Implications of the Myanmar ICJ and ICC Cases for Non-Rohingya Minorities

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed authored by GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

(Editors Note: This article is the fourth and final piece of a special Just Security forum on the ongoing Gambia v. Myanmar litigation at the International Court of Justice and ways forward.)

As my colleagues Param-Preet Singh and Nadira Kourt laid out in the first two pieces of this forum, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case concerning Myanmar’s genocide of the Rohingya presents opportunities for Myanmar to finally dismantle the root causes of its longstanding persecution of Rohingya people and the international community to live up to its promise of “Never Again.” In this final forum article, I look at what all the recent international attention paid to Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya means for other ethnic minorities that have suffered atrocities at the hands of Myanmar’s military (the Tatmadaw).

In some ways, international attention on the experiences of other ethnic groups in Myanmar is currently at a zenith. The intensifying conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army – an armed group seeking increased autonomy for the multi-ethnic peoples in Rakhine state (referred to by the Arakan Army as “Arakan” state) – and the recent announcement of new military clearance operations by the Tatmadaw in ethnic Rakhine regions, have brought condemnation from American, Australian, British, and Canadian embassies in Myanmar.

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Genocide: China’s reported persecution of Uighurs exposes states’ legal obligations under international conventions

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

For now, the United States government has imposed sanctions on state officials in China and US companies doing business with China, and other countries have been urged to act.

The legal obligations on states to intervene are determined in part by their capacity to influence the perpetrators, notes Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center. She asks, ‘are sanctions a full utilisation of the US’ capacity to intervene?’

Further, Radhakrishnan says ‘states are claiming they can’t act until something is definitely found to be a genocide, but that requires a level of evidence and information that surpasses where legal obligations to act kick in’.

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Myanmar’s Protection Bill falls Short of Addressing Violence against Women

Excerpt of Inter Press Service article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

A legislation that aims to protect women against violence in Myanmar, while long overdue, is raising concern among human rights advocates about its inadequate definition of rape, vague definition for “consent”, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rhetoric.

Myanmar is soon to see the latest version of its Prevention of and Protection from Violence Against Women (PoVAW) introduced in parliament. But the Global Justice Centre (GJC), an international human rights and humanitarian law organisation focusing on advancing gender equality, has pointed out that the legislation falls short of addressing violence against women.

According to GJC, the language used in the law borrows from Myanmar’s 1861 Penal Code and thus perpetuates antiquated understandings of rape, such as; considering rape as violence committed only by men, the definition of “rape” constituting only of vaginal penetration, and no acknowledgement of marital rape.

“The Myanmar government has long shown a lack of commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity for widespread sexual and gender-based violence, a problem that is exacerbated by broader structural barriers with respect to Myanmar’s military justice system, and a lack of robust domestic options for accountability,” the GJC analysis has claimed.

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Myanmar and the ICJ: Ways Forward

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed authored by GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

(Editors Note: This article introduces a special Just Security forum on the ongoing Gambia v. Myanmar litigation at the International Court of Justice and ways forward.)

In August 2017, Myanmar’s military carried out a brutal campaign of murder, rape and other abuses against the country’s Rohingya Muslims. These so-called “clearance operations” forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and constituted a range of international crimes. While the ferocity of this violence may have been new, the commission of acts of oppression and violence against the Rohingya is not. Indeed, as many have pointed out (see e.g. here and here), the Rohingya have been targeted by the government of Myanmar for decades.

For years, Myanmar evaded direct accountability, as the best the international community could muster in the face of these atrocities were condemnations in the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly. However, in November 2019, Gambia filed an application before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging that the violence committed by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

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Pompeo Says Human Rights Policy Must Prioritize Property Rights and Religion

Excerpt of article from New York Times that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

But human rights scholars cautioned that this could set a global precedent for other nations to define human rights on their own terms, undermining diplomatic efforts to stop the persecution of religious minorities in places like China, or the promotion of women’s rights in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“You’re seeing the rise of autocrats across the world,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights organization. “You’re giving a gift to those people, and not only taking away U.S. leadership, but giving them and feeding them arguments they’ve long been making as well.”

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Pompeo says protesters and mainstream media are attacking American way of life

Excerpt of article from Washington Post that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Some human rights groups immediately criticized Pompeo’s remarks and the report.

“There’s a tone-deafness for the moment we’re in,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “This is yet another tool in the arsenal of U.S. attacks on multilateralism. This is about all the other things the Trump administration has done to undermine and decimate the human rights system because they don’t like where it’s going.”

Rob Berschinski, vice president of policy for Human Rights First, said Pompeo is trying to recast American foreign policy in line with his personal religious and political views.

“Secretary Pompeo’s speech today on the Commission on the Unalienable Rights loosely clothed a foray into the culture wars under the seal of the U.S. State Department,” he said. “It should rightfully be seen as a political speech unbecoming of a secretary of state.”

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Q&A: Sexual Violence Survivors and their Access to Care Should not Be Forgotten

Excerpt of article from Inter Press Service that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, said that COVID-19 has been disproportionately affecting women, with higher risks of domestic violence, and difficulty in accessing assistance. 

“All of these risks are amplified in conflict settings, resulting in very real concerns over delayed access to care and legal processes,” she said.  

