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Open Letter to Secretary of State Blinken on the Public Health and Human Rights Crisis in Myanmar

To: Antony Blinken, Secretary of State

CC: Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator; Samantha Power, USAID Administrator Nominee

Secretary Blinken:

We write as concerned human rights organizations, humanitarian organizations, medical professional associations, labor organizations, and refugee rights organizations to urge you to take immediate additional actions to address the public health and human rights crisis in Myanmar.

It has now been two months since the Myanmar military executed a coup d’état to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government, prompting widespread peaceful protests demanding a return to democracy. The military’s security forces have responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown defined by some of the worst human rights violations imaginable: unlawful and arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings. This includes the bloodiest crackdown yet: more than 110 civilians reportedly killed in just a few days by security forces, among them children as young as five years old.

Myanmar’s health care workers, in particular, have been systematically targeted by the military for participating in the civil disobedience movement and providing care to injured protestors.Many health care workers have been forced into hiding, kidnapped in night raids, or detained arbitrarily pursuant to spurious charges.More than 100 medical students and health care workers have reportedly been arrested since the start of the coup.

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The Right to Vote Is a Reproductive Health, Rights, & Justice Issue

Dear State Legislator:

We, the undersigned organizations, state legislators, and leaders in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement, join together to call out the racist and anti-democratic attacks on voting rights and access happening in state legislatures across the United States.

Conservative state legislators have ramped up their efforts to make it harder to vote. Voter restrictions have long been part of the conservative platform; however, their attempts to push anti-democracy bills have recently spiked, in response to record voter turnout, revealing they will stop at nothing to disenfranchise Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). In the 2021 state legislative session alone, 253 anti-voter bills have been introduced in 43 states with this number expected to grow. The bills institute new barriers to voting and target people of color and by reducing hours of polling locations, cutting back on early voting options, requiring new, unnecessary identification requirements and curtailing or eliminating absentee voting.

Conservatives are trying to destroy our democracy. The 2020 Presidential election put the issue of voting rights and access front-and-center. As conservatives tried to restrict access to polling stations, mail in ballots, and contested ballot validity, progressive groups and legislators--often aligning with principles of reproductive health, rights, and justice--sought to ensure the United States democracy stood firm, recognizing that the overwhelming majority of votes that were in question were largely Black and Brown voters.

The reproductive health, rights, and justice movement cannot stay silent in this moment. We know that reproductive freedom and voting rights and access are intrinsically linked. Equitable access to the vote means better representation of our communities and responsiveness to our basic needs like comprehensive healthcare, including contraception, maternal care, abortion care, and comprehensive sex education. Moreover, equitable access to the ballot box allows us to focus on justice and liberation, which increases bodily autonomy and integrity for many marginalized communities especially Black and Brown people, young people, and queer, transgender, and nonbinary people.

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Joint Statement Opposing State Legislation Targeting Transgender Youth

We, the undersigned, represent a broad coalition of legal and policy experts, women’s advocates, educational associations, civil rights groups, and proponents of equality for all Americans. We strongly oppose proposed legislation that targets transgender youth for mistreatment and discrimination by seeking to ban them from participating in sports or from being able to access best practice medical care in accordance with the recommendations of those they trust.

It is unconscionable that in many states, lawmakers are proposing and passing a wave of dangerous bills that seek to ban transgender youth from participating on K-12 school sports teams and/or from being able to access best practice medical care. Transgender kids already struggle with bullying and mistreatment in schools and discrimination in public spaces and health care. These bills add to the crushing weight of discrimination in housing, public spaces, health care and more that transgender people face in our states and across the country. These bills put vulnerable transgender kids at risk of even more harassment and abuse.

Kids learn a lot of important life lessons in sports: leadership, confidence, self-respect, and what it means to be part of a team. Transgender kids want the opportunity to play sports for the same reason other kids do: to be a part of a team where they feel like they belong. For state lawmakers to discriminate against kids and ban them from playing because they’re transgender denies these kids this vitally important childhood experience and all the lessons it teaches.

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UN Security Council: Hold Myanmar Military Accountable for Violence Against Women

Hold Myanmar Military Accountable for Violence Against Women

Dear President and Members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council,

Marking the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, we, Women’s Peace Network, and the undersigned organizations working for women’s rights and against gender-based violence, call upon the UN Security Council to hold the Myanmar military accountable for grievously violating the human rights of women. Since the military’s illegitimate seizure of power on February 1, the people of Myanmar have led nationwide mass movements to demand for the November 2020 election results to be respected, the 2008 Constitution to be abolished, a federal democratic union to be built with full equality and self-determination, and those arbitrarily detained and arrested to be released. Despite engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience, thousands of civilians, including women, have been brutally assailed by the regime’s tactics of violent assault, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killing. Given this military’s record of using sexual violence as a weapon of war, we fear that the country’s progress in enhancing the status of women is at risk now more than ever. We, members of the global women’s rights movement, now urgently join forces to amplify the people’s calls: the Myanmar military and security forces must be held to account for their brutality, and all impunity fueling their historical violation of women’s rights and international laws and norms must end.

