Myanmar’s Proposed Prevention Of Violence Against Women Law - A Failure to Meet International Human Rights Standards

The introduction of the Prevention of Violence against Women Law (PoVAW) in Myanmar is an important opportunity for Myanmar to at long last ensure a comprehensive framework for addressing sexual and gender- based violence, bring its domestic laws in line with international obligations, and ensure adequate redress for violence to all women. This requires, however, that Myanmar passes and implements the law in accordance with the highest standards possible; some standards are not discretionary but rather firm commitments Myanmar is required to uphold, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Geneva Conventions, and customary international law. Myanmar’s obligation to protect all women from violence is governed by the legal principle of “due diligence,” meaning that the Myanmar government is responsible for taking measures to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish, and provide reparations for all acts of gender-based violence committed by both private and public officials.

The Myanmar government has long shown a lack of commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity for widespread sexual and gender-based violence, a problem that is exacerbated by broader structural barriers with respect to Myanmar’s military justice system, and a lack of robust domestic options for accountability. Recently, Myanmar has rejected any responsibility for sexual and gender-based violence in its Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) report, engagement with the case filed by The Gambia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), nor CEDAW review. The introduction of this law also comes at a critical time of renewed conversations regarding justice and accountability, with specific respect to the crimes committed against the Rohingya, via processes at the ICJ, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and domestic courts in third party states under the theory of universal jurisdiction.

It is imperative that any efforts to draft and pass a new law take meaningful steps towards addressing sexual and gender-based violence. Myanmar has also received consistent recommendations from the CEDAW Committee, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to ensure the new law complies with international standards; however, this version of the law patently does not meet those standards.

 
   

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(Updated) Q&A: The Gambia v. Myanmar – Rohingya Genocide at The International Court of Justice

On 11 November 2019, the Republic of The Gambia filed suit against the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) for violating the Genocide Convention. Two months later at the request of The Gambia, the ICJ ordered the government of Myanmar to take certain actions to protect the Rohingya via “provisional measures” while the case proceeds. This historic lawsuit brings a critical focus to Myanmar’s responsibility as a state for the Rohingya genocide.

The Gambia’s case focuses on the actions of Myanmar’s security forces, starting in October 2016 and then again in August 2017, where they engaged in so-called “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority, in Rakhine State. The operations, in particular those that started in August 2017, were characterized by brutal violence and serious human rights violations on a mass scale. Survivors report indiscriminate killings, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention, torture, beatings, and forced displacement. As a result, an estimated 745,000 people – mostly ethnic Rohingya – were forced to flee to Bangladesh. The “clearance operations” followed decades of institutionalized discrimination and systematic persecution of the Rohingya, including the passage of laws that stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship and restricted their religious freedoms, as well as reproductive and marital rights.

According to the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (“FFM”), the treatment of the Rohingya population during the “clearance operations” amounts to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, the commission of which evoke specific obligations and responsibility under international law. In its final report, published in September 2019, the FFM concluded that “the State of Myanmar breached its obligation not to commit genocide” and found that Myanmar “continues to harbor genocidal intent” towards the Rohingya, emphasizing the need for accountability.

This fact sheet answers fundamental questions about the ongoing ICJ case, Myanmar’s responsibility for genocide, and its impact on the Rohingya population. (Answers to questions about the early stages of the lawsuit are here.)

 
   

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Submission to the Group of Independent Experts: The Need to Center Gender in the Review of the International Criminal Court and Rome Statute System

Introduction

Gender permeates the planning, commission, and resolution of criminal acts within the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction. It is woven into perpetrators’ planning and commission of crimes, as well as victims’ (individual and collective) experience and recovery of acts committed against them. Accordingly, gender must be a central criterion in the group of independent experts’ review of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) and the Rome Statute system. Laudably, the Rome Statute was among the first international treaties to extensively address sexual and gender-based violence. Moreover, from the beginning of her term ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has made it a priority to close the gender justice gap, as evidenced by her Policy Paper on Sexual and GenderBased Crimes, the first ever such policy for an international court or tribunal. Despite these foundational pillars and priorities, in the 18 years of the Court’s operation there has only been one standing conviction on sexual violence. This submission highlights avenues for improving gender justice at varying stages of a case. It identifies opportunities for progress regarding staffing and prosecutorial strategies on case selection, prioritization, and investigation that hinder access to justice in these cases. Until gender is mainstreamed throughout all stages of ICC cases, the Court will be limited in its capacity to deliver justice.

