Symposium on the Current Crisis in Myanmar: Untangling Myanmar’s Credentials Battle and the Implications for International Justice

Excerpt of Opinio Juris article by GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

Of the many perspectives offered by outside observers in the wake of the Myanmar military’s (Tatmadaw’s) attempted coup, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cogently cut to the core of it: “This crisis was born of impunity.” 

As if to tacitly acknowledge this fact, in his first speech since illegally deposing democratically elected officials, Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing told the people of Myanmar that, “no one is above the law”. He went on, “no one or no organization is above the national interest in state-building and nation-building.” But, of course, the Tatmadaw and Min Aung Hlaing have for a generation been above the law. 

This impunity, which finds its roots in the military’s privileged position baked into Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution as well as in the international community’s mortgage on Aung San Suu Kyi’s ability to politically navigate the country out of the military’s grips, was nevertheless beginning to show cracks.  And it is these cracks that make the crisis within the crisis—the question of who is credentialed to represent Myanmar at the UN General Assembly, the representative of the National Unity Government or the junta—so urgent. 

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Open Letter in Support of Continuing Recognition of Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun as Myanmar’s Permanent Representative at the UN General Assembly

Excellencies,

We, the undersigned, representing a broad movement of 358 Myanmar and international civil society organizations, urge you to ensure that the current Permanent Representative (PR) of Myanmar to the United Nations (UN), Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun, retains his position as Myanmar’s representative to the UN for the upcoming 76th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), scheduled to begin on 14 September 2021.

Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun is the incumbent representative of Myanmar and he represented Myanmar throughout the 75th session of the UNGA after his credentials were accepted by the Credentials Committee in November 2020 and approved by the UNGA on 1 December (A/RES/75/19). He was appointed as Myanmar’s PR to the UN by the democratically elected government of Myanmar, which had held office since 2016. His credentials were renewed by the current duly elected government of Myanmar.

The new government, which won in a free, fair and credible general election in November 2020, was due to be formed in February 2021 and take office in March. The general election, which was observed by accredited international election monitoring bodies including the Asian Network for Free Elections and the Carter Center, certified that the election reflected the will of the people of Myanmar. However, on 1 February 2021, the Myanmar military launched a coup, physically prevented the scheduled session of the new parliament and forcibly detained elected members of Parliaments.

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2021 Open Letter to Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in advance of the annual Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda is, at its heart, an agenda led by civil society, who, in partnership with Member States and the UN, lobbied for the adoption of Resolution 1325 (2000). At this year’s Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, we ask you to stand with the women human rights defenders (WHRDs), peacebuilders, advocates for gender equality and other civil society leaders who play a critical role in advancing our common goal of peace, human rights and gender justice, yet are under relentless attack for doing so.

To be a woman today in many parts of the world, particularly in a conflict zone, means having to choose between fighting for your rights, or fighting for your life.

We are deeply concerned by the crisis in Afghanistan and the plight of the many Afghan women civil society leaders, peacebuilders, human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists at grave risk, who have either been forced to flee or remain trapped in the country since the Taliban took power. Afghan women have courageously and tirelessly fought for their rights for decades, despite conflict, deeply-rooted discrimination, corruption and poverty — they are now under threat from a regime that has an extensive record of brutality and repression of women’s rights. In recent months, women leaders, activists and journalists have been targeted and prevented from fully exercising their right to participate in all spheres of public and political life in areas under Taliban control. Women who are, or are perceived to be, lesbian or bisexual face additional risks of persecution.

Women human rights defenders in other conflict zones fare little better. In Myanmar, the women who led protests against the coup by the Tatmadaw in February this year are fighting against both the military and patriarchy. They have been detained, tortured and sexually abused for standing up for human rights and democracy, all while continuing to hold leading roles in the resistance movement. In Colombia, HRDs, especially Afro-descendant, Indigenous and LGBTIQ activists, are at heightened risk of gender-based violence for defending their rights, their land and their communities. Yemeni activists have warned that retaliation against women for participating in political life has reached unprecedented levels. South Sudanese defenders and peacebuilders both within and outside the country face routine targeting and surveillance. Palestinian WHRDs who criticize the Israeli occupation regularly face violence, raids, judicial harassment, arrest, assault and movement restrictions for carrying out their work.

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The UN Leader Is Sworn In (Again); Myanmar’s Downhill Slide; the US Envoy’s Rising Star

Excerpt of Pass Blue that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

The UN General Assembly passed its first resolution addressing the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar, with 119 in favor, 1 against (Belarus) and 36 abstentions. This resolution was voted on the same day the Security Council held a closed meeting on the country’s situation, revealing little about what occurred in the session and still not producing a resolution on the matter.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, said, in part, “The bright sides of the General Assembly’s resolution, including the call on all nations to prevent arms flows into Myanmar, are in stark contrast to the Security Council’s failure to take decisive action.”

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UN General Assembly Passes Resolution on Myanmar Coup

NEW YORK — The United Nations General Assembly today passed a resolution addressing the military coup in Myanmar. It is the first resolution from the general assembly since the coup on February 1.