Across Myanmar, the military continue to act in violation of the UN Charter and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In over a month, the Myanmar military and security forces have indiscriminately fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters -- killing at least 20 women. Deploying armored vehicles along the country’s streets, male security forces have targeted women with batons and slingshots all while strategically wielding water cannons, tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets against other peaceful protesters. Throughout states and regions, the regime’s arbitrary detention and arrests of civilians have continued to rise as allegations of sexual assault and abuse across prisons have spread rampantly. If the Security Council and the international community do not take concrete action, we are concerned that the Myanmar military and security forces will continue to commit mass atrocities and act in contravention of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

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Community Letter to President and Vice President on Global Gender Equality

Dear Mr. President and Madam Vice President, We, the undersigned organizations, care deeply about advancing gender equity and equality around the world and are writing to express our appreciation for the steps your administration has taken in your first 50 days to signal the United States’ renewed leadership on this issue. In particular, we are pleased to see early action on announcing the co-chairs of the new White House Gender Policy Council and were excited to see its official establishment by Executive Order on International Women’s Day. We also applaud the U.S. decision to re-engage immediately with the UN Human Rights Council and to seek a seat on the Council at the first opportunity, as well as the announcement that Vice President Harris will provide remarks during the UN Commission on the Status of Women next week.

Advancing gender equity and equality for all women and girls, as well as those in the LGBTQI+ community and individuals with disabilities, is first and foremost a matter of human rights and should be a goal in and of itself. It is also a necessary precondition for achieving key U.S. foreign policy objectives. We urge your Administration to ensure gender equity and equality are key tenets of U.S. foreign policy and assistance efforts through urgently taking the below critical actions:

  1. Announce unprecedented strong support in your first budget proposal to Congress with robust funding for gender equity and equality programs around the world, including significantly increasing funds to directly support women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights organizations;
  2. Announce your plan to appoint a Senior Gender Coordinator to the National Security Council to ensure that gender equity and equality issues are addressed at our nation’s most critical foreign policy making table; and,
  3. Announce your intention to appoint a foreign policy task force and staff lead for the new White House Gender Policy Council to ensure that the power of your office is brought to bear on gender issues everywhere, not just within the United States.

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Joint Call for a Global Arms Embargo on Myanmar

An Open Letter to the UN Security Council and Individual UN Member States

We, the undersigned organizations, call on the United Nations Security Council and UN member states to urgently institute a coordinated, global arms embargo on Myanmar in response to the February 1, 2021 military coup that has deprived the people of Myanmar of the right to democratically elect their government. Our concerns are heightened by ongoing violations of human rights and the security forces’ history of grave abuses against peaceful critics of military rule, as well as against the Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups.

Under the commander-in-chief, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the Myanmar military has detained the elected civilian leaders of the country, nullified the results of the November 2020 democratic elections, and installed a junta, the State Administration Council, under a manufactured “state of emergency.” Since February 1, the junta has increasingly used excessive and at times lethal force at demonstrations; threatened and arbitrarily detained activists, journalists, students, and civil servants; and imposed rolling internet shutdowns that put lives at risk.

Days after the coup, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “We will do everything we can to mobilize all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails.” The UN special rapporteur on Myanmar has called for targeted UN sanctions on the military and an arms embargo, while the deputy high commissioner for human rights has voiced support for targeted UN sanctions on the coup leaders.

In that spirit, we urge the Security Council to immediately impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar. Such a resolution should bar the direct and indirect supply, sale, or transfer of all weapons, munitions, and other military-related equipment, including dual-use goods such as vehicles and communications and surveillance equipment, as well as the provision of training, intelligence, and other military assistance. The embargo should be accompanied by robust monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.

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Joint NGO Letter call for a Special Session on the deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned human rights non-governmental organizations, strongly support the call for a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia and urge your delegation to support such a session without further delay.