Download the Full Submission

Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry: Structural Issues and Flawed Findings

On January 20, 2020, Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry (“ICOE”) submitted its final report to Myanmar’s government. The report, which was initially due on July 30, 2019, was instead submitted three days before the International Court of Justice handed down its unanimous decision on provisional measures in The Gambia v. Myanmar. With the mandate to “investigate the allegations of human rights violations and related issues, following the terrorist attacks by ARSA,” Myanmar has relied on the work of the ICOE since its creation to object to international efforts, including those of the UN Security Council, to ensure accountability for the crimes against the Rohingya.

The ICOE is not the first, but the eighth ad-hoc commission and board set up by Myanmar since 2012 with regard to the situation in Rakhine State; however, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has determined that none of these commissions, including the ICOE, meet the standards of an “impartial, independent, effective and thorough human rights investigation.” This Factsheet seeks to provide context and analysis on the ICOE and its final report and can be used by the international community to understand the report and its analysis.

 
   

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ICJ Provisional Measures Hearings: Rohingya Right of Reply

December 11 2019 1:15pm CET

The Global Justice Center co-hosted a side event where representatives of the Rohingya community discussed two days of oral arguments at the International Court of Justice in the genocide case against Myanmar.

Speakers included:

  • Razia Sultana, Founder, Rohingya Women Welfare Society
  • Yasmin Ullah, Research Coordinator, Free Rohingya Coalition
  • Tun Khin, President, Burmese Rohingya Organization UK
  • Myra Dahgaypaw, Policy Advocate, US Campaign for Burma
  • Wai Wai Nu, Founder, Women's Peace Network

 

Accountability for International Crimes Committed Against Ethnic Minorities in Myanmar: Discussing Complementary Avenues for Justice

December 5 2019 1:15pm CET

At 2019 Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court:
How can potential proceedings at the International Criminal Court (“ICC”), the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”), in third party states under universal jurisdiction and the work of the International Independent Mechanism for Myanmar (“IIMM”) can act in complementarity to bring justice and accountability for Myanmar’s crimes ethnic groups, including the Rohingya?

 

Episode 12 – Genocide and gender with Akila Radhakrishnan

Excerpt of Asymmetrical Haircuts podcast episode that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

We grabbed Akila Radhakrishnan – the president of the Global Justice Center based in New York, an international human rights organisation focused on gender equality and the rule of law, that’s been at the centre of all the lobbying for this move. 

Their special interest is in the gendered nature of genocide – check out their reports The Rohingya from Discrimination to Destruction– and Beyond Killing by the amazing Sareta Ashraph.

Read the Full Article

Accountability for the Rohingya Genocide: the ICJ Case

November 11 2019 11:00pm CET

The Rohingya genocide in Myanmar is one of the most pressing human rights challenges of our times. There have been various attempts at accountability, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission and Investigative Mechanism and the pending ICC investigation, although nothing has borne fruit yet. With the announcement by The Gambia that it would initiate proceedings against Myanmar before the ICJ under the 1948 Genocide Convention, there is now a new and important possibility for accountability. This meeting will provide an update on the initiative, also addressing the implications of State responsibility under the Genocide Convention for deterring further crimes and providing redress for the victims and the role for civil society and other stakeholders in this important accountability initiative.

 

Q&A: The Gambia v. Myanmar – Rohingya Genocide at The International Court of Justice

Starting in October 2016 and then again in August 2017, Myanmar’s security forces engaged in so-called “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority, in Rakhine State, Myanmar. The operations, in particular those that started in August 2017, were characterized by brutal violence and serious human rights violations on a mass scale. Survivors report indiscriminate killings, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention, torture, beatings, and forced displacement. Reports have also shown that security forces were systematically planning for such an operation against the Rohingya even before the purported reason for the violence — retaliation for small scale attacks committed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) — occurred. As a result, an estimated 745,000 people — mostly ethnic Rohingya — were forced to flee to Bangladesh.

According to the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar(FFM), the treatment of the Rohingya population during the “clearance operations” amounts to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, the commission of which evokes specific obligations and responsibility under international law.

On November 11, 2019, The Republic of The Gambia filed suit against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) for violating the Genocide Convention. This momentous lawsuit brings a critical focus to Myanmar’s responsibility as a state for genocide and compliments ongoing investigations into individual accountability. This fact sheet answers fundamental questions about the ICJ case, and seeks to clarify available avenues for justice for the crimes committed against the Rohingya population.