This resolution comes on the same day of a closed-door briefing on Myanmar at the UN Security Council. The Council has issued several statements on the coup, but has yet to pass any resolution.

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

“A resolution from the General Assembly is a necessary and positive step for the international community. But just like with Security Council actions that precede it, today’s resolution does not go far enough to meet the demands of Myanmar’s people.

“The bright sides of the General Assembly’s resolution, including the call on all nations to prevent arms flows into Myanmar, are in stark contrast to the Security Council’s failure to take decisive action.

“As the body responsible for maintaining international peace and security, the Security Council can no longer stand idly by while Myanmar’s military uses its decades-old playbook to commit widespread and systematic human rights violations. The time for closed meetings and toothless statements of concern is over.”

“The Security Council must finally do what women’s rights activists in Myanmar have been calling for for years — take concrete and decisive action to condemn the military and hold them accountable for international crimes committed against all of Myanmar’s people.”

Letter to UN Secretary General on Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

We are writing with regard to your forthcoming annual report on children and armed conflict. As you finalize your decisions regarding the annexes, we urge you to ensure the publication of a complete list of perpetrators of grave violations that is evidence-based and accurately reflects data collected and verified by the United Nations Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM).

As nongovernmental organizations working to alleviate suffering in humanitarian settings and protect human rights, we strongly support UN Security Council Resolution 1612 (2005) and subsequent resolutions on children and armed conflict, as concrete tools for improving the protection of children in war. The MRM, the annual report, and its annexed list of perpetrators are a crucial foundation for accountability and ending and preventing violations, by paving the way for the UN’s engagement with parties to conflict. However, these mechanisms will only remain as powerful as they are credible and consistently applied to all perpetrators.

We, therefore, reiterate our disappointment with the significant disparities between the evidence presented in last year’s annual reportand the parties listed in its annexes for committing grave violations against children. In particular, we believe that the de-listings of the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition and the Tatmadaw contravened the criteria that were set out in the 2010 annual report,which states that a party would be de-listed from the annexes “on condition that there is UN-verified information that it has ceased commission of all the said grave violations against children for which the party is listed […] for a period of at least one reporting cycle” (A/64/742-S/2010/181, para. 178). Neither the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition nor the Tatmadaw have met these criteria.

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Coalition Letter to UN African Group on Ensuring Effective Accountability for Police Violence in US

To: Ministers of Foreign Affairs of African States
CC: Permanent Representatives of African States in Geneva
Re: The UN Human Rights Council’s role to ensure effective accountability and follow-up to HRC Resolution 43/1

Dear Excellencies,

The families of victims of police violence and undersigned civil society organizations write with regard to the follow up to Human Rights Council resolution (A/HRC/43/1) on “the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers.”

We appreciate your governments’ leadership at the Council and your support to the demands made by victims’ families, civil society organizations, and Special Procedures in the context of the urgent debateon the “current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests”. We urge your governments to continue supporting these demands in the follow up resolution at the 47th session of the Council.

During her first oral update, the UN High Commissioner affirmedto the Council that the report will reflect and amplify the voices of victims of people of African descent, their families, and communities. She also affirmed that the report will examine the root causes that have enabled systemic racism and police violence includingthe legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism.

We share the High Commissioner’s assessmentthat we cannot let the urgency felt in the Council in June 2020 subside, and that the Council “can contribute to making this moment a critical turning point in the respect and protection of the human rights of people of African descent.”

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The Role of Women in Peace and Security Agenda: UNSCR 1325

The landmark Security Council Resolution 1325 underlines the unequal impact of armed conflicts and violence on women and girls while stressing their crucial role in building long-lasting peace. The resolution calls on Member States and civil society organizations to strengthen collaboration in increasing women`s meaningful participation in conflict prevention. UNSCR 1325 also stresses that gender mainstreaming of the peacekeeping operations is required to address particular needs of women and girls.

Voices of women are essential to reveal violence against women and girls during the times of conflicts. The current pandemic is expected to create additional profound challenges as the violence against women is reported to increase throughout this global crisis which makes women`s participation in peace building even more difficult due to the marginalization. According to World Bank and United Nations` joint research, increasing gender inequality will eventually lead to more conflict.1 As the recent Report of the Secretary-General on “Women and Peace and Security” underlines, “the combination of vibrant social movements, fragile peace agreements and a global pandemic is a wake-up call to build more equal and inclusive societies”.

JWF organizes this virtual panel to create a platform for the experts to inform our global audience of women`s rights activists on the UNSCR 1325, the means of increasing women’s leadership in conflict zones and peace building mechanisms, women’s role for facilitating the pillars of Responsibility to Protect, and discuss several country-case studies where women created a long-lasting.

Panelists:

  • Cemre Ulker, The Journalists and Writers Foundation, UN Representative
  • Esra Aydin, Journalists and Writers Foundation, Communications Director
  • Savita Pawnday, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Deputy Executive Director
  • Mavic CabreraBalleza, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, Chief Executive Officer
  • Grant Shubin, Global Justice Center, Legal Director

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GA75 | Civil society assess outcomes of Third Committee session

As we continue to respond to  the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, civil society discuss various outcomes at this session of the Third Committee, despite additional challenges associated with the session being held mostly online. 

