Compendium: The Obligation of the United Kingdom to Protect the Inalienable Rights of Girls and Women Raped in Armed Conflict to Non-Discriminatory Medical Care Including Access to Abortion: Excerpts of Relevant UK Laws, Policies, & Practices

The duty of the United Kingdom (UK) to respect international law, and in particular international humanitarian law, is firmly rooted in its body of domestic law which implements the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols, and is further supplemented by the laws, regulations, and guidelines of the European Union.

For women raped in armed conflict, abortion is a legal right under international humanitarian law (IHL). Girls and women raped in armed conflict are “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions and are entitled, as the “wounded and sick,” to “receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition.” This care must also be non-discriminatory. To deny a medical service to pregnant women (abortion), while offering everything needed for victims who are male or who aren’t pregnant, is a violation of this requirement of non-discrimination. Therefore, IHL imposes an absolute and affirmative duty to provide the option of abortion to rape victims in humanitarian aid settings; failing to do so violates the Geneva Conventions, its Additional Protocols, and customary international law.

These protections are further supported by international human rights law. The Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee have both declared the denial of abortion to be torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in certain situations. Furthermore, under these treaties, which apply concurrently with humanitarian law during armed conflict, State Parties are required to provide the highest standard of rehabilitative care for torture victims, which includes the provision of complete medical services for injuries resulting from torture. In the case of impregnated female rape victims, such care must include the option of abortion.

This compendium contains excerpts from British legislation, policy, and practice which underscore the UK’s commitments to ensure that its humanitarian aid to girls and women raped in armed conflict affords them their full and inalienable rights to medical care under IHL. This requires: (1) access to a complete range of health and life-saving treatments including abortion, and (2) compliance with the tenet of non-discriminatory humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.

The UK is a global leader in providing humanitarian aid and assistance to the victims of armed conflict. The UK should continue to endeavour to comply fully and faithfully with the rights and protections these victims are accorded under IHL.

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European Parliament Pushes to Separate Aid to War Rape Victims from US Restrictions

European Parliament adopts second resolution urging humanitarian aid to be independent from US restrictions and ensure sexual violence survivors’ access to safe abortion.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on June 13, 2013, on the post-2015 UN Millennium Development Goals in which it specifically urged that the provision of EU humanitarian aid that contributes to the MDGs should be effectively excluded from the restrictions on humanitarian aid imposed by the USA and other donors on abortion. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty rates to promoting gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment, are agreed to by all countries and leading development institutions. However the implementation of these goals, in particular the reduction of maternal mortality is being jeopardized by the US who, despite unsafe abortion being a lead cause for maternal mortality, does not allow the use of humanitarian aid for abortion services in conflict zones.

The EP Resolution’s refers to the US “no-abortion” prohibition on humanitarian aid (section 31) and states:

31. Urges that the provision of EU humanitarian aid that contributes to the attainment of the MDGs and should effectively be excluded from the restrictions on humanitarian aid imposed by the USA or other donors, in particular by ensuring access to abortion for women and girls who are victims of rape in armed conflicts.

The US “no abortion” prohibition compromises all EU country level and European Commission funding, both for the medical treatment of victims of armed conflict and for ensuring enforcement of humanitarian law. EU countries donate to help victims of armed conflict through various ways, including through the UN, to groups like UNFPA or, to directly to groups working on the ground in conflict area. All these funds are commingled with US funds on the ground and thus compromised.

Click here to view the full resolution. 

