Global Justice Center Blog

GJC Participates in Third Annual Women Law Summit at the NYU School of Law, titled, "Women in Conflict: Gender, Violence, and Peacekeeping"

Friday, 20 February, 2015 at 11:30am - 5:15pm

At Vanderbilt Hall, Greenberg Lounge

On February 20th,  NYU School of Law held its third annual  women's law summit which coincided  with  the 15th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325. The Summit sought to educate participants about  women's roles within conflict and their various means of empowerment, especially within  the legal system. The all-female panels were composed of practicing lawyers, doctors, academics, and theorists. GJC founder and president Janet Benshoof gave the keynote address, highlighting the organizations projects, such as a campaign for the prosecution of rape as a prohibited weapon,  and a campaign seeking the provision of abortions for women  in conflict. Further, GJC, who advocates "power, not pity," was referenced several times throughout the following panels, as speakers detailed  the ways in which women  might act in conflict. Akila Radhakrishnan, legal director  of GJC sat on the final panel about  women  and the transformation of the legal space, where she spoke on the opportunity for transforming women's rights in Burma.

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Burma Military Violates International Law

In November, the Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School released a legal memorandum,“War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Eastern Myanmar.” The report was a result of a four-year investigation on the Burma military and examines the conduct of the military during an offensive that cleared and forcibly relocated civilian populations from conflict zones in eastern Burma. Collected evidence demonstrates that the actions of Burma Army personnel during the Offensive constitute crimes under international criminal law: attacking and displacing civilians, murder, torture, and other inhumane acts.

© By Burma Partnership

The Clinic also collected evidence relevant to the war crime of rape. Secondhand accounts of rapes committed by military personnel were recorded. Some interviewees spoke generally of soldiers raping Karen women but provided no specific accounts. Rape is both a war crime and a crime against humanity, according to the Rome Statute. However, it was concluded that more research and analysis are necessary to determine whether these crimes could be included in a criminal case associated with the Offensive.

Rule of law is limited in Burma, and the military enjoys constitutionally-guaranteed impunity for war crimes, including against the use of rape as a weapon of war. Burma’s new Constitution has been fully in place since 2011 and was deliberately designed to preclude democracy by embedding permanent military rule and preventing military officials from being held accountable for their crimes.

GJC calls on the international community to invest in a democratic future for Burma by insisting that the Burmese government dismantle these structural barriers which violate international law and prevent the advancement of true peace and democracy.

“If they had hope, they would speak”

Burma Army soldiers continue to engage in acts of sexual violence on a widespread scale, and women and human rights defenders in ethnic communities face harassment and persecution, tells a new report “If they had hope, they would speak” released by the Women’s League of Burma (WLB). It reveals ongoing sexual violence by government forces against ethnic women in Burma, and presents troubling evidence of intimidation of those seeking justice for these crimes, by highlighting 118 incidences of gang-rape, rape, and attempted sexual assault that have been documented in Burma since 2010, in both ceasefire and non-ceasefire areas. These cases demonstrate the ongoing de facto impunity for human rights abuses enjoyed by Burma military personnel.

© WLB

WLB’s report expresses strong concerns on developments contributing to a culture of impunity, such as increased military presence in ethnic areas, intimidation of civil society organizations and the continued absence of women in peace negotiations. Despite the Burmese government’s public commitment to advance the status of women – including by developing the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (NSPAW) and issuing the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict – few steps have been taken to improve the lives of women in ethnic communities. The absence of concrete and time-bound plans of action has meant that amidst Burma’s ‘transition’, the country’s women continue to be denied their basic human rights.

“The military is sending a clear message that it is willing to use violence and coercion against those brave enough to speak out about human rights abuses”, said Tin Tin Nyo, General Secretary of the WLB. “The Burma Army must be brought under civilian control, and there must be a negotiated settlement to the civil war that will grant ethnic peoples equality under a genuine federal system of government. If these actions are not taken, state-sponsored sexual violence against women of ethnic communities will not stop.”