Since 4 November 2020, fighting between federal government forces and affiliated militias with forces and militia allied to Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, has reportedly killed hundreds of civilians and caused more than one million people to flee their homes, including at least 57,000 refugees who are now in Sudan. There have been widespread reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses including possible atrocity crimes, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, unlawful killings, widespread looting, and rape and sexual violence against women and girls. There have also been reports of massacres committed along ethnic lines within Tigray, as well as ethnic profiling, discrimination, and hate speech against Tigrayans both within and outside the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has also expressed alarm for the “safety and well-being” of the 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray, given the unconfirmed but “overwhelming number of reports of Eritrean refugees in Tigray being killed, abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea,” where they could face persecution. Access to independent humanitarian aid continues to be limited in Tigray despite an agreement reached between the federal government and the UN on 29 November. Journalists critical of the government have been arrested, exacerbating existing restrictions on communication and information from the region.

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First 100 Days Agenda for Abortion Justice

This election came amid an inflection point for our country – the stakes could not be higher.

We’re still in the midst of the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and a national reckoning on systemic racism. All* Above All believes that systemic racism, economic insecurity, and immigration status can multiply the already-massive barriers to abortion care--and that true abortion justice must incorporate racial, economic, and immigrant justice.

Our constituency is at the center of the public health and economic crises, while the number of people of color working to make ends meet is only growing. This year reminds us that restrictions that deny people abortion care are not separate issues from police violence, wage gaps, and deep inequities in our health care system -- they’re all rooted in systemic racism that denies all people the ability to thrive and live their lives with dignity and economic security.

For the last four years, the Trump-Pence administration shamed, punished, and targeted people struggling financially, especially women of color, by pushing policies that deny them the ability to make their own decisions about their health and their lives with dignity and economic security. We’ve watched as a Supreme Court nominee was rushed through to tip the balance of our highest court, putting at risk our health care, our voting and worker’s rights, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, and more. We are not just talking about the legal right to abortion--that is not and was never enough. We must reimagine abortion access beyond Roe.

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Women’s Community COVID Letter to the Biden – Harris Administration

Dear President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris,

Thank you for taking an aggressive stance in your administration’s planned response to the public health and economic crisis we are facing as a nation. We also appreciate that the COVID response team will prioritize racial equity under the leadership of Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith. We strongly believe that centering race within the COVID response is essential to building back better from the pandemic.

Women, disproportionately Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women, are on the front lines of responding to COVID-19 – as health care workers, child care providers, groceryclerks, and other essential workers sustaining us through this pandemic. And yet, women are shouldering the brunt of the pain from our nation’s inadequate response. During this crisis, we are more likely to lose our jobs, more likely to be doing unpaid care work at home, and more likely to be pushed out of the labor force altogether.

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Letter to Biden Transition Team on Human Rights

Dear President-Elect Biden,

As organizations committed to reproductive, gender, economic, immigrant, and racial justice, we know that this is a crucial moment for Black and Brown communities, women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and young people. Our communities are still trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic and people continue to fight for racial justice all over the country. We are fighting for a future in which we can control our own bodies, safely care for our families, and work with dignity, no matter who we are or where we live. We are reimagining a world in which each of us makes a living wage, has the right to unionize, families live free from violence, and everyone has access to the full-spectrum of reproductive, maternal, and sexual health care, including abortion.

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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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Stop the Execution of Lisa Montgomery

Dear President Trump,

As over 800 organizations, scholars, individuals, law clinics, and survivors who are dedicated to ending all forms of violence against women, we are painfully aware of the victimization histories of most incarcerated women. Studies consistently show that up to 95% of incarcerated women have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. Lisa Montgomery’s story is a shocking example of what the research only begins to describe. Lisa suffered a life-time of horrific abuses, was consistently failed by people and systems that should have helped her, and became severely mentally ill by the time she committed her crime. Lisa committed her terrible crime – the seriousness of which we do not minimize – in the wake of a lifetime of victimization and mental illness. We urge you to have mercy and to commute her death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

Lisa Montgomery was born with permanent brain damage as a result of her mother’s alcohol intake during pregnancy. Sexually abused by her stepfather for the first time at eleven years old, Lisa was repeatedly raped for years. Lisa’s mother beat her children brutally and emotionally tortured them, once killing the family dog in front of them. Lisa’s mother also trafficked Lisa to men for sex beginning when Lisa was in her early teens. Lisa developed dissociative disorder and complex posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of the repeated anal, oral, and vaginal rapes she suffered by the men to whom her mother trafficked her. Lisa told people about her abuse, but no one intervened. School administrators knew that Lisa came to school dirty, in tattered clothes, but failed to investigate or report. At age eighteen, Lisa, at her mother’s behest, married her stepbrother, who also raped and beat her. She had four children, then was sterilized against her will—another form of violence. Her mental health continued to spiral downwards. When her ex-husband/stepbrother filed for custody of two of her children and said he would reveal her sterilization to her new husband (who believed her to be pregnant), Lisa’s history of victimization, trauma, and mental illness tipped over the edge. Threatened with the loss of the children she deeply loved, Lisa committed a horrific crime.

