In many jurisdictions, the legal definition of rape doesn’t meet international human rights standards. In late 2018, only eight European jurisdictions had consent-based definitions, according to Amnesty International. In Myanmar, the legal definition of rape is a colonial legacy dating back to the 1861 penal code. Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center, asks ‘why, in 2020, are we clinging to the standards of 1861?’
Radhakrishnan asks us to look to existing legal frameworks promoting gender equality for solutions. For example, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women is a two-part framework that bars discrimination but also requires states to pursue measures towards substantive equality.
For now, the United States government has imposed sanctions on state officials in China and US companies doing business with China, and other countries have been urged to act.
The legal obligations on states to intervene are determined in part by their capacity to influence the perpetrators, notes Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center. She asks, ‘are sanctions a full utilisation of the US’ capacity to intervene?’
Further, Radhakrishnan says ‘states are claiming they can’t act until something is definitely found to be a genocide, but that requires a level of evidence and information that surpasses where legal obligations to act kick in’.
A legislation that aims to protect women against violence in Myanmar, while long overdue, is raising concern among human rights advocates about its inadequate definition of rape, vague definition for “consent”, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rhetoric.
Myanmar is soon to see the latest version of its Prevention of and Protection from Violence Against Women (PoVAW) introduced in parliament. But the Global Justice Centre (GJC), an international human rights and humanitarian law organisation focusing on advancing gender equality, has pointed out that the legislation falls short of addressing violence against women.
According to GJC, the language used in the law borrows from Myanmar’s 1861 Penal Code and thus perpetuates antiquated understandings of rape, such as; considering rape as violence committed only by men, the definition of “rape” constituting only of vaginal penetration, and no acknowledgement of marital rape.
“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,” the GJC analysis has claimed.
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.
NEW YORK – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres released a report today on the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls.
Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:
“UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has taken important leadership to highlight the gendered impact of COVID-19, first with his call to prevent violence against women, and today with his policy brief on the impact of Covid-19 on women and girls. All crises have a gendered impact, and the secretary-general’s leadership in helping to shed light on this issue is important. We now look to states to take meaningful efforts to address these gendered impacts and make them the center of all responses. This should include, first and foremost, the equal representation of women in the decision making and planning of responses.
"We have seen around the world the failure of states to adequately take human and women’s rights into account. For example, policymakers in the United States are using COIVD-19 measures as a pretext to curb access to sexual and reproductive rights, in particular abortion. The secretary-general’s brief importantly recognizes that the provision of such services is central to women’s health and rights. A human and women’s rights informed approach should be leading to states working to make key services like abortion, more accessible, not less.
"As COVID-19 continues to lay bare the inequalities in our society, states must ensure that their responses take gendered impacts into account."
Excerpt of CNN articles that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.
Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said the call "recognizes how violence and crisis situations exacerbate existing inequalities in society and emphasize the need to center those most impacted in responses."
"However, to date, we have consistently seen that Covid-19 responses have inadequately taken women’s rights and human rights into account. And there’s been a lack of inclusivity in the groups responsible for crisis response and decision-making," she said.
NEW YORK – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres gave an address today on violence against women living under quarantine measures issued to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:
“We applaud the Secretary-General for his important call today to end violence against women, which recognizes one of the key gendered impacts of crises situations such as COVID-19.
“Like his call for a global ceasefire, today’s call recognizes how violence and crisis situations exacerbate existing inequalities in society and emphasize the need to center those most impacted in responses. However, to date, we have consistently seen that COVID-19 responses have inadequately taken women’s rights and human rights into account. And there’s been a lack of inclusivity in the groups responsible for crisis response and decision-making.
“As the Secretary-General recognized, violence against women requires a multi-faceted response, including access to support services and shelters and judicial systems. We hope that states heed this important call and take immediate measures to ensure that measures are taken to prevent and respond to domestic violence, and ensure that all measures are grounded in human rights and involve an inclusive group of women in its design and decision-making.”