Over the Line: Sudanese Denial of Collective Rape, and ISIS Pamphlet

Fighting against use of rape as a weapon of war is extremely difficult even when there are clear evidences proving the crimes. The task becomes more difficult when evidence is hidden and the investigation on behalf of the UN is rejected.

In Sudan a joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping mission knows as UNAMID was twice denied permission from Sudanese authorities to investigate rape. “The Sudanese military is deliberately making it hard for its peacekeepers to investigate the claims.”  After Radio Dabanga reported a collective rape of “more than 200 women and girls“, the UNAMID had no access needed for a proper investigation of the situation.  The authorities threaten the local population to avoid publicity of rape crimes.  “None of those interviewed confirmed that any incident of rape took place in Tabit on the day of that media report,” says the official UNAMID report.

However, the leaked internal report shows the investigators concerns that the Sudanese military was preventing witnesses from coming forward. This only proves the failure of Sudanese authorities to treat the conduct of war as a war crime and protect women and girls from becoming rape victims. Sudan has even asked the UN to close its human rights office in Khartoum.

While Sudanese authorities refuse to follow international law in regard to rape, we see ISIS releasing a list of rules on treating females slaves, women and children once they captured by Jihadi warriors. That is how ISIS chooses to respond to the international uproar caused by ISIS kidnapping Yazidi girls and women and turning them into sex slaves. The published pamphlet reveals the horrifying truth of the way ISIS treat their female hostages: not only they see the illegal sexual intercourse with non-Muslim slaves, including young girls, to be a right thing to do, but they also allow to beat them and trade them in.

Rape is a prohibited weapon under the criteria set by the laws of war. It is illegal and inhuman. GJC urges the international community to give a strong response to these outrageous crimes conducted on behalf of Sudanese military, ISIS, and other authorities in war zones and prosecute those that use rape as a tactic of war. The time has come to go beyond the recognition that rape is being used as an illegal weapon/tactic of war – it’s time to start treating it like one.

The African Union’s Commission and Ending Impunity for Sexual Violence in South Sudan

Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Bosnia, and now South Sudan, each possess a history wrought with sexual violence. On January 22nd, The Huffington Post published a piece by Navabethum Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. After a recent trip to South Sudan, she offered her analysis of the human rights violations and was particularly explicit in noting the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, likening the situation to the atrocities in Rwanda during the late 1990s. Zainab Bangura, the UN’s envoy for sexual violence in conflict, described the violence as the worst she had seen in her 30 year career. In current conflict in South Sudan, women are being targeted based on their ethnicity or political ties and children have been raped and killed. Further, it is certain that sexual violence will escalate as long as the crimes remain unprosecuted.

    Pillay cites the African Union’s Commission of inquiry as a means to forestall that escalation and demand accountability. The Commission’s final report is of particular significance, as it is said to detail innumerable human rights violations and possibly includes a list of individuals recommended for trial. It is hoped that the report–and ensuing prosecutions–will act as a deterrent to those committing rape crimes and ultimately assist in a peaceful resolution. Encouragingly, the Commission will present their report at the African Union Summit and advocate for the prosecution of guilty parties. Near the end of her piece, Pillay reiterates the importance of governmental involvement in ending impunity. If the government should oppose the prosecution of the perpetrators or prove incapable of providing a stable justice system, Pillay calls upon the international community for additional assistance in supporting the women who have been assaulted.

    Of the assaults themselves, Pillay delineates rape as a weapon, a barbaric war tactic used to systematically devastate a group of people. The Global Justice Center has been explicit in condemning rape as an illegal method of warfare, though as of yet, places like South Sudan have failed to prosecute as such. Rape violates the parameters of legal warfare that state war tactics must not “cause superfluous injury, unnecessary suffering, or violate ‘principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience,’” yet it is employed more often than other prohibited tactics of war, such as biological weapons and starvation (GJC). Globally, not one state has faced prosecution for the use of sexual violence as weapon. The African Union’s Commission seeks to discipline the individuals responsible for the violence in South Sudan and GJC pursues a parallel global endeavor, demanding the confirmation of rape as a prohibited weapon and the prosecution of the states which continue to carry out sexual violence.