Global Justice Center Blog

IHL & Abortion Mentioned During UN Security Council Open Debate

Today, at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Ms. Illwad Elman, a Somali-Canadian social activist  who works at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, used GJC language and mentioned both IHL & abortion in her statement, saying:

“Implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL) in a gender responsive manner is key to enhancing the protection of civilians. Women must have equal access to accountability mechanisms, reparations and non-discriminatory medical care, including safe abortion and post-abortion care for survivors of sexual and gender based violence.”

This is the first time abortion was referenced in connection with the important right to non-discriminatory medical care and IHL at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.

Click here to read the entire statement. 

Violence in Africa: Sexual Assault and Legal Reparations

In 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that 29 countries used rape as a weapon of war. The states accused of using rape must be held responsible for employing intentional and systematic sexual assault to further a military objective, whether it be genocide, demoralization, impregnation, or HIV infection. A recent article, Africa: Sexual Violence in Conflict – What Use Is the Law?, distributed by allAfrica Global Media, illustrates the legal tools available to the survivors of the rape crimes and discusses the difficulties that have been encountered so far in attempts to prosecute rape as a war crime—difficulties such as the complex nature of the resources at the victims’ disposal. To access the available resources, survivors must possess a basic understanding of applicable laws—laws which are convoluted at best and unrecognized or invalid at worst.

For example, rape as a tactic of war is outlawed by the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. However, sexual violence is not specifically designated a ‘grave breach’ of convention, a distinction which, “obliges states to seek out and prosecute, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, anyone suspected of committing such acts, regardless of their nationality or of the country where the crime was committed.”

While rape is not explicitly delineated within the Geneva Conventions as a ‘grave breach’ in and of itself, it is easily definable as a violation of the law prohibiting “torture or inhumane treatment.” The case grows more complicated as the Geneva Conventions pertain to international disputes, rather than civil wars, where most of the crimes are taking place. Further, most ‘non-state actors’ do not act in accordance with the legal bindings applicable to the state and rebel groups are responsible for a large percentage of sexual violence during war.

However, prosecutors might look beyond humanitarian law and employ the definitions of the Rome Statute advocated by the International Criminal Court, which labels rape as a war crime. Further, there are proponents of “soft law” which is not legally binding but nonetheless a useful persuasive device in the courtroom. Margaret Purdasy, legal counselor at the UK Mission in Geneva, offers some hope to the prosecution, saying, “All the strands of law have their limitations and their setbacks, but they are not the same limitations; one helps to plug the gaps in the other.”

The Global Justice Center is at the forefront of this movement, demanding the recognition of rape as an unlawful crime. GJC states, “Rape is the most terrorizing and life-destroying unlawful weapon being used in armed conflict – yet not one rape-using state has ever been held accountable for the use of an unlawful weapon under the laws of war.”

The Global Justice Center espouses that rape be addressed as an unlawful weapon of war and offers a sampling of important results. Should the correct measures be taken, rape states will be held accountable for their action, accurate statistics of women raped in conflict will be created and made available, restitution will be gained by victims seeking legal retribution, and redress will be established for rape survivors who contracted HIV. Also, as stated in Africa: Sexual Violence in Conflict, the international community must also reach beyond legal services when providing aid and work to combat integral social attitudes, such as victim blaming. Further, survivors require emotional and medical resources, such as access to safe abortions, another issue championed by the GJC.

Malala’s Appeal and GJC Support of Education

A recent United Nations report asserted that as many as 70 nations allowed girls to be abused for seeking an education and that attacks upon educated girls are facing an alarming upsurge, with more than 3,600 separate events reported in a single year. In 2012, this particular strain of gender-based violence made its way into the mainstream news and the campaign for girls’ education was given a face and voice in the form of Malala Yousafzai.

Malala championed education rights for girls from a very young age and before she was even a teenager, she wrote a blog for the BBC, detailing her experience with the Taliban. From 2009 through 2012, she rose to prominence as an advocate for women and children, giving interviews and promoting education. In late 2012, she was shot by a gunman on her school bus. The assassination attempt was unsuccessful and sparked global outrage but the Taliban reiterated their threat to execute her and her father. Since the attack, Malala has continued her commitment to education for women and children, for which she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Three days ago, on the 300 day anniversary of the abduction of 300 Nigerian girls, who remain in the custody of Boko Haram, Malala issued a call to action, saying, “I call on people everywhere to join me in demanding urgent action to free these heroic girls…These young women risked everything to get an education that most of us take for granted. I will not forget my sisters. We cannot forget them. We must demand their freedom until they are reunited with the families and back in school, getting the education they so desperately desire.”

If the kidnapped school girls are rescued, the largest impediment to their continued education is pregnancy. If these school girls become pregnant during their captivity, they will be forced to bear the child of their rapist due to a little known US policy called the Helms Amendment that puts an abortion ban on all US foreign aid. Many NGOs in conflict zones, as a result of this legislation, choose to follow the American requirement so that they can continue receiving American money.

Founder of GJC, Janet Benshoof, argued on behalf of the kidnapped girls in her appeal to President Obama on Human Rights Day. Benshoof urged the president to sign an executive order allowing for abortions in conflict zones, where mass, genocidal rapes have taken place. Abortions might forestall the inevitable deterioration of the women’s health, whether it be from pregnancy at to young an age, ostracization, or depression and eventual suicide. GJC supports the mission of the UN and Malala Yousafzai in espousing universal education, but before education can be made available, women and children must be safe in their bodies, and afforded the necessary medical care they deserve.

Rape as a War Crime in South Sudan: Update

The African Union’s Commission of Inquiry has spent over a year investigating the human rights violations in South Sudan, calling for witness testimony and establishing a report to be presented to the Peace and Security Council. However, as recently as January 30th, the report was shelved and remains unpublished. Zainab Bangura, the UN’s envoy for sexual violence in conflict, stated that she’s “not witnessed a situation worse than South Sudan in her 30 years’ experience”(Pillay).

It is probable that the African Union is facing pressure from the leaders in South Sudan and therefore minimizing the issue in favor of other conflicts. For example, the AU has been praised from their attention to Boko Haram, which highlights the ultimate problem with the media surrounding this issue. Several hopeful articles were published before the supposed unveiling of the report, detailing the various ways in which the Commission might go about advocating for prosecution.

Now, multiple organizations are condemning the shelving of the report as a failure to demand accountability on behalf of the survivors, not to mention the betrayal of those who provided testimonials. With enough international pressure and press coverage, that the AU might reopen the report and make meaningful progress towards ending impunity.

February News Update: Making Strides in Burma

In collaboration with Fordham Law School’s Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, GJC developed trainings and materials to empower activists in Burma to harness and use international law to achieve gender equality and to enforce human rights.

In January, a team of lawyers from GJC and the Leitner Center traveled to Burma with suitcases filled with resource books, workbooks, fact sheets, and USB drives loaded with original training material. Our training focused on how activists, including long-term GJC partner the Women’s League of Burma which represents 13 ethnic women’s groups, can use international law to challenge violations of human rights in weapon of war by the military and illegal land confiscations by the military. Participants attended from all over the country, including from the areas where the conflict still rages.

Burma is just the beginning. In the future, this model toolkit can be deployed in other conflict or post-conflict countries such as Iraq or Sudan.

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