Letter to Secretary Hillary Clinton

Letter from the Global Justice Center to Secretary Hillary Clinton, asking for Support for a General Assembly Request to the International Court of Justice for an Advisory Opinion on Burma's Constitution.

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As Aung San Suu Kyi Visits US, International Law Violations in Burma Constitution are Highlighted

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s is in Washington DC today to received the Congressional Gold Medal. She will also be meeting with President Barack Obama. This is a proud moment for the Burmese community and for the Global Justice Center, which has worked tirelessly on democracy issues in Burma.

However, we also recognize that Burma’s transition to democracy is far from complete. A major obstacle continues to be the country’s constitution, which entrenches military influence over Burma’s civilian government. Daw Suu Kyi said herself that amending the constitution must be a top priority, and we agree with her. The Global Justice Center calls for the international community to challenge the constitution as a violation of fundamental international law—including the UN Charter.

Burma has seen substantial change these past few years; a civilian government was formed, political prisoners were released (Suu Kyi herself being one example), and, this April, opposition parties were allowed to take part in the by-elections, carrying 43 out of 44 open parliamentary seats (but continuing to exert little influence overall). However, Burma has yet to fully commit to democracy. The Burmese civilian government still owes its parliamentary majority to the fraudulent elections of 2010, and the current constitution hinders further democratization and gives complete autonomy to the military. This makes it nearly impossible to prosecute Burma’s military rulers, who are guilty of egregious crimes—including the use of systematic rape of ethnic women as a weapon of war, torture, forced relocation and forced labor. All are rampant violations of fundamental international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter. The impunity accorded to the military under the current constitution leaves civilian victims, particularly those in the conflict areas of the Burmese border, virtually without legal protection. Activities of the Myanmar military are also in breach of a set of agreements that govern nuclear development.

The Burmese government and the international community must ensure that Burma is meeting international law requirements. Yet, because the constitution gives the military a “legal vacuum” the government would be legally unable to fulfill these obligations. Thus Burma’s new constitution stands in breach of core international commitments.

The Global Justice Center urges the international community to stand with the people of Burma and challenge the legality of the constitution.

(For an in-depth analysis of the constitution and restraint it puts on the civilian government, read GJC president Janet Benshoof’s report, co-written with the Burma Lawyers Council or see the Global Justice Center Project Page on Burma.)

Letter to the NY Times Editor, Keep Up the Pressure on Myanmar’s Generals

A version of this letter appeared in print on page A30 of the New York edition with the headline: Change in Myanmar.

Janet Benshoof, President of the GJC, responds to an OpEd about Myanmar. She explains in this letter that sanctions are not enough to exact lasting democratic change in Myanmar; the focus should be on the Constitution.

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Fundamental Constitutional Review Needed in Burma

On Sunday, 29 January 2012, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for reforms to the military drafted 2008 Burmese Constitution. The Nobel Laureate’s call highlights the fundamental and systemic obstacle that the constitution represents to democracy in Burma. The Global Justice Center has long noted that the 2008 Constitution not only undermines the prospects of any true democracy but also leads to the perpetuation of some of the world’s most heinous war crimes and human rights violations.

Unlike any other constitution in the world, the Burmese Constitution creates a bifurcated sovereignty. It ensures that the military is constitutionally autonomous from and supreme over the civilian government. Even if he is willing, the President, Thein Sein, cannot enforce any laws against the military. Furthermore; the constitution guarantees the military amnesty for all crimes – including the most heinous such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It also ensures the perpetual dominance of the military by guaranteeing that 25% of the seats in Parliament are reserved solely for the military, while parading itself as a multi-party “democracy”.

This flawed constitution has dire and detrimental consequences. The bifurcation of sovereign power means that Burma cannot enforce or comply with international obligations including the Geneva Conventions, UN Security Council Resolutions and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). To have a military, which is not legally accountable by any standards, obtain nuclear capabilities is a threat to global peace and security. Additionally, the clear lack of accountability, transparency, and legal autonomy of the military perpetuates genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – all of which are punishable under international law. This means that the military’s targeted attacks against the ethnic minority civilians in regions such as the Kachin go un-checked, gross human rights violations are perpetuated and more fundamentally, justice is denied to victims of the armed conflict.

While the recent “democratization efforts” may be welcome, what Burma needs is not just change but radical change. At the most basic level, the 2008 Constitution serves to enshrine the military’s impunity for the worst crimes. If Burma is to achieve democracy, the rule of law and justice, fundamental constitutional review is certainly most needed.

