Global Justice Center Blog

Trump’s Chilling Blow to the ICC

Excerpt of Foreign Policy op-ed authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Staff Attorney Elena Sarver.

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions on several individuals associated with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The order is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle against the ICC, which the Trump administration has long sought to undermine in order to avoid accountability for itself and its allies. The move is also part of a broader disengagement with the multilateral system.

The executive order, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s accompanying statement invoking the “nightmare” of an American service member facing justice abroad, exemplifies the kind of “America first” thinking at the core of the Trump administration’s foreign-policy ideology. In this case it was coupled with another deeply flawed message: American exceptionalism when it comes to human rights. As David Kaye wrote in this publication last week, “[t]he phrase ‘human rights’ in American policy has almost always referred to what others violate, and it rarely comes back to what the U.S. government is obligated to protect at home. The United States may use the language of human rights law to condemn official abuses against minorities worldwide, or violence against protesters in Venezuela, Hong Kong, Iran, and elsewhere, but it bristles when those same norms are deployed against it.” This hypocrisy is particularly egregious because the United States has been at the center of the formation of the human rights system since its start.

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Letter to Human Rights Council: Urgent Debate on current racially inspired human rights violations, systematic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protests

Excellencies,

I write to you on behalf of the Global Justice Center (“GJC”), an international human rights organization, with special ECOSOC consultative status, dedicated to advancing gender equality through the rule of law. We combine advocacy with legal analysis, working to ensure equal protection of the law for women and girls.

Last week, GJC was proud to join over 600 of our fellow-organizations, as well as the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown and Philando Castile,1 in calling for the Human Rights Council to convene a special session the escalating situation of police violence and repression of protests in the United States. We thank the Council for heeding this call and scheduling an urgent debate on this topic for this upcoming Wednesday, June 17, 2020.

While we understand that the debate is not focused solely on the United States, we are hopeful that this session will bring crucial international attention to the unchecked violations against Black people, and peaceful protestors in the United States. We also urge you to utilize this meeting to take concrete action to ensure accountability for racist policing tactics and excessive force used against peaceful protesters in the country, in particular by mandating an independent inquiry to document and investigate extrajudicial killings of unarmed Black men and women, and police violence against protesters and journalists.

Download the Full Letter 

Trump escalates attacks on International Criminal Court over Afghanistan investigation

Excerpt of radio interview from Public Radio International's "The World" that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Trump administration officials point out the United States isn’t a member of the ICC, but the country has worked regularly with the international court to bring war criminals to justice. And the court has the mandate to prosecute crimes committed in any of the 123 countries that are a part of the ICC, including Afghanistan.

“It boils down to the fundamental of — you can't escape accountability when you go elsewhere and commit crimes,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “We need to cut through the veneer of what's really driving what this is, which is a fundamental position of the US government that it should not be held accountable, and its closest ally, Israel, shouldn't be held accountable.”

Listen to the program

Joint Statement Opposing Trump Administration Measures against the International Criminal Court

The undersigned organizations express their deep concern regarding today’s announcement by Secretary of State Pompeo and other senior U.S. officials that the United States, among other things, has invoked emergency powers in order to threaten asset freezes and other punitive actions against officials of the International Criminal Court, their family members, and those who assist their investigations. 

The International Criminal Court exists because it is difficult to hold government officials and other powerful actors accountable when they commit grave human rights abuses.  That impunity, in turn, is corrosive to the broader rule of law, the prospects of lasting peace, and respect for the dignity of all.  Since the ICC’s establishment in 2002 as a court of last resort, diverse coalitions of faith-based organizations, human rights advocates, legal practitioners, victims of atrocities, and other constituencies have often looked to it to complement and reinforce their work for justice.  Like all other human institutions, the ICC has room for improvement. Nevertheless, from Uganda and the Central African Republic to Darfur and the situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar, the ICC continues to play a vital role, filling gaps in the justice system by independently investigating and prosecuting grave atrocity crimes when national authorities do not do so, or when they seek out help.

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Coalition of Groups File Brief in Support of Lawsuit Challenging Sec. Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights

Amici Charge The Commission Is Unlawful, Misunderstands Human Rights Law, and Will Harm the Marginalized Groups They Work On Behalf Of

Ongoing Lawsuit Seeks to Shut Down the Unlawful Commission Ahead of Expected July 4th Report

New York, N.Y. — Six human rights organizations submitted a “friend of the court” brief in support of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s unlawful formation and operation of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. Chartered by Sec. Pompeo to conduct a “profound reexamination” of the human rights landscape, the Commission has violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by operating behind closed doors and with a membership stacked with academics hostile to reproductive rights and the rights of the LGBTI community. The plaintiffs — four human rights advocacy groups represented by Democracy Forward — are now joined by amici in raising concerns that the Commission is poised to issue recommendations that will change America’s stance on fundamental tenets of human rights law, including by prioritizing religious liberties over other rights, and that it will do so in violation of federal law. Sec. Pompeo has said that he expects to receive the Commission’s final report around July 4th.

In their brief, Human Rights Watch, American Jewish World Service, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights First, and the International Women’s Health Coalition write that they “are deeply troubled by the Commission’s apparent intent to undo decades of progress — repeatedly affirmed in multilateral treaties which the United States has signed and, in some cases, ratified — by replacing authoritative interpretations of international human rights law with those of the Commission’s members.”

The amici concur that the State Department has violated federal transparency law in its creation and operation of the Commission. In particular, the groups are concerned by the Commission’s biased membership, which “includes no advocates for the rights of LGBTI individuals to equal treatment under the law or the right to access reproductive health care.” Although federal law requires that outside advisory committees include a fair balance of viewpoints, the Commission is stacked with members who have openly opposed these rights. It is chaired, for instance, by former Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, a staunch abortion opponent who has also argued that marriage equality is not a civil right but “a bid for special preferences.”

The amici further contend that the Commission will cause concrete and widespread harm to the communities on whose behalf they advocate. “Religious refusals,” the groups argue, “could be used to deny services — including housing, employment, education, health, and commercial services — to LGBTI individuals.” “The Commission,” the organizations write, “begins from the premise that gains made by marginalized groups represent a ‘proliferation’ of new rights that undermine ‘fundamental’ rights such as freedom of religion. But marginalized groups do not seek special rights; they seek rights to which everyone is entitled: privacy, autonomy, dignity, and equal treatment under the law.”

On Tuesday, concerns about the Commission were also raised by members of Congress. Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter to the Commission expressing grave concern that its “upcoming report will undermine our nation’s ability to lead on critical issues of universal human rights, including reproductive freedom and protections for millions of people globally in the LGBTI community.” Their letter is but the latest in a string of objections raised by members of Congress since the Commission was announced. A group of 20 Senators recently expressed their concern with the Commission in a letter sent on May 20.

The amicus brief was filed on June 9 in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York. Read the full brief here.