UN Secretary-General Releases Report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

NEW YORK — United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres released a report this week on sexual violence in conflict. It is the 11th report on the issue since the creation of the secretary-general’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2010.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The secretary-general’s report should be commended for clear progress it makes in several areas, including recognizing the intersecting identities of survivors, the need to move from political commitments to actual compliance, and the focus on a rights-based survivor centered approach. Still, we need to see stronger commitments to ensure sexual and reproductive health for survivors.

“We’re a year out from a Security Council resolution thatcalled for a survivor-centered approach to conflict-related sexual violence and nevertheless are witnessing unprecedented attacks on women's bodily autonomy. The secretary-general could have made it unequivocally clear, like he has in multiple reports in the past, that we must fund and support comprehensive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive care, including abortion services and emergency contraception.”

Notably, the secretary-general’s report again included Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, in its annex of parties responsible for conflict-related sexual violence.

“We should note the report’s inclusion of the Tatmadaw is directly contrary to what Myanmar’s internal investigation, the ICOE, found. This is another reminder that the ICOE was not a credible investigative body and did not produce a credible report. Domestic avenues for real accountability in Myanmar are non-existent.”

Open Letter to the Secretary General: Annual Children in Armed Conflict Report

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

As nongovernmental organizations working to alleviate humanitarian suffering and protect human rights, we strongly support United Nations Security Council Resolution 1612 (2005) and subsequent resolutions on children and armed conflict, as concrete tools for improving the protection of children in war.

We are, therefore, deeply disappointed and troubled by your new report on children and armed conflict (A/74/845-S/2020/525), and in particular, the significant disparities between the evidence presented in the report and the parties listed in its annexes for committing grave violations against children. We are writing to urge you to reconsider your decisions to de-list the Saudi-led coalition for killing and maiming children in Yemen, and the Tatmadaw for recruiting and using children in Myanmar. We also urge you to take steps to ensure that going forward, the annexes accurately and consistently reflect the evidence collected and verified by the UN’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM), in line with existing criteria. We have provided evidence of other concerning disparities between the annual report and its annexes in the attached annex.

Download the Full Letter 

United Nations Security Council Elects New Members

NEW YORK — The United Nations Security Council held elections yesterday for five non-permanent seats on the council. Mexico, India, Ireland, Kenya, and Norway were elected for two-year terms.

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

“We congratulate the new members on their election today and look forward to working with them on one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: gender inequality. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325, which established the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. Yet, despite advances, there is still an urgent need for progress on the agenda’s goals, especially relating to gender parity in power, prevention of sexual violence in conflict, and access to sexual and reproductive health services.

“During a global pandemic that is dangerously exacerbating gender inequities all over the world, we need real commitments to full implementation of the agenda. Self-congratulatory statements and compromised resolutions simply will not do. For meaningful advancement on the agenda, we need bold action when the health and rights of all women, girls, and gender-non-conforming people are under attack.”

USAID Chief Demands Abortion be Removed from UN COVID-19 Response Plan

NEW YORK — Acting Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), John Barsa, sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres yesterday requesting references to sexual and reproductive health be removed from the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan to fight COVID-19.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

“This is 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.

“Administrator Barsa’s attack on abortion care during COVID-19 is an extension of the longtime US strategy to hold millions of dollars in lifesaving global aid hostage to serve its extreme anti-abortion agenda. Policies like the Global Gag Rule and the Helms Amendment that restrict funding to abortion services have devastated global health for decades. Now, they’re opportunistically using a pandemic to further their efforts.

“UN Secretary-General Guterres should be commended for recognizing the importance of reproductive rights in COVID-19 response plans. Instead, he’s being bullied by a US administration hellbent on decimating reproductive health and bodily autonomy at all costs.”

United Nations Secretary-General Releases Policy Brief on Human Rights & COVID-19

NEW YORK – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres released a policy brief today on human rights and COVID-19.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

“The secretary-general’s policy brief on human rights in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is an important reminder of why and how human rights need to be at the center of not only immediate government responses to this crisis, but also the rebuilding process after the pandemic. Around the world, we have seen governments ignore fundamental rights in their COVID-19 responses. In some cases, states use it as a pretext to restrict and violate human rights.”

“Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the context of gender. As rates of gender-based violence around the world have spiked during the pandemic, countries have shown themselves either unprepared to provide support services or have completely failed to take this violence into account in their responses. Countries like the United States have also exploited the pandemic to restrict access to abortion services. An effort centered on human rights, as called for by the secretary-general, must include women in the design of responses and be responsive to their specific needs, such as sexual and reproductive rights.”

“It’s imperative that states take meaningful action to incorporate human rights in their responses, and where they fail, they must be held accountable.”
 

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.

Read the article

Jacob Blaustein Institute Panel on UN Secretary-General Prevention Agenda

GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan spoke at this event hosted by the  Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights .

Panelists:
Mr. Volker Türk, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination 
Mr. Ben Majekodunmi, Chief of Equality, Development and Rights Section, OHCHR
Ms. Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center

Opening remarks by Ms. Danica Damplo, Universal Rights Group NYC

 

UN Secretary-General Delivers Call to Action on Human Rights

NEW YORK – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a call to action today on human rights in an address to the Human Rights Council.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

"The Secretary-General’s call to action is a welcome effort to re-center human rights into the work of the United Nations. Particularly important is its specific area of focus on gender equality and equal rights for women. Still, it is equally important that gender equality is integral to all focus areas as a cross-cutting issue.

“With the UN’s recent failure to adequately respond to the serious violations against the Rohingya in Myanmar in mind — as documented in the UN’s own internal report by Gert Rosenthal — it is essential that this call to action translates to meaningful action. It’s insufficient for the UN to pay mere lip service to the concept of human rights. Rather, the call to action should be used to fundamentally shift the UN’s culture and ensure that all parts of the system work to promote, not suppress, human rights.”

Letter to UN Security Council members regarding Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry and the Provisional Measures ordered by the International Court of Justice

Your Excellency,

We are writing to you in light of the recently published summary of the final report of Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE), which was issued the same week that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to take immediate action to prevent genocide against the country’s persecuted Rohingya minority. In particular, we would like to raise grave concerns regarding the ICOE’s: (1) independence and impartiality; (2) methodology; and (3) flaws in narrative and findings.

The ICOE’s independence and impartiality have been seriously undermined by its reliance on the Office of the President of Myanmar for financial and technical support, as well as by the composition of the Commission itself, which includes at least one official directly implicated in the bulldozing of Rohingya villages damaged during the 2017 crisis in Rakhine State. The executive summary of the ICOE’s report also provides no information as to what sources and materials were relied upon beyond individual interviews, nor how the ICOE corroborated and verified this information, making it impossible to assess the quality of their methodology. Crucially, the ICOE did not interview a single Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, regarding the circumstances that resulted in over 700,000 people fleeing the country. Finally, there are serious flaws and misrepresentations in the ICOE’s narrative of the crisis in Rakhine State, including disturbing inaccuracies and omissions in relation to mass rape and widespread sexual violence directed at Rohingya women and girls during the military’s so-called “clearance operations.”

Download the Full Letter 

Iraq: Submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

I. Introduction

1. In advance of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s (Committee) forthcoming review of Iraq, it is critical that the Committee pay particular attention to the need for fundamental reform of Iraq’s criminal legal system in order to achieve justice for Daesh’s victims, and more broadly for the women and girls of Iraq. As currently codified, Iraq’s criminal laws do not punish the most egregious aspects of Daesh’s sexual and gender-based violence. If prosecuted under these laws, basic features of Daesh’s crimes will go unpunished, such as rape with objects, forced marriage, and gender-motivated torture, as well as the international atrocity crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Download the Full Submission

United States: Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review

Summary

During the United States’ (“US”) second-cycle Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”), multiple states made recommendations concerning US abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, including the Helms Amendment. The US has failed to take any action on these recommendations; in fact, in 2017 the Trump administration further entrenched and expanded the scope of these policies with the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule (or “GGR,” officially termed “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance”). It should be noted that when the GGR is in effect its repeal tends to be the sole focus of advocates and policymakers; however, it is important to highlight that the long-standing pernicious statutory restrictions, including the Helms Amendment, enable the GGR, cause their own unique harms, as well as compound those of the GGR, and their repeal must also be the subject of attention. This submission highlights continuing concerns over these US policies which impose blanket prohibitions on abortion services and speech, in violation of US obligations under international humanitarian law, international human rights law, customary international law, and UN Security Council Resolutions.

