Open Civil Society Letter To ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Dear Madam Prosecutor,

As your term as prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) draws to a close, we are writing to thank you for your longstanding service and significant contributions to the ICC, as well as to acknowledge the progress that the Office of the Prosecutor has made during your tenure.

While civil society organizations have identified areas for improvement and will continue to advocate for changes to ensure effective investigations and prosecutions, the office has made considerable advances in a number of situations and preliminary examinations under your leadership.

We especially admire the high degree of independence you have exhibited during your mandate. Your office has opened investigations in the face of immense pressure and politicized opposition. You have done this work at great personal and institutional cost. Developments on the ground in Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Palestine over the last few months have confirmed that accountability in those and other situations is essential, especially when the ICC is the only remaining option for justice. We will call on the next prosecutor to build on this legacy and continue to ensure that the court fulfils its mandate, regardless of the nationality or position of alleged perpetrators.

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The Ongoing Rohingya Genocide and Opportunities for International Justice in Post-Coup Myanmar

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Since the February 1 military coup in Burma, there has been unprecedented widespread support for justice and accountability for military atrocities perpetrated against the people of Burma. This has included supportive statements from leaders within the pro-democracy National Unity Government (NUG). However, questions remain about how these new calls for accountability will complement and support ongoing efforts for international justice, which focus largely on abuses committed against the Rohingya.

During this online event, activists from Burma will give an update from the ground and international justice experts from around the world will share an update of the ongoing international justice processes against Burma at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and in Argentinian courts through a Universal Jurisdiction case. Panellists will also share insight on how the NUG could work for international justice efforts to build more solidarity among all of Burma’s people, including the Rohingya and other major ethnic minorities.

Participants will include:

  • Akila Radhakrishnan (Moderator), President, Global Justice Center.
  • Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.
  • M. Arsalan Suleman, Foley Hoag, legal counsel to The Gambia in its case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice.
  • Erin Rosenberg, International Legal Expert and former Legal Officer at the ICC Trust Fund for Victims.
  • Thinzar Shunlei Yi, Activist, Action Committee for Democracy Development .
  • Ambassador Stephen Rapp, Former Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues and Distinguished Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

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President Biden Repeals ICC Sanctions

NEW YORK — The Biden administration today repealed sanctions against the International Criminal Court. 

The sanctions, levied against Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and other court officials, were issued by President Trump last year following the court’s announcement of an investigation into potential war crimes committed by US military forces in Afghanistan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The Biden administration did the right thing today by ending this reckless assault on a critical and independent judicial institution. Former President Trump’s sanctions were issued to help the US and its close allies evade accountability for their own human rights abuses, but their impact went much further by targeting court officials and their urgent work.

“Repeal is a start, but if the Biden administration wishes to be a true champion of human rights and the rule of law, it must fundamentally shift the US relationship with the court. This must include a genuine effort to ratify the court’s Rome Statute to demonstrate that the US commitment to justice is not merely rhetorical.

“For too long, the US approach to the court has been hypocritical, cementing a belief that it is beyond reproach and above the law. It’s time for the US to take its own human rights obligations seriously and submit itself to the international institutions they champion, thus beginning a robust, healthy engagement with this vital institution.”

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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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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Obligation to Act: International Action and the Fight Against the Coup in Myanmar

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While the country is still reeling from the Burmese military's illegitimate coup on February 1, the international community have launched a slate of new sanctions against military leaders amid public condemnations of the Tatmadaw's use of deadly violence against peaceful protests. Multiple questions about Burma's future remain unanswered, however, particularly as they relate to international support for justice and accountability, ethnic peace and the creation of a true democratic federal union, and the Rohingya genocide crisis.

During this online event, international justice experts from around the world will speak alongside civil society leaders from Burma to share their perspectives on how international and grassroots mobilization around ongoing international justice processes and mechanisms can contribute to a united and multi-ethnic anti-coup movement that ends the Burmese military dictatorship and its violent reign of impunity.