We welcome the joint statement on reprisals led by the United Kingdom and joined by a cross-regional group of countries, calling on all States and the UN to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals against those who engage or seek to engage with the UN. We welcome in particular the increased number of States joining this year (75 compared to 71 last year).

One highlight of this session was a powerful joint statement on China by a cross-regional group of 39 Member States. This statement represents a strong public rebuke of the Chinese government’s widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet, and is further proof that a growing number of governments are braving Beijing’s threats of retaliation and voicing alarm. The joint statement endorsed an appeal from 50 UN human rights experts for the creation of a UN mechanism for monitoring human rights in China. It also urged China to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights unfettered access to Xinjiang. We hope the Chinese government will heed the message of this statement and end the abuses, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong.

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US advocates fear creation of a hierarchy of human rights

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

Akila Radhakrishnan is President of the Global Justice Center, which develops legal strategies to establish and protect human rights and gender equity. She believes ‘The elevation of religious liberty is seriously problematic, especially given the way it’s been constructed to then supersede other fundamental rights’.

Radhakrishnan also has concerns about the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in late October, which gave the Court a 6-3 conservative majority. Although Justice Barrett swore to set aside political and personal preferences in her rulings, she is influenced by originalism. At her confirmation hearings, Justice Barrett reiterated that she believes the Constitution should be interpreted on the grounds that it was written: ‘I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. So that meaning doesn’t change over time’.

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Russia loses UN vote over women's rights in conflict zones

Excerpt of The Guardian article that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, said: “Every country who withheld its vote for this unnecessary and dangerous resolution should be applauded. The women, peace and security agenda is anchored in human rights and this resolution could have turned back the clock on 20 years of progress.

“Women in conflict-affected countries are suffering catastrophic impacts due to Covid-19. Any attack on this critical tool for advancing women’s health and rights is dangerous and we’re glad to see a diverse group of nations stand up for the agenda and its bold commitments to gender equality.”

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UN Security Council Resolution on Gender Equality Fails After Major Countries Abstain

NEW YORK — A United Nations Security Council resolution on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) failed to pass today after 10 countries abstained from the vote because the resolution failed to advance the agenda. The resolution effort was led by Russia, the Security Council president during the month of October.

The countries abstained after the resolution fell below agreed language on human rights, the role of civil society, and women’s participation in peace processes.

Adopted 20 years ago with Resolution 1325, WPS is an agenda that addresses the unique and disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls.

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

“Every country who withheld its vote for this unnecessary and dangerous resolution should be applauded. The Women, Peace and Security agenda is anchored in human rights and this resolution could have turned back the clock on 20 years of progress.

“Women in conflict-affected countries are suffering catastrophic impacts due to COVID-19. Any attack on this critical tool for advancing women’s health and rights is dangerous and we’re glad to see a diverse group of nations stand up for the agenda and its bold commitments to gender equality.”

Beyond the Pandemic: Opening the Doors to Meaningful Participation

Description:

The United Nations Department on Political and Peacebuilding Affairs is hosting the virtual event, “Beyond the Pandemic: Opening the Doors to Women’s Meaningful Participation”, on Wednesday, 28 October, at 10:00 AM (NY Time). The event celebrates the 20-year anniversary of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security with the participation of the following speakers in an interactive dialogue:

  • Ms. Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA)

  • Ms. Jeanine Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)

  • Ms. Kaavya Asoka, Executive Director of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security

  • Ms. Huda Ali, Feminist Peace Activist and Member of MANSAM, a Sudanese coalition of Women Civic and Political Organizations

  • Ms. Erika Brockmann, former member of the Bolivian national parliament (1997-2005) and currently a master trainer for the National Democratic Institute

Facilitation will be conducted by Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center.

Prioritizing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda in the First Hundred Days

Since the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) recognizing the vital role of  women in peacebuilding, peacekeeping, and post-conflict recovery, the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS)  Agenda has gained global recognition. In the two decades since, the United States (U.S.) has taken steps to  

elevate WPS in its foreign and national security policies. In particular, in 2011, President Obama launched the  first U.S. National Action Plan on WPS via executive order, which was subsequently updated in 2016. In 2018,  Congress enacted the landmark WPS Act. In 2019, pursuant to the WPS Act, the Trump Administration released  the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS Strategy). In 2020, the U.S. Agency for International  Development (USAID), as well as the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security, as required by  the WPS Act, rolled-out agency-specific implementation plans to operationalize the WPS Strategy.

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Atlas Webinar Series: Existing Legal Limits to Security Council Veto Power in the Face of Atrocity Crimes

Description:
A conversation with Jennifer Trahan, Clinical Professor at NYU Center for Global Affairs, Moderated by Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center.

Trahan's book demonstrates how vetoes and veto threats have blocked the Security Council from pursuing measures that could have prevented or alleviated atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes) in places such as Myanmar, Darfur, Syria, and elsewhere and explores how the legality of this practice could be challenged

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.”