Irish Abortion Debate Further Ignites Tensions Over Women’s Rights

A recent controversial death in Ireland has sparked worldwide debate regarding abortion. Savita Halappanavar, a young woman suffering from a potentially life-threatening miscarriage, was denied a life-saving abortion due to Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. According to reports by Mr. Halappanavar, Savita was told told that an abortion could not be performed because “Ireland is a Catholic country”. The couple had also been informed that the fetus had no chance of survival, but that an abortion could not take place until the fetal heartbeat had disappeared.  Oddly, Ireland’s constitution itself states that abortion is legal, even if there is a fetal heartbeat, if there is a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the woman. This condition was clearly present in this case, as Ms. Halappanavar was pronounced dead only a week later. The fetus was eventually removed, but by then it was too late, causing Ms. Halappanavar to die from sepsis (infection of the blood). The problematic wording of the constitution’s requirement of “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life clearly allows a great deal of subjectivity and discretionary action on the part of the physician. During the official inquest, hospital physicians have stated that there was nothing that could have been done to save the young woman because there was no substantive risk to her life until a few hours before her death. However, leading Irish obstetrician Dr. Peter Boylan admits that Ms. Halappanavar most likely would have survived had the abortion taken place a day or two before she became ill. It’s understandable why women around the world are outraged about the blatant violations of Halappanavar’s rights- violations that also occur in many countries around the world. How long are we going to allow women to have their health rights violated before a change is made? These unacceptable violations do not occur only in Ireland, but throughout the world, particularly in developing nations. That’s why Global Justice Center’s August 12th campaign is so adamant about bringing justice to women around the world who are being denied their rightful access to abortions. Whether in a conflict zone or a peaceful area, women’s lives should never be put at risk because of a practitioner’s religious or social beliefs. Every woman is entitled to life, and not allowing a woman to have an abortion takes away her fundamental right to live and make decisions for her own health. The denial of abortion rights to women is unjust, and in Ms. Halappanavar’s case, unlawful, and women worldwide must take action to ensure that this is put to an end.

European Women Lawyers' Association

August 12, 2011

Letter sent to President Obama by the European Women Lawyers' Association as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

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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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Open Letter to European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva

An open letter written by the Global Justice Center to European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Kristalina Georgieva urging that EU humanitarian aid for women raped in armed conflict respect their rights to non-discriminatory medical care under international humanitarian law.

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Vice-Presidents of European Parliament Urge President Obama to Lift US Abortion Restrictions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  - March 2, 2012

[NEW YORK, NY] -  The Global Justice Center's August 12th campaign is gaining momentum. The Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament have written a letter to Obama to issue an Executive order to lift all current U.S abortion restrictions that prohibit girls and women raped in armed conflict from terminating their pregnancy.

Vice-Presidents of European Parliament Urge President Obama to Lift US Abortion Restrictions

Two Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, Alexander Alvaro, MEP, and Edward McMillan-Scott, MEP, have written a letter as a part of the GJC's "Augsut 12th Campaign" to Obama to issue an Executive Order to lift all current U.S humanitarian aid restrictions that prohibit girls and women raped in armed conflict from terminating their pregnancy, urging the US to abide by common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

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UK Parliamentarians' Letter to President Obama

Letter sent to President Obama by a group of UK Parliamentarians' as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

The letter was signed by: Tom Brake, MP; Baroness Tonge; Lord Ashdown; Ann Coffey, MP; Baroness Ludford, MEP; Jane Ellison, MP; Heidi Alexander, MP; Andrew George, MP; Madeleine Moon, MP; Lord Tope, CBE; Pauline Latham, MP, OBE; Jo Swinson, MP; Rt. Hon. Dame Joan Ruddock, MP; Sir Menzies Campbell, MP, CBE, QC; Baroness Greengross; Debbie Abrahams, MP; Baroness Kinnock of Holy Head; Baroness Walmsley; Baroness Thornton; Kate Green, MP; Sir Bob Russell, MP; Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer; Lord Lester of Herne Hill; Lord Morgan; Baroness Falkner of Margarvine; Lilian Greenwood, MP; Lord Faulkner of Worcester; Lord Richards; Baroness Coussins; Mike Gapes, MP; Jenny Willmott, MP; Lord Redesdale; Baroness Prosser of Battersea; Luciana Berger, MP; Julian Huppert, MP; Rt. Hon. Lord Steel Aikwood; Rt. Hon. Dr. Denis MacShane, MP; John Hemming, MP; Dame Anne Begg, MP; Lord Judd; Lord Puttnam of Queens Gate; Lyn Brown, MP; and Glenda Jackson, MP.

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New York City Bar Association Letter to President Obama

March 4, 2011

Letter sent to President Obama by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid and that he accept Norway's Universal Periodic Review recommendation on abortion for rape victims.

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