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International Solidarity with Women and Peaceful Protestors in Poland

As organizations committed to the advancement of human rights and gender equality, we stand in solidarity with all those in Poland who for the last week have peacefully protested against the politicized attack on women’s fundamental human rights and access to health care.

Last week Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal issued a decision purporting to invalidate a legal ground for abortion. If this decision is given legal effect it will amount to the introduction of a near-total ban on abortion in Poland.

Thousands across Poland have protested peacefully against this unlawful and retrogressive decision. We express our deep admiration for the courageous and tireless efforts of those defending the rights of women in Poland. Women’s fundamental human rights are universal. Attacks on these rights concern everyone in society and their impact transcends national borders.

We urge the Polish Government to respect the right of freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, and to exercise restraint and refrain from excessive use of force and violence. We are deeply concerned by reports that military action is being planned to suppress peaceful protests and demonstrations. We urge the EU and the international community to monitor the situation and to act with urgency to prevent violence against peaceful protestors and attacks on women human rights defenders. 

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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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Letter Opposing Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett

We 136 organizations in support of reproductive health, rights, and justice — strongly oppose  the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The Senate should not  consider any nominee to fill any Supreme Court vacancy until after the inauguration. Whoever  fills Justice Ginsburg’s seat could spend decades being a crucial vote on a range of issues that  affect our lives -- from voting rights to health care access to employment discrimination. The  people deserve to have a voice in who is confirmed to the Supreme Court and in some states  people are already casting their votes to make that voice heard. As the COVID-19 pandemic  continues to spread throughout the United States — including now on Capitol Hill and in the  White House — we demand the confirmation process of Judge Barrett be halted. The time to  confirm the next Supreme Court Justice is not as we work to rein in our global health crisis.

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Joint Statement: UN Human Rights Council Update on Resolution on Racism, Police Brutality

We welcome the High Commissioner’s first update on the implementation of the Human Rights Council resolution  (A/HRC/RES/43/1) which followed an Urgent Debate "on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests."

The resolution has mandated the High Commissioner, with the assistance of relevant Special Mandate Holders, “to prepare a report on systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent, to contribute to accountability and redress for victims.” The resolution has also requested that your office “examine government responses to antiracism peaceful process peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists.” In addition, the resolution also requested that the High Commissioner “include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in all her oral updates to the Council.”

While we were disappointed that the Council adopted a watered-down resolution due to enormous diplomatic pressure from the United States and other allied countries, we consider the outcome of the urgent debate a crucial first step towards full accountability for systemic police violence against Black people in the United States and more generally against people of African descent around the world. We make the following recommendations and suggestions to ensure effective implementation of the resolution and a transparent, inclusive process for producing the report with maximum meaningful participation and engagement from directly impacted communities and other relevant stakeholders:

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HRC 45: Joint Civil Society Statement on Abortion

In the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, States recognized that women’s rights are human rights and that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. This should have been the basis for an intersectional approach to human rights and the recognition that the denial of access to safe and legal abortion impacts all aspects of women’s lives.

Everyone has the right to life-saving interventions during or outside of crises. And yet, women and girls’ rights to bodily autonomy and safe abortion have been some of the first rights to be conveniently sacrificed under the guise of prioritizing COVID, as if health was a zero-sum game. That includes free, safe and legal abortion and comprehensive abortion and post-abortion care, without which women, girls and gender-non-conforming persons are forced to seek unsafe clandestine abortions or to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, in complete violation of our rights.

During this pandemic, some governments are increasing barriers to abortion services by deeming it a non-essential medical procedure, or are instrumentalizing the crisis to further restrict access in law or practice.  In health systems, for example, inadequate planning and the redeployment of medical personnel and resources to COVID-19 have decreased access to abortion and contraception.

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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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Letter to US Congress: Reproductive Rights and Racial Justice

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, and Leader McCarthy,

We, the 189 undersigned local, state, and national organizations, write to you in solidarity with Black women Reproductive Justice advocates leading the work to ensure Reproductive Justice for all, which includes the ability to make decisions about our lives, bodies, sexuality, and reproduction free from interference and violence. We call on you as federal leaders representing constituents who have been directly harmed by police violence and other state sanctioned violence to support the efforts and leadership of Black women and other reproductive and racial justice leaders in each and every one of your districts and states across the country.

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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.

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