Download the Full Submission

Beijing+25: Push Back Against the Pushback on Women’s Rights

By Maryna Tkachenko

Next year, the international community will mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women. Back in 1995, the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action was celebrated as a promising commitment to gender equality, development, and peace. As Hillary Clinton declared that “human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all,” the world witnessed a turning point for the global agenda on the advancement of women. A quarter of a century later, the fight to empower all women and girls and achieve gender parity is far from over. In the midst of growing backlash against women’s equality, shaping the Beijing+25 agenda must be a priority.

Leading up to the Beijing+25 conferences in 2020—which will be hosted in Mexico City and Paris—we must focus on the key issues surrounding women’s rights. Access to sexual and reproductive health rights around the world must be at forefront of the conversation,  in addition to fighting the persistence of gender discrimination, sexual violence, and oppression. Next year’s agenda cannot ignore the Global Gag Rule, abortion services for women and girls raped in war, and women’s right to be free from gender-based violence and degrading treatment. None of this can be done without implementing a feminist approach to humanitarian aid.

Much More Than Language: How the US Denied Survivors of Rape in Conflict Lifesaving Care

Excerpt of Women Under Siege op-ed by GJC Deputy Legal Director Grant Shubin.  

On Wednesday, April 23, 2019, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2467 during the Council’s annual Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. .

After months of German-led negotiations, passage of the Resolution ultimately came down to sexual and reproductive health (SRH)—specifically, whether the U.S. would veto its inclusion in the final text.

The U.S. justified its position by claiming that SRH is a euphemism for abortion services. Not only is this not true—SRH includes, among other things, contraception, safe abortion services, HIV prevention, and prenatal healthcare—but even if it were, abortion services for survivors of sexual violence save lives.

Unsafe abortion causes the deaths of 47,000 people each year and leaves another 5 million with some form of permanent or temporary disability. They may suffer complications, including hemorrhage, infection, perforation of the uterus, and damage to the genital tract or internal organs. In fact, the consequences of denying abortion services have been found to be so severe that it can amount to torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment.

The international community cannot become accustomed or complacent to the Trump administration’s use of domestic politics to hold international rights hostage. Because it is more than just words that are given up last minute on the floor of the Security Council—it’s women’s lives.

Read the Full Op-Ed

UN Security Council Adopts Resolution 2467

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 23, 2019

[NEW YORK, NY] – Today, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2467 on Women, Peace and Security. Although the resolution purports to address the needs of victims of sexual violence in conflict, it contains no direct references to reproductive health—a key component of necessary and comprehensive medical care. This last-minute compromise was made to avoid a certain veto by the United States government.

"The Prosecutors" Screening at the United Nations

From April 25, 2019 18:15 until 20:00

At United Nations Headquarters, New York City, CR11

Speakers:

  • H.E. Ms. H. Elizabeth Thompson, Permanent Representative of Barbados to the United Nations
  • Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
  • Karim Khan QC, Special Adviser and Head of UN Investigative Team to promote accountability for crimes committed by
  • Susana SáCouto, Director, War Crimes Research Office, American University Washington College of Law
  • Leslie Thomas, Director and Producer

Overview:

The Prosecutors is a documentary that tells the story of three dedicated lawyers who fight to ensure that sexual violence in conflict is not met with impunity. Filmed over five years on three continents, it takes viewers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Bosnia and Herzegovina to Colombia on the long journey towards justice.

The Global Justice Center is proud to co-sponsor this event alongside the Permanent Missions of the United Kingdom, Colombia, Canada, Chile and Costa Rica to the UN and Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. Join us for a 30-minute screening of The Prosecutors, followed by a panel about prosecuting sexual violence in conflict. 