Panelists include:

  • Akila Radhakrishnan (Moderator), President of the Global Justice Center.
  • Tun Khin (President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK)
  • M. Arsalan Suleman (Foley Hoag, legal counsel to The Gambia in its case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice)
  • Naw May Oo (Activist and Advisor to the Karen National Union)
  • Thinzar Shunlei Yi (Activist, Action Committee for Democracy Development)
  • Tomas Quintana (Former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights on Myanmar, lead counsel in the current Universal Jurisdiction case in Argentina)

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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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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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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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International Law and the Plight of the Rohingyas: Insights from International Dispute Settlement

The situation of the Rohingya community in Myanmar and Bangladesh is under intense scrutiny by the international community. Currently, a case is pending before the International Court of Justice concerning Myanmar’s alleged responsibility for genocide, an investigation is on-going at the International Criminal Court and several fact-finding mechanisms are working on gathering evidence of the events. This panel will address whether and how international dispute settlement can assist in solving the numerous, complex issues raised by the events in Rakhine State (Myanmar).

Speakers:

  • Michael A. Becker, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin
  • Miriam Cohen, Professeure Adjointe, University of Montreal
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Centre
  • Yasmin Ullah, Human Rights Activist, Member of the Rohingya community

Non-Governmental Organizations, Faith-Based Groups, Legal Professionals, Experts, and Former Government Officials Unequivocally Oppose U.S. Sanctions Against the International Criminal Court

The undersigned organizations and individuals write to express grave concerns and unequivocally oppose the Trump administration’s use of the sanctions authority of the United States to attack the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent judicial institution dedicated to combatting impunity for the gravest crimes known to humanity.

Many of the undersigned spoke out against steps in this direction taken earlier this year by the U.S. administration. We now issue this further statement because it is uniquely dangerous, extreme, and unprecedented to utilize a mechanism designed to penalize criminals, their aiders, and abettors, against an independent judicial institution. Asset freezes and entry restrictions are tools intended to combat individuals and entities constituting a threat to U.S. national security. By applying these measures to a court that 123 countries – and on two occasions, the United Nations Security Council – have entrusted with providing accountability for atrocity crimes, the United States has brought upon itself the stigma of siding with impunity over justice. The administration’s actions jeopardize the ability of desperate victims to access justice, weaken the credibility underpinning the use of sanction tools in other contexts, and put the United States at odds with its closest allies.

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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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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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FY 21 Healthy Youth Sign on Letter

Dear Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Murray, Chairwoman DeLauro, and Ranking Member Cole:

The undersigned 109 organizations, committed to supporting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people, request your support for fiscal year (FY) 2021 funding that helps to ensure the health of our nation’s youth. We urge you to protect the integrity of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) and increase support for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) school-based HIV and STI prevention efforts. We also encourage the elimination of the abstinence-only “sexual risk avoidance” competitive grant program.

Young people face barriers to accessing health information, education, and services, resulting in persistent inequity and health disparities. While a young person’s health and wellbeing is about more than just the absence of disease, or in the case of sexual health, the absence of HIV and other STIs, unintended pregnancy, or sexual violence, the adolescent data on these points alone, remain largely unchanged and alarming in recent years.

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International Criminal Court Approves Investigation into Afghanistan War Crimes

NEW YORK – The International Criminal Court ruled today that an investigation into war crimes committed during the conflicts in Afghanistan could proceed. This investigation would include any crimes committed by US forces. 

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

"The I.C.C. was established to bring perpetrators of humanity's most serious crimes to justice — no matter where they're from nor how powerful they are. This ruling is a historic victory for the global rule of law. The United States has shown itself entirely unwilling to hold the perpetrators of its torture program to account and has actively tried to impede the court’s investigation. The international community — especially nations who are a party to the ICC — should support this critical step towards justice."

Sign-on letter against State Dept's pregnancy and racial profiling rule

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

We, the undersigned ​XX​ organizations, demand that you rescind the final regulation published Friday, January 24, 2020, in the Federal Register, Visas: Temporary Visas for Business or Pleasure, RIN: 1400-AE96. This regulation is an attack against immigrant women, particularly those of color, and with low incomes. The Department of State (“Department”) justifies these changes to temporary visas in the name of national security, when in reality they are thinly veiled racist and xenophobic attacks on the health, dignity, and well-being of immigrant women of color and their families. The consequences of this regulation will only stoke fear and confusion in immigrant communities who are already subject to the brutal whims of an administration that embraces blatantly discriminatory policies against immigrants and people of color.

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