For More Information:

Putting Democracy Out of Reach: How Burma’s New Government Violates the Law of Nations and Threatens Global Peace and Security

Burma’s Nuclear Strategy: How Burma’s Military Has Successfully Hijacked Democracy and Made Control over Burma’s Nuclear Future a Constitutional Right of the Military

Recent Wave of Defecting Diplomats and War Crimes Confessions Brings Burma’s Human Rights Abuses to the Foreground

In the past two weeks, Deputy Chief of Mission Kyaw Win and Soe Aung, the second and fourth-ranking Burmese diplomats at the Burmese Embassy in Washington, have defected and are seeking asylum in the United States. Both diplomats cited the unrelenting abuse of their fellow countrymen by the military junta, sham elections, and fear for the safety of themselves and their families as reasons for their defections.

This recent wave of defections of high-ranking officials is undeniable evidence of the egregious human rights abuses that the Burmese government has been committing for decades.  GJC aggressively advocates for legal action to be taken against the Burmese government in the form of a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Furthermore, the UN Security Council should pass a resolution deeming the Burmese constitution “null and void” under international law for it is a complete breach of international law and poses a threat to international legal accountability as a whole. For more information, see GJC’s legal brief, Burma’s Nuclear Strategy: How Burma’s Military Has successfully Hijacked Democracy and Made Control over Burma’s Nuclear Future a Constitutional Right of the Military.      

Adding to the growing evidence of atrocities, this week, a Burmese refugee in Australia Htoo Htoo Han confessed that he committed war crimes while serving as an undercover military intelligence officer in Burma.  “For so long I have lived like an animal. Now I want to release what I carry inside for 20 years. I want to say sorry to the mothers and fathers of the people I killed.” Han admits to carrying out 24 executions during a 1988 anti-government student uprising and being implicated in over 100 more killings.  However, since Australia is a supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Burma, the decision of the Australian government to report Han’s confession may jeopardize the interest that some Australian corporations have in Burma’s resources, specifically their access to crude oil.

Hopefully, these defections and confessions will increase awareness of the human rights atrocities that are being committed in Burma.  Furthermore, GJC hopes that this information instills a sense of responsibility in the UN and other members of the international community to provide support for take radical action against the overtly oppressive Burmese government and support the creation of a democracy.

Historic Opportunity for Women of South Sudan

GJC provides Critical Expertise to Ensure South Sudan’s New Constitution Embeds Internationally Guaranteed Equality Rights.

The Republic of South Sudan is in the process of drafting a new constitution and democracy advocates and women’s groups are hoping to create a new paradigm of democracy, justice, and equality in Africa that will be adopted when the region declares independence on July 9, 2011.

The Global Justice Center, due to its extensive experience in constitution analyes in Iraq, Kurdistan, Burma, and Northern Ireland, was asked by one of South Sudan’s leading women’s organizations for its expertise on implementing women’s rights in the Draft Transitional Constitution.  Because the GJC is dedicated to forging and enforcing international law grounded on gender equality, the recommendations that were made on the South Sudanese draft constitution naturally reflected these principals, ensuring primacy for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and equality guarantees.  With the ratification of this new constitution, South Sudan has the historic opportunity to remodel their government on a foundation of parity and power that promotes equality and peace.

In particular, the GJC’s analysis carefully scrutinized every article in order to ensure compliance with international treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

GJC believes that the structure and inherent permanence of constitutions to be a critical component in efforts to create justice and equality, by establishing a concrete basis upon which all law and policy will be developed going forward.  Amongst many crucial suggestions, the GJC recommended that:

1.  Equality for women must be explicitly defined to ensure that women have gender parity in positions of power.

2.  The government has an obligation to take permanent steps to ensure that all treaty guarantee laws are implemented.

3.  In accordance with the ICCPR and the African Protocol, which are both applicable to South Sudan as a successor state, there exist quotas for a starting point of 30% women in the legislative and executive branches as well as gender parity in the judiciary branch and new constitutional court.

4.  Adding an article modeled after the South African Constitution explicit on reproductive rights.

The Republic of South Sudan’s new constitution has the ability to address the suffering caused by Sudan’s civil war and mark a crucial turning point in women’s ability to access equality.

The GJC advocates for the enforcement of law over the creation of policy as the strongest avenue to effectively implement human rights.  As GJC President Janet Benshoof states, “The constitution is the most important legal instrument, for it is the single time for women to influence peace and justice as well as place equality over conflict and peace over security.”

