAID under Obama," on the US Helms Amendment.
At UN Human Rights Council, Norwegian Government Recommends that the United States Remove its Restrictions that Deny Abortions to Victims Raped in Conflict
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 11, 2010
[NORWAY] - Norway became the first country to challenge the legality of the anti-abortion conditions that the United States imposes on all of its foreign aid, in a question posed at the Universal Periodic Review of the United States before the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
We are pleased to share with you a crucial step in our work to repeal the illegal U.S. policy that prevents women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict from accessing abortions.
Previously, we wrote about the international legal arguments that we were developing to challenge the abortion restrictions that the United States places on all of its humanitarian aid going to organizations and governments working in conflict countries.
After six months of research and advocacy, Janet, Akila, and Gina from the Global Justice Center are in Geneva raising these legal arguments at the UN Human Rights Council’s Review of the United States. They are meeting with member states of the Human Rights Council to urge them to question the US about these restrictions that effectively deny necessary care to the thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated during war.
Today, we are excited to report that Norway has taken the lead by submitting the following question:
“The Global Justice Center (GJC) filed a shadow report for the universal periodic review of the US expressing concern with regard to US blanket abortion restriction on humanitarian aid and abortion speech restrictions on US rule of law and democracy programs. Does the US have any plans to remove its blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering the medical care given women and girls who are raped and impregnated in situations of armed conflict? Does the US government apply abortion speech restrictions on its rule of law and democracy programs?”
These questions form the very basis of the Human Rights Council’s recommendations. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is the UN body tasked with monitoring the human rights records of the 192 members of the United Nations. Every four years, member states are required to have a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in front of the Human Rights Council, during which each country receives recommendations on how to comply with their human rights obligations.
The US State Department has said they intend to comply with the UNHRC’s recommendations, so Norway’s questions sets the stage for changing U.S. policy in order to better protect and advance the rights of women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict.
Women who have been raped and impregnated in armed conflict in countries such as the Congo and Sudan have the legal right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions. This includes the right to abortions wherever victims of rape request them.
As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States must change its policy of attaching conditions to its humanitarian aid which prohibit recipients from speaking about abortion.
Click here to read the Global Justice Center’s Call to Action that we are distributing right now to Human Rights Council member states in Geneva.
On Tuesday, November 9, 2010 several GJC staff members attended The Rally to Take Rape Seriously hosted by NOW-NYC in conjunction with other anti-violence advocacy groups working to protect women and girls. Tony Simmons, a NYC juvenile justice counselor, pleaded guilty to raping one teenage girl and sexually assaulting two others while they were in his custody. The Manhattan Supreme Court Justice in the case has proposed a sentence of probation, meaning a self-admitted rapist, who violated underage girls whom he was employed to keep safe, will not be serving any jail time.
This unfortunate incident is one more clear illustration of the vast amount of work necessary on many different fronts before women and girls can readily access safety and justice. The Global Justice Center occupies a distinct position in the movement to end violence against women by employing international humanitarian and human rights law for the purpose of protecting victims of violence and discrimination. While GJC projects focus on the legal rights of women abroad, in countries like Iraq, Burma, and Sierra Leone, we are reminded that women still lack access to rights here in the United States as well.
The rally highlighted this serious deficiency in the US justice system as women speakers pointed out the implications of Tony Simmons’ unjust proposed sentence: that girls with a criminal record are less deserving of justice than others; that the calculated taking of advantage of such girls should be rewarded with extremely lenient sentences; and that these victims are being failed twofold—first by Tony Simmons, and second by the system which has been created to protect them.
Re-victimization of the most vulnerable groups of girls and women comes in many forms. The DRC has been named one of the worst places on earth to be a woman due to high numbers of rape and torture the female population endures. (Note that there are also high numbers of men being raped in the Congo.) US restrictions on foreign aid that prohibit providing or even discussing abortions, an essential medical service, are a policy that further punishes victims of rape and impregnation in conflict zones, forcing women and girls to carry unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies to term.
Rally participants are doing crucial work to draw attention to institutionalized, entrenched discrimination which acts as “salt in the wounds” of people who have already suffered unimaginably. The global anti-violence and women’s equality movements rely on activism in every form, combating these issues from numerous angles and different perspectives. The rally serves as a reminder that these injustices are not unique to war-torn countries and are a testament to the importance of human rights organizations in creating awareness and advocating for change.
To sign the petition urging Justice Cassandra Mullins to give Tony Simmons a just sentence this upcoming Monday, November 15, follow this link:
For more information on this story:
The late August four-day onslaught of mass sexual violence in Walikale, in Eastern Congo, is just the most recent example of a societal epidemic that has come to define the region with devastating consequences. Although early figures suggested that approximately 150 women were raped during this outbreak (most of whom were gang raped by between two to six people), these numbers have continued to escalate. As of now, a staggering 303 cases of women, children, and men have been reported; it is likely that many more victims have remained silent. Further, in recent testimony to the Security Council, the Special Representative of the Secretary General to the DRC, Robert Meece, said that “[t]he best data available, for example, suggests that over 15,000 rapes were committed last year in eastern DRC.”
These events continue to illustrate the severity of the conflict, as well as the urgency with which we need to address the US restrictions that impede complete humanitarian assistance for female victims in conflict. Rather than doing everything in its power to help these victims, US anti-abortion conditions on foreign aid deny access to abortion services to women and girls raped in conflict. Many human rights reports have found that pregnancy exacerbates the consequences of rape in conflict settings for the victims.
