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Global Justice Center Blog

Global Civil Society Statement: The UN Must Block Arms Sales to Myanmar

We, the undersigned organizations, call on the United Nations Security Council to urgently impose a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar to help prevent further violations of human rights against peaceful protesters and others opposing military rule. In recent weeks, Myanmar security forces have killed hundreds of people, including dozens of children, merely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Since the February 1, 2021 coup, Myanmar’s military junta has responded with increasing brutality to nationwide protests calling for the restoration of democratic civilian rule. As of May 4, security forces have killed at least 769 people, including 51 children as young as 5, and arbitrarily detained several thousand activists, journalists, civil servants, and politicians. Hundreds have been forcibly disappeared, the authorities unwilling to provide information on their well-being or where they are being held. Over the past few months, the military has demonstrated a callous disregard for human life that has driven its strategy for decades. In video footage from cities and towns across the country, soldiers can be seen shooting down protesters, including children, brutally beating medical aid workers, and firing shotguns into crowds of peacefully protesting doctors.

In addition to the latest violations of human rights, Myanmar’s security forces have a history of grave abuses against peaceful critics of the government and military, and war crimes and other international crimes against the Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups. Of particular note is the military's widely documented use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon against ethnic communities.

No government should sell a single bullet to the junta under these circumstances. Imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar is the minimum necessary step the Security Council should take in response to the military’s escalating violence. Arms and materiel provided to Myanmar’s security forces are likely to be used by the security forces to commit abuses in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.

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​​​​​​​200+ NGOs Call on UN Security Council to Impose Global Arms Embargo on Myanmar

NEW YORK — Over 200 nongovernmental organizations from around the world today called on the United Nations Security Council to immediately impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar in response to the military coup and ensuing human rights abuses.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The urgency of a global arms embargo in Myanmar cannot be overstated. Myanmar’s military has long been one of the world’s most notorious perpetrators of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. Such violence has ramped up since the coup, with harrowing reports of torture and sexual violence against women and girl detainees. International arms sales fuel these ongoing military crimes and its past time UN Security Council members back up their rhetoric on women’s rights with concrete action.”

UN calls for restoration of democracy in Myanmar, end to violence

Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Civil society groups said the Security Council needs to agree on a more robust response.

“The military has already reneged on the flawed ‘consensus’ it reached with ASEAN leaders, so it’s critical the international community not treat last weekend’s outcome as a legitimate path forward for Myanmar,” Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said in a statement ahead of the closed-door briefing.

“The Security Council must keep its focus on the solutions long demanded by Myanmar’s people, in particular women-led civil society groups, including a global arms embargo, targeted sanctions, and a referral to the International Criminal Court. It’s unconscionable that the Council has yet to act and they cannot deflect their responsibility to do so because others, like ASEAN, have ‘acted’.”

The military, which ruled Myanmar for almost 50 years, until it began tentative moves towards democracy a decade ago, has acknowledged that some protesters have been killed but accused them of initiating the violence.

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Biden urged to end US aid ‘abortion ban’

Excerpt of The Guardian article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

The group want clear guidance issued on Helms and another misinterpreted law, the Leahy amendment.

“The US is the largest funder of global health, including family planning, and is the only donor nation to single out abortion in this way,” the letter says. “Many US abortion restrictions, including the Helms amendment, have consistently been in place for decades, causing generations’ worth of harm – and they will continue to do so if action is not taken. This is a matter of utmost urgency as bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom are increasingly under siege.”

During his first 10 days in office, Biden rescinded the Mexico City Policy – known as the “global gag rule” – which stopped overseas groups that received US aid using money from other sources to fund abortion services. Kamala Harris, the US vice-president, co-signed a bill to repeal the policy permanently – currently, it can be reintroduced or rescinded by each president.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said the belief that the Helms amendment banned abortion under all circumstances had become “normalised”.

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Letter to President Biden: Call for Executive Action on United States Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Aid

Dear President Biden,

We, the undersigned organizations, welcome your administration’s reengagement of the United States (US) with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and recommitment to promoting human rights. We also applaud you for revoking the Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy) within your first ten days in office, and now we ask you to go further to implement “the policy of the US to support women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights in the US, as well as globally.” Therefore, in light of your administration’s response to the recommendations made to the US during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the HRC in Geneva last November, we are writing to urge you to take further steps to implement the UPR recommendations made with regard to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including by taking executive and administrative action to ameliorate the harmful impact of US abortion restrictions on foreign aid, particularly the Helms Amendment, a nearly 50-year-old policy that must be congressionally repealed in its entirety. Recognizing the racist and neo-colonial roots of the Helms Amendment, we also urge the implementation of the recommendations made regarding racism and discrimination. These recommendations were made by 23 countries spanning across Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East and, if implemented, would positively impact access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as the livelihood and wellbeing of persons experiencing discrimination.

During the UPR, the US was called on to strengthen its support for sexual and reproductive health and rights at home and abroad. A number of countries made formal recommendations for the US to take action on its restrictions on foreign assistance, and we commend your support of these recommendations. The Netherlands called on the US to “repeal the Helms Amendment...and, in the interim, allow United States foreign assistance to be used, at a minimum, for safe abortion in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.” During the UPR adoption, the United Kingdom specifically addressed its “hope that the US can go further and clarify its interpretation of the Helms Amendment, and ensure universal access to safe abortion care.” Congress must repeal the Helms Amendment entirely and the Administration must do all that it can to mitigate the harms of this egregious policy in the interim. In order to implement these recommendations, we encourage you to take steps to:

  • Take executive action and issue guidance from relevant agencies and departments to clarify and implement US foreign assistance support for abortion care to the maximum extent allowed under the Helms Amendment, namely by immediately clarifying that funds can be used to support abortion care provided in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment of the pregnant person.
  • Issue guidance from relevant agencies and departments to proactively clarify that US foreign assistance may be used for abortion information and counseling under the Leahy Amendment.
  • Prioritize the removal of abortion funding restrictions like the Helms Amendment, in addition to addressing many other important sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) priorities, through the White House Gender Policy Council, with its focus on promoting SRHR domestically and globally, in order to bring US policy in line with its human rights obligations and the administration’s stated commitment to advancing global health and equity. All actions by the Gender Policy Council must also consider the role of racial and other forms of discrimination on recipients of sexual and reproductive healthcare in the US and elsewhere across the globe.
  • Consult with relevant stakeholders and agencies to issue policies to combat systemic racism and discrimination against marginalized and minoritized populations and ensure implementation of these policies at the state, federal and local levels, recognizing that domestic US policy and practice influence the values exported through US foreign assistance and foreign policy.
  • Ensure robust support for sexual and reproductive health and rights, including eliminating Helms and similar abortion coverage restrictions from the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

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