GJC in Geneva: Challenging US Policy that Denies Abortions to Victims Raped in Conflict

We are pleased to share with you a crucial step in our work to repeal the illegal U.S. policy that prevents women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict from accessing abortions.

Previously, we wrote about the international legal arguments that we were developing to challenge the abortion restrictions that the United States places on all of its humanitarian aid going to organizations and governments working in conflict countries.

After six months of research and advocacy, Janet, Akila, and Gina from the Global Justice Center are in Geneva raising these legal arguments at the UN Human Rights Council’s Review of the United States. They are meeting with member states of the Human Rights Council to urge them to question the US about these restrictions that effectively deny necessary care to the thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated during war.

Today, we are excited to report that Norway has taken the lead by submitting the following question:

“The Global Justice Center (GJC) filed a shadow report for the universal periodic review of the US expressing concern with regard to US blanket abortion restriction on humanitarian aid and abortion speech restrictions on US rule of law and democracy programs. Does the US have any plans to remove its blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering the medical care given women and girls who are raped and impregnated in situations of armed conflict? Does the US government apply abortion speech restrictions on its rule of law and democracy programs?”

These questions form the very basis of the Human Rights Council’s recommendations. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is the UN body tasked with monitoring the human rights records of the 192 members of the United Nations. Every four years, member states are required to have a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in front of the Human Rights Council, during which each country receives recommendations on how to comply with their human rights obligations.

The US State Department has said they intend to comply with the UNHRC’s recommendations, so Norway’s questions sets the stage for changing U.S. policy in order to better protect and advance the rights of women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict.

Women who have been raped and impregnated in armed conflict in countries such as the Congo and Sudan have the legal right to non-discriminatory medical care under the Geneva Conventions. This includes the right to abortions wherever victims of rape request them.

As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States must change its policy of attaching conditions to its humanitarian aid which prohibit recipients from speaking about abortion.

Click here to read the Global Justice Center’s Call to Action that we are distributing right now to Human Rights Council member states in Geneva.

Making Justice for Burma a Reality

Written by Phyu Phyu Sann, GJC Burma Researcher

I am part of a generation of people from Burma who grew up dreaming of and longing for justice. A generation that continues to be victimized by terrible acts of mass atrocities carried out by our own ruling regime. Extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced labor are prevalent; rape and sexual abuse by the military are rampant; and more than 200,000 civilians were forcibly displaced in the east. In regions where armed conflict is ongoing, villagers have been used as human minesweepers and the forcible conscription of child soldiers is widespread.

More that 2,100 of my fellow country women and men who dedicated their lives to the ideals of justice and democracy are now languishing in remote prison labor camps far from their homes, in atrocious conditions, enduring mental and physical torture and summary executions at the hands of the military.

When I was inside Burma, the widespread repression and atrocities made me feel desperate and hopeless – that we were on our own and no one could help us to end this circle of impunity. As part of the Global Justice Center team working to uphold international commitments to the rule of law and enforce the people of Burma’s rights to criminal accountability, my sense of desperation has changed to one of hope. The international legal tools exist to give the people of Burma justice, and the GJC is working tirelessly to see that this happens.

This fall, the military regime will entrench its power permanently through elections that will trigger the full implementation of a criminal Constitution that codifies the military control over the government. What’s more, this Constitution gives the military amnesty for the crimes it is committing against its people and ensures that no civilian judge can ever hold a member of the military accountable.

This aggressive and deliberate act by the military to enshrine impunity as a “right” is a serious breach of peremptory norms striking at the heart of Burma’s obligations under the Genocide and Geneva Conventions, customary international law, and UN resolutions on women, peace and security and the use of sexual violence in conflict.

The Global Justice Center refuses to let the Burmese junta continuously thwart the international justice system.

We are preparing a draft Security Council Resolution declaring the Burma 2008 Constitution and any elections arising therefrom null and void, as it did with the South African apartheid Constitution in 1984. The pivotal precedent set by UN Security Council Resolution 554 on South Africa provides a framework for addressing analogous constitutions and election processes that entrench repressive regimes. In the upcoming months we are seeking avenues to bring this resolution before the Security Council and asking the global community to respect its commitment to international justice by joining us in calling for a referral of the situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court.

If the elections in Burma take place this fall, the threat that Burma poses to global peace and security will continue to escalate. This is our opportunity to show the world’s dictators that global rule of law will not be flouted.

The dream of justice for the people of Burma – one that I held onto my entire life – must become a reality.

Read a speech by GJC President Janet Benshoof on advances in international law to end impunity in Burma here.

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