ICC Case Could Make History with Gender Prosecution

Excerpt of Women's Media Center op-ed from GJC Legal Intern Sarah Coniglio.

Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began its presentation of what could be a landmark case for the prosecution of gender-based crimes. Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud (“Al Hassan”) has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, rape, sexual slavery, and gender persecution surrounding Mali’s 2012-2013 internal armed conflict. The ICC has not had a standing conviction for persecution on the basis of gender due to the overturning of the conviction of former Congolese military leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, in 2018.

The Al Hassan case has the potential to shine light on the unique harm perpetrators commit against individuals based on their gender, which enforces patriarchal social norms and increases the potency of their crimes. It could also chart a path forward for international criminal law to define gender.

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Rohingya Symposium: From Rhetoric to Justice–Ensuring a Gender Perspective in Accountability Proceedings for the Rohingya Genocide

Excerpt of Opinio Juris op-ed from GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

This August marks not only the 3rd anniversary of the start of the Rohingya genocide, but also the 6th anniversary of the start of the Yazidi genocide. Beyond starting in the same month, these two genocides share some key features, not the least of which is that both were conducted along highly gendered lines. In the two we see some similar patterns in the way there were carried out, even where they vary significantly in the details; the separation of men and women, the subsequent fast killings of men and boys, and systematic sexual violence against women and girls.

In 2016, in its analysis of the Yazidi genocide, “They Came to Destroy,” the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (“Syria COI”) found that “ISIS fighters systematically rape Yazidi women and girls as young as nine.”

In 2018, in its analysis of the Rohingya genocide, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, found that sexual violence was a “hallmark” of the Myanmar military’s operations against the Rohingya.

And yet, ongoing accountability processes for both genocides risk leaving gendered experiences, including sexual violence, behind.

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Mandatory Birth Control: China Weaponizes Reproductive Health Against Uyghur Women

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed from GJC Legal Intern Shelby Logan.

Women and their reproductive health are at the center of one of the most severe humanitarian crises in recent memory. Yet, while some may have heard of the persecution of China’s Uyghur minority, the gendered campaign of forced birth control, which many experts say indicates a serious risk of genocide, is less understood. It is a clear violation of international law—but what is less clear is the path forward for accountability.

In November 2019, 403 pages of internal documents from China’s ruling Communist Party were leaked to the global community. They detailed how authorities have corralled as many as a million ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs and others into internment camps and prisons over the past three years. Survivors of the camps claim to have experienced extreme conditions, including torture. 

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Inequality before the law

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

In many jurisdictions, the legal definition of rape doesn’t meet international human rights standards. In late 2018, only eight European jurisdictions had consent-based definitions, according to Amnesty International. In Myanmar, the legal definition of rape is a colonial legacy dating back to the 1861 penal code. Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center, asks ‘why, in 2020, are we clinging to the standards of 1861?’

Radhakrishnan asks us to look to existing legal frameworks promoting gender equality for solutions. For example, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women is a two-part framework that bars discrimination but also requires states to pursue measures towards substantive equality.

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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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