House’s Two Major Spending Bills Omit Long-Standing Abortion Restrictions—But Senate Battle Remains

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine article by GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed two major spending bills—a package of federal appropriations authorizations and a foreign aid appropriations bill—which do not include decades-old discriminatory reproductive rights prohibitions that have prevented women, especially women of color, from exercising their basic sexual and reproductive health rights in the U.S. and abroad.

The two bills, passed largely along party lines, will face a difficult path in the evenly-split Senate and stand in stark contrast to the recent rash of state-level abortion restrictions and the increasing possibility that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.

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Myanmar’s Garment Workers Are Fighting for Freedom. It’s Time We Fought with Them.

Excerpt of Women's Media Center op-ed by GJC Legal Intern Courtney Vice.

Since Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup d’état on February 1, garment worker union members across the country have stood at the forefront of protests and marches. Thanks to their activism, there is now a long overdue spotlight on their struggle, both as workers and as allies in the movement against the coup. Yet, they are not only fighting for an end to military dictatorship; they are also fighting for the elimination of systemic harassment and violence that has plagued their lives long before the coup.

Myanmar’s antiquated labor system has created a breeding ground for this abuse. International sanctions were dropped in 2016 as Myanmar moved toward democracy and started to set its own labor standards. After the removal of these sanctions, the garment industry boomed. Western brands seeking cheap labor flocked to the country, setting up numerous factories. In 2018, the garment industry accounted for 31 percent of all of Myanmar’s exports.

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The UN Leader Is Sworn In (Again); Myanmar’s Downhill Slide; the US Envoy’s Rising Star

Excerpt of Pass Blue that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

The UN General Assembly passed its first resolution addressing the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar, with 119 in favor, 1 against (Belarus) and 36 abstentions. This resolution was voted on the same day the Security Council held a closed meeting on the country’s situation, revealing little about what occurred in the session and still not producing a resolution on the matter.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, said, in part, “The bright sides of the General Assembly’s resolution, including the call on all nations to prevent arms flows into Myanmar, are in stark contrast to the Security Council’s failure to take decisive action.”

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How US Abortion Politics Distorts Women’s Lives in Conflict Zones

Excerpt of New York Review of Books that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

According to Akila Radhakrishnan, a human rights lawyer and president of the Global Justice Center, international humanitarian law supersedes national abortion laws: doctors in humanitarian settings have an obligation to provide care regardless. This is analogous, she argued, to the doctor’s duty to provide care to any person injured in a conflict even if the laws of country they are working in forbid the provision of care to people affiliated with so-designated terrorist organizations. The International Committee of the Red Cross also has guidelines that tell aid workers that in emergencies, international humanitarian law takes precedence over domestic rules.

“It’s unclear why [abortion would be different],” said Radhakrishnan. “We seem reluctant to make these connections when it comes to women’s bodies…. the denial of abortion, certainly to rape victims, has also been found to be torture. But you don’t see that same kind of outcry from a broad constituency when abortion services are denied.”

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Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: A Crisis Born from Impunity

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

In his first speech since illegally attempting a coup d’etat, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing told the people of Myanmar that, “no one is above the law.” He went on, “no one or no organization is above the national interest in state-building and nation-building.” But in reality, Min Aung Hlaing and indeed all of the military (Tatmadaw) are very much above the law in Myanmar.

Of the coup’s many potential causes, perhaps the most overt is that military leadership thought they could get away with it. The military’s constitutional insulation from civilian oversight and control, the failure thus far to hold them accountable for human rights abuses and international crimes, and even periodic cheerleading from the international community for a “democratic transition” emboldened the military into thinking that subverting the will of the people could be done without major consequence. To quote the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, “This crisis was born of impunity.”

After all, the military has been getting away with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, so why not a coup?

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Reversing the Coup is No Solution for Myanmar

Excerpt of The Diplomat op-ed authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

Almost as soon as news spread of the Myanmar military’s brazen coup on February 1, we began hearing calls for a “reversal” of the coup. Now, the international community’s efforts have focused on restoring the pre-coup status quo, as evidenced by the recent (and failed) ASEAN emergency summit.

These proposals and initiatives ignore the persistent demands from protestors and ethnic groups for a radical and fundamental shift in Myanmar. Perhaps most importantly, they fail to acknowledge that the rapidly deteriorating situation in Myanmar cannot be resolved with a return to the precarious pre-coup balance of power because it’s precisely this unsustainable framework that led to the coup in the first place.