The only medical response in the situation in Walikale was provided by the International Medical Corps (IMC), whose work in eastern DRC is funded by USAID. Because of the aid restrictions outlined in the Helms Amendment, IMC cannot provide abortion services to any women who present at their treatment center. This is particularly disturbing in light of information from IMC stating that only two of the victims from Walikale received treatment within 72 hours, the timeframe during which emergency contraception is effective. The MONUSCO report documenting the incident further states that only 100 of these victims received treatment within 3 weeks. It is clear that while IMC occupies the medical assistance field there, any woman impregnated as a result of these rapes will not have access to abortion – a violation of international humanitarian law guarantees of non-discriminatory medical care and prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
A Call For All Member States of the Human Rights Council: End the Gross Violations of the Rights of Girls and Women Raped and Impregnated in Armed Conflict, to Non-Discriminatory Medical Care, Including Abortions, Under the Geneva Convention
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—November 2010
[NEW YORK, NY] - Thousands of girls and women, impregnated by rape in armed conflict are routinely and illegally denied lifesaving abortions in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burma and Sudan. The right to non-discriminatory medical care for these victims, which includes the option of abortion, is enshrined in common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
From October 27, 2010
On October 27, GJC President Janet Benshoof appeared at a Parliamentary event hosted by the Conservative Women’s Organization where she discussed how states have an obligation to ensure that women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict have access to an abortion. Click here to read CWO’s piece below.
UK Baroness Uddin Uses GJC Legal Arguements in House of Lords Debate to Call for end to Discriminatory Care of Women Raped in Conflict
In her statement last Thursday, UK Baroness Uddin used a new legal argument from the Global Justice Center to call for the end to the routine denial of access to abortions for women who are raped and impregnated in conflict. Baroness Uddin identified the United States policy of censoring humanitarian aid recipients from speaking about or providing access to abortions as playing a major role in the continuing violation of the rights of these victims and called on the UK to ask questions of the United States about this policy when it is reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council.
From UK House of Lords debate on the Millennium Development Goals, October 7, 2010, at link below, columns 307-308:
Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for initiating this important discussion. In the UK we should be rightly proud of the British leadership in advancing the millennium development goals which represent a vision of a world transformed where equality and justice prevail.
However, while we are very pleased, one group of women remains outside the MDG effort. Until we address this failure, we cannot speak of real progress. Today I ask our Government to call explicitly for girls and women who are forcibly impregnated by the vicious use of rape in armed conflict to be included under MDG 5-reducing maternal mortality. “Rape as a weapon of war” is a phrase commonly used accurately to describe what is happening alongside today’s armed conflicts, but we rarely speak about the consequences of this weapon. Thousands of girls and women impregnated by rape used as a weapon of war are routinely denied access to abortions. Girls and women die from their attempts to self-abort and from suicide resulting from untold stigmatization leading to social marginalization.
We should do what no other country has done: to ensure that the humanitarian medical aid provided to girls and women in places such as Congo, Sudan and Burma-an endless list of countries-gives them choices and access to abortion when pregnancy is a direct result of rape as a weapon of war. This is a moral imperative and a legal obligation. The Geneva Convention requires that civilians and combatant victims receive non-discriminatory medical care, whether it is provided by the state in conflict or by others. Why, then, are pregnant rape victims given discriminatory medical care through the routine denial of access to abortion? The embedded inequality towards women in conflict settings has been recognised by the Security Council in such historic resolutions as 1325 and 1820. Equal justice for women is not limited to the courtroom, it must be extended to supporting those women who are victims of the inhuman practice of rape as a weapon of war.
I draw the attention of the House to the recent report of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Oxfam, which details examples of the impact, stigma and suffering of raped children and women in Congo, Sudan and elsewhere, where no legal provision exists to support them. It also mentions that women should be given preventive care-that is, utilisation of contraception-as though women who are raped can be prepared for such horrors.
One of the solutions proposed by women’s organisations, including the international human rights organisation the Global Justice Center, is that access to abortion must be a critical part of the support available to women. The centre filed a shadow report with the Human Rights Council asking it to recommend that the US remove the prohibitions put on humanitarian aid to rape victims in conflict, as it violates the US obligation under the Geneva Convention. The UK can and must support this issue by asking questions of the US during the council’s review process due shortly.
I know that these are difficult matters for many individuals and countries to address, and international donor communities have thus far resisted pressurising countries to review their policies. Neither criminal abortion laws in the conflict state nor foreign aid contracts with the United States can serve as defence to a state provision of discriminatory medical care to all victims under international humanitarian law.
Time is short, and I should have liked to highlight many examples of countries such as Bangladesh where the suffering and humiliation of rape has left decades of suffering, ill health and stigma. The UK must take a lead to end that discrimination. This will mark real progress towards the millennium development goals and towards ensuring equal rights for women under international humanitarian law.
Global Justice Center Challenges the Abortion Speech Censorship Imposed by the U.S. on all Foreign Aid Recipients, at the UN Human Rights Council
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - May 26, 2010
[NEW YORK, NY] - The Global Justice Center, in a submission to the UN Human Rights Council, challenges the censorship of abortion related speech imposed on all U.S. foreign aid. The Global Justice Center identifies the alarming effects of this censorship, including denying impregnated rape victims in conflict access to information about abortion services. “For the United States to prevent women and girls who have been gang raped and impregnated by the military in places like the Congo, Sudan, or Burma from their full range of medical treatment options, including abortion, is cruel, inhumane, and violates fundamental international laws such as the Geneva Conventions,” says Global Justice Center President Janet Benshoof. “It is not what America stands for.”
On February 12, 2010, Janet Benshoof spoke at the "From Page to Practice: Broadening the lens for Reproductive and Sexual Rights" Symposium, hosted by NYU's School of law Review of law and Social Change. Benshoof's panel was entitled "Global Movements and the Human Rights Framework".
The International Herald Tribune icluded GJC President Janet Benshoof's comments regarding CEDAW and anti-abortion in article titled "Discord likely over ratifying women's rights pact."