 
   

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Myanmar might finally be held accountable for genocide, but the court case must recognise sexual violence

Excerpt ofThe Conversation US article that cites GJC's "That's Illegal" podcast and a speechby President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Myanmar might finally be held accountable, but defending the Rohingya from genocide shouldn’t just be left to the global Islamic community. They need to be joined by countries with an interest in reducing the sexual and gender based violence at the core of the Tatmadaw’s genocidal campaign.

Read the Full Article

Failure to Notice or Notable Failure?: Challenges to Instilling a Gender-Sensitive Approach to International Law

October 11 2019 3:00pm until 4:45pm ET

The discussion will bring together international law, human rights and women’s rights experts who will draw upon their experiences to discuss the need for a gendered approach to international law. Panelists will consider the following questions: How can international law better deliver on gender justice? What does a gender analysis add to our understanding of these frameworks? Are national courts better equipped to provide true accountability?

Read Akila Radhakrishnan's Speech at UNGA74 Side Event on the Rohingya Crisis

"A Pathway to a Sustainable Solution to the Rohingya Crisis"
Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations

Text of Prepared Remarks

Thank you Simon. And thank you Minister Momen, Minister Tambadou for your leadership. It’s an honor to participate in this event with you both. As Simon mentioned, I am the President of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights organization dedicated to advancing gender equality through the rule of law. We combine legal analysis with strategic advocacy to ensure equal protection of the law for women and girls.

My organization has worked in Burma since 2005, largely on issues of justice and accountability, including for military-perpetrated sexual violence against ethnic women. As a result, we are all too familiar with the place we find ourselves in today: seeking to find ways to end to conflict and restore peace, break the cycle of impunity for horrific crimes perpetrated by the military against an ethnic minority, and a find path forward to true democratic transition in Burma.

A Pathway to a Sustainable Solution to the Rohingya Crisis

From September 29, 2019 6:00pm until 7:30pm ET

Hosted by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations in partnership with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, this side event during the 74th UN General Assembly is on a sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis. The event will address the international crimes committed against the Rohingya – genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – and will examine current accountability efforts, including at the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court.

Speakers:

  • Abubacarr M. Tambadou, Attorney General and Minister of Justice of The Gambia 
  • Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center
  • Simon Adams, Executive Director, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

The International Criminal Court Can Help End Impunity for Gender-Based Violence in its Investigation of the Rohingya

Rohingya refugee women hold placards as they take part in a protest at the Kutupalong refugee camp to mark the one-year anniversary of their exodus in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Also published by Ms. Magazine

By Katherine Comly

Ask any feminist how they think their government is doing at holding perpetrators of sexual violence accountable and most would respond with an emphatic “poorly”— at best. Internationally, there are moves being made to tackle sexual violence, like awarding the Nobel Prize to Nadia Murad and passing the first Security Council Resolution on the issue. Still, they go nowhere near solving systemic problems.

There currently exists, however, a major opportunity to reform how the international justice system addresses sexual violence: the investigations into genocidal violence against the Rohingya in Burma. A gendered understanding of these crimes is essential and will fulfill the international community’s responsibility to recognize and punish all forms of genocidal violence.

Five Years After Genocide, Yazidis are Still Waiting for Justice

By Maryna Tkachenko

“Today, the Yazidis have largely been abandoned” — Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Yazidi survivor

August 3, 2014 changed the Yazidi community of Sinjar forever. The terrorist group Daesh killed and enslaved thousands of Yazidis, members of a small religious minority in northern Iraq that have been historically persecuted for being “devil worshippers.” In addition to carrying out coordinated attacks of violence against the group as a whole, Daesh explicitly targeted women and girls by inflicting widespread sexual violence in the form of rape, torture, and forced marriage. These gendered acts of the Yazidi genocide served as tools for recruitment, conversion, and forced indoctrination.

Five years later, despite a growing body of evidence, no Daesh fighter has been prosecuted for genocide of the Yazidi. In 2016, the United Nations recognized the attacks as a genocidal campaign, but Yazidis are still waiting for justice, hoping to return one day to their homes on the Sinjar Mountain.

Joint Statement on the Assignment of the Situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh to the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber III

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – June 28, 2019

[NEW YORK, NY]– The Global Justice Center, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Naripokkho, and Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice welcome recent developments at the International Criminal Court (ICC) concerning the Situation in the People's Republic of Bangladesh/Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Both the intention of the Office of the Prosecutor to undertake an investigation, and the assignment of the situation to Pre-Trial Chamber III bring the ICC one step closer to providing accountability for the crimes committed against the Rohingya.

