Global Justice Center Blog

Why the US Needs CEDAW: Abortion as a Human Right in the United States

By Jessica Pierson

This year marks the 42nd anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision barring the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in extreme circumstances. The Hyde Amendment has been a key way in which conservative lawmakers have been able to systematically deny a large portion of women their constitutional right to an abortion. Even though the right to abortion is the law of the land, U.S. constitutional law does not affirmatively guarantee that every person must be able to access an abortion. A case in point being that the Supreme Court has ruled twice that the Hyde Amendment is constitutional, even though its effects have been detrimental to American women.

A human rights framework, on the other hand, requires that government respect, protect, and fulfill the right to an abortion. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the international treaty on women’s rights that has been ratified by nearly all the United Nations member states except for the U.S. In contrast to the U.S. Constitution, CEDAW imposes an equality standard that requires all laws that disparately impact women be scrutinized to secure de jure and de facto equality for women. The CEDAW Committee, the monitoring body for the treaty, has repeatedly made clear that it considers restrictive abortion laws incompatible with the human rights of women. Therefore, the Hyde Amendment would violate a human rights framework, which would require that the state ensure that every woman, regardless of her income or race, could access the same rights. As the founder of the Global Justice Center, Janet Benshoof, has argued, ratification and full implementation of CEDAW in the U.S. would radically change the basic equality rights of American women, including the right to an abortion.

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It's Time for Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Latin America

By: Sofia Garcia

In 1990, women in Argentina declared September 28th to be the Day for Legal Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. 28 years later, we now recognize it as International Safe Abortion Day, a day where women and men all over the world take to the streets to demand access to legal and safe abortions. This day is commemorated only two days after World Contraception Day on September 26th, a day intended to improve awareness of contraception and increase sexual education among young people. Coincidentally or not, this week in September crystallizes the intersectional nature of sexual and reproductive health and rights.  In regions like Latin America and the Caribbean where women are often left behind on legislation, days like International Safe Abortion Day and World Contraception Day serve as a crucial call for governments to recognize the importance of expanding access to sexual and reproductive health and rights in tandem.

In recent years, the staggering lack of access to abortion services in the region has resulted in a greater push for the decriminalization of abortion as well as the expansion of abortion services. Six countries in the region still do not allow abortions to be performed under any circumstance. The draconian laws that govern abortion in the region have not only stigmatized discourse about abortion and sexual and reproductive health--they have also created a greater push for legalized abortion. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that, as of 2017, more than 24 million women in Latin America and the Caribbean have an unmet need for modern contraception. This means that women in the region who are having sex are either doing so without any contraception, or are using traditional methods such as the “pull out” method, which are much less effective at preventing unintended pregnancies. This, naturally, leads to a high number of unintended pregnancies. The sheer lack of access to contraception or other sexual and reproductive health services has resulted in the highest numbers of unintended pregnancies in the world, about 14 million each year. This creates a great demand for abortion services, but many countries in the region still do not allow women to make decisions regarding their bodies without legal roadblocks, stigma, or discrimination.

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GJC President Cited in Elle UK Article on Justice for Yazidi Women

Not a single ISIS fighter has been prosecuted for gender-based crimes despite mountains of evidence of rape and sexual slavery. As GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan explained to Emily Feldman of Elle UK, membership is a terrorist organization is much easier to prove than participation in gender-based crimes.

One of the benefits of ISIS’s diverse membership—fighters joined the group from countries around the world—is that many governments have an interest in going after ISIS suspects.

By 2015, countries like Iraq, Germany and even the U.K. already had ISIS suspects in their prisons. Frustratingly, every government that has arrested ISIS members has only prosecuted them for the crime of being a 'member of a terrorist organisation'—not even murder or rape.

And none of the Yazidi survivors has been informed about their detention and aren’t sure if the men who enslaved them are living or dead, imprisoned or walking free.

Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center who has advised Ibrahim, explains that it is simply much easier for prosecutors to prove membership in a terrorist organisation than it is to prove mass atrocities or gender-based crimes, like rape.

And although penalties for terrorism crimes are often severe—Iraq sentences terrorism convicts to death after hasty and widely criticised trials—the cases fail to acknowledge all the other crimes that took place.

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Fact Sheet: Structural Barriers To Accountability For Human Rights Abuses In Burma

Recent reports detailing the heinous human rights abuses committed in Rakhine State in Burma have triggered calls for perpetrators to be held accountable, both domestically and internationally. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) has opened a preliminary examination1 and the UN Human Rights Council has established an investigative mechanism to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of crimes.2 International action is not only justified but absolutely necessary given the impossibility of holding perpetrators to account using domestic justice mechanisms. Decades of unchecked human rights abuses against ethnic groups in other areas of Burma and deeply-entrenched domestic structural barriers preventing accountability have emboldened the military and contributed to the current crisis. Without international action to address and tackle Burma’s culture of impunity and the structural barriers that underpin them, this pattern will likely continue unabated.

This Fact Sheet details the domestic structural barriers that impede accountability for perpetrators and preclude justice for victims of human rights abuses in Burma. These obstacles, formalized with the “adoption” by a spurious referendum of a new Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (the “Constitution”) in 2008, prevent any full accounting for human rights violations committed by the military (the “Tatmadaw” or “Defense Forces”) in Burma. Obstacles outlined in this Fact Sheet include: (1) constitutional supremacy and autonomy of the military; (2) constitutional guarantees of impunity; (3) military emergency powers; and (4) lack of an independent and accountable judicial system.

Understanding the domestic structural impediments to accountability for the military is crucial to understanding the circumstances that give rise to these offenses and lead to the inevitable conclusion that unless these barriers are dismantled, human rights abuses will go unpunished and a true democracy will not take hold in Burma. Moreover, a situation of national unrest gives the military great powers under the Constitution capable of emboldening and further empowering the military. 

While the increasingly volatile situation and humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State highlight military abuses and impunity, the Tatmadaw has for decades engaged in armed conflict with multiple ethnic groups in Burma. These long-running conflicts are characterized by human rights abuses perpetrated by the military that have gone unpunished and continue today in multiple regions, including Shan and Kachin states. The situation in Rakhine State must be understood not in isolation but as part of a continuum, and as another example of how impunity for human rights abuses committed by the military is the rule, not the exception, in Burma.

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Letter to The Honourable Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor, "Re: Preliminary Examination into the Situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar"

Dear Prosecutor Bensouda,

The Global Justice Center writes to congratulate the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) on the decision to open a preliminary examination into the deportation of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Since impunity has long been the rule and not the exception in Myanmar, this examination offers a glimmer of hope that those who have long been oppressed by Myanmar’s military will see some measure of justice. We write to the OTP today with respect to three key issues related to this preliminary examination: (1) to emphasize the need to place the gendered experiences of these crimes at the center of the examination; (2) to urge the OTP to take a broad view to the crimes over which the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction; and (3) to provide information with respect to any analysis of positive complementarity.

On the first point, we were pleased to attend a recent event with you at the UNGA in New York “Prosecuting Sexual and Gender-based Crimes at the International Criminal Court.” We applaud the OTP’s commitment to applying a gender analysis in all areas of its work, which has been reinforced by its strong policy on sexual and gender-based crimes. We agree that consideration of the complete nature of the crimes is necessary in order to ensure effective investigations and prosecutions. We urge that this be made a priority in the preliminary examination at hand.

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