Iraq: Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review

Submission to the UN Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review – 34th Session

Iraq

I. Introduction

  1. In advance of the Human Rights Council’s forthcoming review of Iraq, it is critical that the Council pay particular attention to the need for fundamental reform of Iraq’s legal system in order to achieve justice for Daesh’s victims, and more broadly for the people of Iraq. As currently codified, Iraq’s criminal laws do not punish the most egregious aspects of Daesh’s sexual and gender-based violence. If prosecuted under these laws, basic features of Daesh’s crimes will go unpunished, such as rape with objects, forced marriage, and gender-motivated torture, as well as the international atrocity crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
  2. In the last Universal Periodic Review cycle for Iraq, multiple recommendations were made and accepted by the country with respect to ensuring national legislation was fully in line with international standards, combatting discrimination against women in law and in practice, and guaranteeing respect for international humanitarian law and human rights. Iraq has failed to take meaningful action on these recommendations.
  3. This submission highlights a number of concerns over Iraq’s criminal laws as violations of Iraq’s obligations under the treaty bodies to which it is a party – including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the Geneva Conventions.

Download the Full Submission

CSW Side Event: Working Towards Greater Implementation of 1325 – Models of Best Practice States Parties and Civil Society

From March 11, 2019 10:30 until 12:00

At New York City Baha'i Center, 866 UN Plaza

Speakers:

  • Tia Bown, NAWO YWA
  • Grant Shubin, Deputy Legal Director Global Justice Center
  • WILPF activists from Cameroon and Niger
  • Rugya Muttawa, Founder Hope Organisation Libya

Overview:

UNSRC 1325 was passed and ratified in 2000, more than 18 years later and with numerous related resolutions since, there is still a way to go to ensure the full implementation of 1325.  Human Rights violations in conflict zones are well documented and much of the vision of 1325 remains unrealized.

Young women are often subject to double marginalization – as women, and as young people. In many societies and families, they are the last to eat, to speak, to receive an education. They do not have a voice, and only speak when spoken to. With little or no education or training, young women and girls are relegated to caretaking, cooking, childbearing, collecting firewood and fetching water – the unpaid labour, which is often not regarded as important by the society, and does not provide the women with financial means of their own. Conflict aggravates this situation. We will therefore have a voice of a young woman from the NAWO Young Women’s Alliance WPS network.

Civil society was active in the creation of 1325 and has remained committed and active since in its implementation despite lack of resources.  There are numerous examples from civil society from which we can learn to increase implementation elsewhere in addition to understanding better obstacles and challenges.  Representatives from civil society working at policy level and on the ground will share perspectives.

States Parties, have to varying degrees, supported and implemented 1325. Hearing from them their view of success and their learning in implementation, will take forward the discourse on this important issue.

The event will provide time for discussion to learn from the expertise in the room, especially in preparation for the 20th anniversary next year.

Brain Trust: Legal Limits to the Use of the Veto

From March 8, 2019 9:00 until 17:00

At Foley Hoag, LLC

Question at Issue:Are there legal limits to the use of the veto by the Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council blocking action in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes? Or is the veto in such circumstances a carte blanchethat can be utilized at the complete discretion of the permanent members?

Proposition:There arelegal limits to the use of the veto power in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Three arguments support this conclusion:

  1. The veto power derives from the UN Charter, which is subsidiary to jus cogensnorms. Thus, a veto that violates jus cogensnorms, or permits the continued violation of jus cogensnorms, would be illegal or ultra vires. The Charter (and veto power) must be read in a way that is consistent with jus cogens.
  2. The veto power derives from the UN Charter, which states in Article 24(2) that the Security Council “[in] discharging [its] duties” “shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.” A veto in the face of a draft resolution aimed at curtailing or alleviating the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes does not accord with the Charter’s purposes and principles.
  3. A permanent member of the Security Council that utilizes the veto power also has other treaty obligations, such as those under the Genocide Convention, which contains an obligation to “prevent” genocide. A Permanent Member’s use of the veto that would enable genocide, or allow its continued commission, would violate that state’s legal obligation to “prevent” genocide. A similar argument can be made as to allowing the perpetration of at least certain war crimes, such as “grave breaches” and violations of Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. (Given that under Article 103 of the Charter, the Charter trumps inconsistent treaty obligations, this argument may only apply where treaty obligations also embody jus cogensnorms or accord with the Charter’s purposes and principles.) Alternatively, these treaties and the veto power could (and should) be read consistently, so that there is no conflict, making article 103 inapplicable.