Bringing a Gendered Lens to Genocide Prevention and Accountability

By Maryna Tkachenko

More than 70 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, mass atrocity crimes are still carried out in systematic and, equally important, gendered ways. The lack of emphasis on the gendered nature of coordinated crimes not only jeopardizes international security but also ignores the multi-layered reality of genocidal violence. The most recent genocides against the Yazidi and the Rohingya populations are clear instances of the international community neglecting to prioritize a gendered lens in preventing and punishing genocide.

On 22 May, the Global Justice Center and the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) held a panel on “Gender and Genocide: Engendering analysis for better prevention, accountability, and protection” to examine critical gaps within the framework of analysis for atrocity crimes. (Read GJC’s white paper Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, & Obligations Under International Law to learn more about the ways in which female experiences of genocide are too often removed from the analysis of genocidal violence.) 

What Does a Gender Perspective Bring to Crimes Against Humanity Genocide, and War Crimes?

From May 02, 2019 6:00 pm until 8:30 pm 

At LSE Center for Women, Peace and Security, Wolfson Lecture Theatre

Overview:

The event marks the public launch of the Gendered Peace project which is funded by the European Research Council. In 2014 the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched its Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes to strengthen “expertise and commitment to the prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes”.  Notwithstanding this ambition, five years on, the Court’s track record remains disappointing and it would appear that much more work must be done.  

This event is designed to open up a discussion on the multi-dimensional nature of the core categories of international offences through a gender perspective to evaluate progress, identify setbacks and explore future options.  What does a gender analysis add to our understanding of these offences?  How can international criminal law better deliver on gender justice?

Speakers:

  • Patricia Viseur Sellers, International Criminal Lawyer 
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center
  • Christine Chinkin,  Professional Research Fellow 

 

Destruction of the Spirit: The Critical Role of Gender in Genocide

Genocide is a crime of destruction, an attempt to annihilate a group of people and render them irrelevant, invisible, and eventually forgotten. Popular conceptions of genocide have long characterized it mainly as a crime of mass killing, the majority of victims of which tend to be men. During genocidal campaigns, women and girls are more likely to survive the initial killings but face enslavement, beatings, starvation, degradation, and other atrocities that form constitutive acts of genocide. Survivors of these abuses are not just witnesses to genocide; they are also its intended targets. When these gendered, non-killing crimes are not recognized as genocide, women and girls are denied justice for the abuses they have suffered.

Across continents and cultures, genocide is carried out along gendered lines. The first step is often the separation of groups by gender and age for distinct treatment.  When Daesh captured thousands of Yazidi in August 2014, they executed males over 12 years old, and sold women and girls into slavery. During the Rwandan genocide, members of the Hutu militia tore clothes off children to ensure boys were not dressed in girls’ clothing as a means of escaping mass killings. Once separated, women and girls experience distinct and destructive genocidal acts.

Though they are frequently not regarded as genocidal, these acts can in fact form the basis for the four non-killing crimes of genocide: causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children to another group. For an in-depth legal analysis of the role of gender in genocide, see the Global Justice Center’s whitepaper, Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law

Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law

Executive Summary

Gender permeates the crime of genocide. It is woven into the perpetrators’ planning and commission of coordinated acts that make up the continuum of genocidal violence. It is through these gendered annihilative acts that perpetrators maximize the crime’s destructive impact on protected groups.

Female and male members of targeted groups, by the perpetrators’ own design, experience genocide in distinct ways by reason of their gender. Men and older boys are targeted as a consequence of the gendered roles they are perceived to inhabit, including those as heads of households, leaders, religious authorities, protectors, guardians of the group’s identity, and patriarchs. Assaults on women and girls pay heed to their roles as mothers, wives, daughters, bearers of future life, keepers of community’s and family’s honor, and sources of labor within the home. An understanding of what it means to be male and female in a particular society thus saturates perpetrators’ conceptions of their victims, and of themselves. In particular, the violence directed at women and girls during genocide is fed by existing misogynistic attitudes in society, and the traumatic impacts are magnified by the financial, social, cultural inequalities to which women and girls are subjected. 

Genocide is often understood as a crime committed predominantly through organized mass killings—the majority of victims of which, both historically and today, tend to be male. Consequently, non-killing acts of genocide—more likely to be directed against female members of a protected group—are often cast out of the continuum of genocidal violence. Equally, in privileging the act of killing, other acts of violence committed against men and boys—such as torture, rape, and enslavement—have also been obscured.