Without a recognition of the need for a complete restructuring of the underlying political and legal system so that it grants ethnic groups a meaningful role and assures justice for the military’s past and present crimes, history will keep repeating itself and the people of Myanmar will continue to suffer.

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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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Russia, the Current Big Spoiler in Advancing Global Gender Rights

Excerpt of Pass Blue article that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

At issue is not only violence — rape and other forms of sexual assault — but also a revival of attempts by Russia, China and their allies to downgrade human rights, reproductive and otherwise, and to push those topics out of the Council’s purview into economic and social branches of the UN, where they can fall into an abyss.

Grant Shubin is a human-rights lawyer who is the legal director of the Global Justice Center, a civil society organization based in New York. He is dubious about American leadership in the long term.

“Throughout the Trump years,” he said in an interview with PassBlue, “it was proven that the international human rights movement and the international human rights system do not rely on the United States to keep functioning.”

In government terms, he added, “The US is just not a functioning model,” marked as it is by making the enjoyment of people’s human rights “conditioned on the whipsaw nature of American foreign policy and of American politics.”

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Biden Plans to Repeal Trump-Era Sanctions on ICC

Excerpt of Foreign Policy article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

After Trump, “they’ve done a reasonable job but they’ve also had a pretty low bar to clear,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Radhakrishnan said even if Biden lifts the sanctions, the fact that the United States imposed sanctions in the first place could still cause lasting damage to Washington’s reputation on global human rights.

“What it shows is that the U.S. is willing to allow things like self-interest to get in the way of independent judicial institutions when it finds them inconvenient for its own policies,” she said. “That, considering the things we say we stand for and advocate for worldwide, is deeply problematic.”

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Myanmar’s Coup Is Devastating for Women

Excerpt of Foreign Policy op-ed by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

The Myanmar military’s forceful takeover of the civilian government on Feb. 1, and its deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters who have marched in the streets ever since, are a dangerous setback for democracy and the rule of law in the country. But they’re especially devastating for women.

The coup, which ousted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, not only threatens to reverse the progress made over the past decade to ensure that women in Myanmar have more opportunities, power, and influence in society but also places an unaccountable military with a history of gender-based violence in control of every aspect of government. Beyond the direct threat this poses to women’s physical safety, this rule—if left unchecked—will reinvigorate Myanmar’s long history of patriarchal oppression.

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International rule of law: historic firsts in ICC’s conviction of Dominic Ongwen

Excerpt of International Bar Association article that quotes GJC Legal Advisor Danielle Hites.

Danielle Hites is a legal advisor at the Global Justice Center and previously worked at the Coalition for the ICC. She was pleased the Court foregrounded victims and did not just charge sexualised and gendered crimes under the catch-all category of sexual violence.

‘There were also charges of enslavement in general, torture and outrage upon personal dignity. It was an important distinction’, she says. ‘They’re recognising that sexual and gender-based violence can’t just be siloed into one category, there are gendered elements to all of these crimes and they can be committed in gendered ways and often are’.

But recognising the gendered perpetration of crimes in court is very difficult – partially, Hites says, because it is a more specific kind of harm, but also because the legal frameworks for convictions were created to make it more difficult.

Reaching this conviction for forced pregnancy was particularly challenging, as the Court noted in its discussion, because of the history of its incorporation into the Rome Statute. Hites says, ‘there were so many countries that either didn’t want forced pregnancy included in the Statute because they were concerned that their own national laws on reproductive autonomy would be implicated, or they felt it was already covered by unlawful detention or rape.’

Because of the resulting narrow definition and ‘ridiculous’ high standards for conviction of the crime, Hites says, there are ‘so many barriers to access to justice’.

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Reset or revolution: Biden’s first 100 days

Excerpt of International Bar Association article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Another cause for concern is gender inequality. Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center, says that on some issues Biden has said the right things and taken the right initial steps, but on abortion the administration has been ‘profoundly disappointing’.

Radhakrishnan notes that the Biden administration has shown its comfort and ability to stand up against white supremacy, and to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights, at least in rhetoric and initial gestures. She asks, ‘so when it comes to abortion, why are we seeing them not utilise the terminology of abortion? Why have we seen nothing on broader commitments beyond repealing the gag rule?’

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UN condemns Myanmar violence as US sanctions general’s children

Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

While welcoming the Security Council statement, rights groups monitoring the situation in Myanmar said more action was needed.