Goal of Project:To ensure that the UN Security Council is able to act in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity and/or war crimes; therefore, to have the members of the General Assembly request an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ): Are there legal limits to the use of the veto power in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes?

Initial Goal of Initiative:To form a group of NGOs and States who support this initiative and would be willing to work to convince the General Assembly to make this request of the ICJ.

Alternative Concept:To put some of these legal concepts directly into a GA resolution that notes the legal obligations related to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and calls for veto restraint (and not ask for an Advisory Opinion).

    —Professor Jennifer Trahan, NYU Center for Global Affairs, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Supporting Individuals:

  • Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs
  • Richard Goldstone, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia & the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,
  • Navanethem (“Navi”) Pillay, former High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Andras Vamos-Goldman, co-founder & former Executive Director, Justice Rapid Response
  • David M. Crane, former Chief Prosecutor, Special Court for Sierra Leone
  • Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert, formerly International Court of Justice (ad hoc), International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and International Criminal Court; presently Kosovo Specialist Chambers (signing in a personal capacity)

Supporting NGOs:

  • The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  • The International Center for Transitional Justice
  • The World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
  • Parliamentarians for Global Action
  • Open Society Justice Initiative
  • Global Justice Center
  • Syrian Justice and Accountability Center
  • Moroccan National Coalition for the International Criminal Court
  • Lawyers for Justice in Libya
  • Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice

 

Letter to the CEDAW Committee: Supplementary information to Myanmar’s Report on an exceptional basis, scheduled for review by the CEDAW Committee at its 72nd Session

Dear Committee Members,

This letter supplements and responds to particularly concerning sections of the 6 February 2019 Exceptional Report submitted by Myanmar, which is scheduled for review by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“Committee”) on February 22, 2019 during its 72nd Session.

It is the view of the undersigned organizations that Myanmar’s submission raises serious doubts as to its willingness and ability to effectively investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes committed against the Rohingya, especially sexual and gender-based violence. Myanmar’s blanket denials that such crimes occurred and the answers presented in the report underscore not only that accountability will have to be achieved on the international level or before other domestic authorities, but also that there is a real risk of Myanmar aiming to discredit or jeopardize such accountability efforts. In addition to these overarching concerns, we seek to bring the Committee’s attention to two major areas of concern: (1) Myanmar’s refusal to acknowledge or accept responsibility for conflict, human rights abuses, and displacement; and (2) Myanmar’s inability and lack of will to meaningfully investigate and hold those responsible accountable.

Download the Letter

 

Accountability for conflict-related sexual violence as a central pillar for prevention - Arria Formula meeting of the UN Security Council

From Feb. 8, 2019 10:00 until 13:00

At United Nations Headquarters, Trusteeship Council Chamber

The Permanent Missions of Germany, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, France, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, South Africa and the United Kingdom will co-host an Arria Formula meeting of the UN Security Council on the preventive impact of criminal accountability for conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence on Friday, 8 February 2019, at 10:00 am in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. The meeting will be chaired by Ms. Katarina Barley, Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection of Germany.

"Sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security." (Extract from Security Council Resolution 1820).

Members of the UN Security Council and UN Member States explore how each can more effectively integrate criminal accountability for sexual violence in conflict into the prevention agenda, including into conflict resolution, transitional justice and peacebuilding.

Briefers:

  • Tonderai Chikuhwa, Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
  • Toussaint Muntazini, Prosecutor of the Special Crimes Court in the Central African Republic
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center

Chair:

  • Katarina Barley, Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection of Germany

Download the Concept Note