She said countries must go beyond paper commitments and take concrete steps to end impunity for these crimes, and provide meaningful support to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). 

“This crime is preventable, we just need the political and moral will to make it so,” she said. 

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Rights groups renew concerns over US 'Unalienable Rights' panel

Excerpt of article from Al Jazeera that mentions GJC .

The lawsuit further alleges the commission has been holding "closed-door meetings" that include efforts to "redefine human rights terminology and commitments", in violation of FACA. 

In a joint news release, those groups, Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center, alleged the current panel is "stacked with members who have staked out positions hostile to LGBTQI and reproductive rights", while sidelining "mainstream human rights groups" and career diplomats within the State Department. 

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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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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.”

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Trump to authorize sanctions against ICC members probing possible Afghan war crimes by US personnel

Excerpt of article from USA Today that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

"The ICC’s investigation is only necessary because the U.S. has failed to meaningfully investigate or prosecute its own forces for human rights abuses," said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, a New York-based organization that promotes the enforcement of international human rights laws.

“The court has confirmed that this investigation clearly falls under parameters” of the statute that established the ICC, she said. “The U.S. is not a party to the statute, but Afghanistan is, and the U.S. cannot escape accountability just because it commits crimes in other countries.”

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Trump Order Treats International Prosecutors Like War Criminals

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

Other experts say it’s too soon to tell how the executive order will be carried out, particularly in an administration with a penchant for firing off “shoot first, ask questions later” executive orders that are later watered down or rescinded following further legal scrutiny. “A part of it will be how the U.S. chooses to follow through with this,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, a human rights lawyer and the head of the New York-based advocacy organization Global Justice Center. “There’s a lot of announcements the administration makes, and then there’s only a deep and careful unwinding it actually means and how it could be done afterward.” 

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Myanmar made “no progress” in resolving plight of Rakhine Muslims, Yanghee Lee says

Excerpt of article from Myanmar Times that mentions GJC.

Former special UN Rapporteur Yanghee Lee said Myanmar did not make any progress in improving the plight of the northern Rakhine Muslims.

“Sadly, no progress at all,” she said on May 22 in a webinar organised by the Global Justice Center, ahead of the May 23 deadline for Myanmar to submit a report on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) about measures that were taken to stop alleged genocide of northern Rakhine Muslims.

Lee only concluded her mandate as the Special Rapporteur two weeks ago. 

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US demands removal of sexual health reference in UN's Covid-19 response

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

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, said the letter was “a disgraceful and dangerous attack on essential health services at the worst possible time”.

“No matter what the US government says, abortion is a fundamental human right and reproductive care is always essential, including during a pandemic. At a time when countless lives are at risk, the US has yet again decided to put its efforts into restricting healthcare instead of expanding it.”

She said Guterres should be commended rather than “bullied” by the US administration.

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'Disgraceful': US accused of using coronavirus to promote 'pro-life' agenda in letter telling UN abortion is not 'essential'

Excerpt of article from The Independent that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, called the USAID's demands "a disgraceful and dangerous attack on essential health services at the worst possible time".

"No matter what the US government says, abortion is a fundamental human right and reproductive care is always essential, including during a pandemic," Ms Radhakrishnan said in a statement. "At a time when countless lives are at risk, the US has yet again decided to put its efforts into restricting healthcare instead of expanding it."

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Justice for genocide: Yazidis hopeful as Islamic State trial opens in Germany

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

“Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes fall under this bucket [of universal jurisdiction],” explained Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the New York-based Global Justice Center.

“It’s a recognition that when these serious international crimes happen, they are a concern not just for the country where they occurred, but they are a concern to everybody.”

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First Yazidi Genocide Trial Commences in Germany

Excerpt of Just Security articles that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

As outlined by Sareta Ashraph and Akila Radhakrishnan, sexual violence forms an integral part of how genocide has been committed towards Yazidi women and girls. Yet sexual slavery is often mischaracterized as a recent or modern form of slavery, as highlighted by Patricia Viseur Sellers and Jocelyn Getgen Kestenbaum in their discussion of the Habré trial. Consequently, it is vital in this context to understand the gendered dimensions of slavery and the slave trade, which include the relation of both types of criminal conduct to sexual violence.

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UN secretary-general says violence against women during coronavirus quarantine must stop

Excerpt of CNN articles that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said the call "recognizes how violence and crisis situations exacerbate existing inequalities in society and emphasize the need to center those most impacted in responses."

"However, to date, we have consistently seen that Covid-19 responses have inadequately taken women’s rights and human rights into account. And there’s been a lack of inclusivity in the groups responsible for crisis response and decision-making," she said.

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Abortion is a human right. A pandemic doesn't change that

Excerpt of CNN op-ed co-authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Access to abortion is an essential service and a fundamental human right. Period. The denial of it, including in times of global crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

In the United States, the Trump administration's colossal failure to help keep people healthy and to slow the pandemic-driven implosion of the economy shouldn't come as a surprise to much of the public. He has delayed acknowledging the severity of Covid-19, prematurely hinted at an end to social distancing and over the course of his term in office, attempted to slash funding for the WHO, the CDC, and other preparedness agencies that are tasked with the monitoring of such epidemics. The list goes on and on.

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