“It is a welcome development to see the Council finally take action on the situation in Myanmar,” said Grant Shubin. Legal Director at the Global Justice Center in New York. “But let’s be clear – this is the bare minimum. It must be treated as a starting point. Strong condemnations and calls for adherence to human rights are important, but the people of Myanmar aren’t asking the international community for statements. They are asking for concrete action to stop the military’s violent assault on democracy.”

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Biden faces calls to lift Trump's controversial ICC sanctions

Excerpt of Al-Monitor article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Biden has so far rejoined the World Health Organization, reentered the Paris Agreement on climate change and announced it would “reengage” with the UN Human Rights Council before seeking full membership later this year. In a Wednesday address outlining the Biden administration’s foreign policy strategy, Blinken committed the United States to leading with diplomacy.

“Issuing sanctions against an independent prosecutor elected through the multilateral system isn't exactly a diplomatic maneuver,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the New York-based Global Justice Center. “While the Biden administration may disagree with some of the decisions that are being made by the prosecutor on the court, it’s not in line with their own professed values around human rights, around accountability, to take measures against an independent prosecutor."

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Myanmar's UN ambassador defies military to plead for immediate global action to overturn coup

Excerpt of CNN article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

The world should applaud the bravery of Representative Kyaw Moe Tun for delivering such a powerful statement on behalf of the people of Myanmar, not the illegitimate military junta," Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said in a statement Friday.

"The international community must reward such courage by taking up his call for immediate, decisive action to hold the military accountable."

Myanmar descended into unrest when the coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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The International Criminal Court Still Has Work to Do on Gender-Based Crimes

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed from GJC Staff Attorney Danielle Hites.

The International Criminal Court recently convicted Dominic Ongwen, a former commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Notably, this was both the first conviction for forced pregnancy in the court’s history and only the second standing conviction for any sexual and gender-based crimes. While the case establishes a roadmap for the incoming prosecutor of the court to effectively charge and prosecute sexual and gender-based crimes, it also reinforces the unduly burdensome standards applied to reproductive violence.

Ongwen’s case involves the systemic abduction of girls and young women in Northern Uganda, who were awarded like chattel to LRA soldiers. In addition to forced pregnancy, the court charged Ongwen with rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, enslavement, torture and outrages on personal dignity. Critically, it charged forced pregnancy as a crime against humanity and rape as a war crime.

In the nearly 20 years since the International Criminal Court was established, violence targeting individuals for their perceived responsibility for reproduction—typically cisgender women and girls—has been an integral tool in nearly every mass atrocity. The absence of charges, prosecutions, and convictions for these gender-based crimes up until this point demonstrates the need for greater gender expertise at all stages of cases.

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What Myanmar's coup means for the future of Rohingya Muslims

Excerpt of The New Arab article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

For now, UN-backed efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar have stalled, with rights groups forewarning an increased danger for them.

"A necessary condition for safe and voluntary return has been holding the military accountable," says Akila Radhakrishnan, president of international human rights organisation Global Justice Center.

"Senior General Min Aung Hlaing - one of the main architects of the genocide against the Rohingya - is now in power, so I think it's really hard to imagine how there can be any safe repatriation to Myanmar. A risk of atrocities is certainly heightened."

Radhakrishnan says the lack of accountability of the military throughout more than 50 years of rule is to blame for the fragility of the country's democracy.

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Myanmar coup: How will the military takeover affect Rohingya genocide trial?

Excerpt of The Independent article that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

While experts believe the coup d’état will have little effect on the outcome of the trial itself, it could significantly change how Myanmar responds to proceedings at the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Netherlands.

“From the court’s perspective, nothing changes,” Grant Shubin, legal director at the Global Justice Center, told The Independent. But he said the coup could change how the military government defends itself against the charge of genocide and affect how it is represented in The Hague.

Myanmar is accused of committing widespread and systematic atrocities against the Rohingya during a “clearance” campaign launched in August 2017, which thousands were killed and raped and more than 730,000 forced to flee to the world’s largest refugee camp across the border in Bangladesh.

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British Human Rights Lawyer to Be Next ICC Chief Prosecutor

Excerpt of Voice of America article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

The court was established in 1998 and began hearing cases in 2002, after 60 countries had ratified the Rome Statute. Today, 123 nations are members.

“We welcome the election of Karim Khan as the next ICC prosecutor and look forward to working with him to deliver justice to victims of international crimes, including survivors of sexual and gender-based violence,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “Prosecutor Bensouda has taken important steps to center a gender perspective and approach to the work of the prosecutor’s office, and we hope that Prosecutor Khan will continue to build on this legacy.”

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