Dear Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Murray, Chairwoman DeLauro, and Ranking Member Cole:
The undersigned 109 organizations, committed to supporting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people, request your support for fiscal year (FY) 2021 funding that helps to ensure the health of our nation’s youth. We urge you to protect the integrity of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) and increase support for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) school-based HIV and STI prevention efforts. We also encourage the elimination of the abstinence-only “sexual risk avoidance” competitive grant program.
Young people face barriers to accessing health information, education, and services, resulting in persistent inequity and health disparities. While a young person’s health and wellbeing is about more than just the absence of disease, or in the case of sexual health, the absence of HIV and other STIs, unintended pregnancy, or sexual violence, the adolescent data on these points alone, remain largely unchanged and alarming in recent years.
GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan spoke at this event hosted by the New York City Bar Association.
This exciting Conference will coincide with the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York City and the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing where First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton historically proclaimed, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” Speakers, panelists and moderators at the Conference will address various topics, including: the status of women and the role of lawyers and the law in improving the status of women; United Nation’s initiatives to improve the status of women; global human rights concerns and abuses specifically impacting women; innovative approaches to improving the lives of women through the rule of law and government policy; elevating women lawyers and fostering diversity within the legal profession; and the role of legal societies, professional organizations and international NGOs in aiding women.
A Pro Bono Engagement Forum and Reception will kick off the Conference to allow attendees to connect with one another about potential opportunities to offer legal services on a pro bono basis to NGOs focused on serving women.
Moderators: Robyn Griffin, Managing Director, The Huntington National Bank Lauren McMillen Ormsbee, Partner, BLB&G
Roger Juan Maldonado, President, New York City Bar Association
Fiona Bassett, Board Member, The Hopeland Charity Foundation Julie E. Fink, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP Francoise Girard, President, International Women’s Health Coalition Barbara Hart, President and CEO, Lowey Dannenberg, P.C. Stephanie Johanssen, Senior Advocacy Officer and UN Representative, Women's Refugee Commission Laila Khoudeida, Co-Founder and Director of Women’s Affairs for YAZDA Charlotte Laurent-Ottomane, Executive Director, Thirty Percent Coalition Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell, CEO, Girls Not Brides Consolee Nishimwe, Author, Tested to the Limited, Educational and Motivational Speaker Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, United Nations Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center Jessica Reijnders, Executive Director, Free A Girl USA
Excerpt of McClatchy article that features the Global Justice Center.
They are suing Pompeo, in his capacity as secretary of state, in the Southern District of New York, as well as the State Department and its director of policy planning staff Peter Berkowitz, the executive director of the commission.
The other plaintiffs in the case are the Center for Health and Gender Equality, or CHANGE, the Council for Global Equality and the Global Justice Center.
Their lawsuit alleges members of the commission hold biased views, and they were selected by Pompeo to yield a predetermined outcome. It argues that the commission’s work is not in the public interest.
Excerpt of CNN article that features the Global Justice Center.
Pompeo unveiled the commission in July 2019, saying it would be tasked with examining the role of human rights in foreign policy and refocusing on which rights should be "honored." Lawmakers and human rights organizations had expressed concerns that the initiative was an effort to roll back protections for women, LGBTQ groups and minorities.
On Friday, Democracy Forward filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, the Council for Global Equality and the Global Justice Center. It targets Pompeo, the State Department and the department's director of policy planning staff, Peter Berkowitz.
The groups allege that the commission was created and operated in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the 1972 statute that establishes guidelines that such committees must adhere to.
Latina feminist activists have poured onto the streets to challenge government and police officials for their failure to protect women from this lethal discrimination. Pointing to the misogynist and machismo institutions, they have made clear that their inaction is complicity.
The international community must lift these voices and hold governments accountable to their obligations to protect the rights to life, equality and freedom from torture.
NEW YORK – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a call to action today on human rights in an address to the Human Rights Council.
Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:
"The Secretary-General’s call to action is a welcome effort to re-center human rights into the work of the United Nations. Particularly important is its specific area of focus on gender equality and equal rights for women. Still, it is equally important that gender equality is integral to all focus areas as a cross-cutting issue.
“With the UN’s recent failure to adequately respond to the serious violations against the Rohingya in Myanmar in mind — as documented in the UN’s own internal report by Gert Rosenthal — it is essential that this call to action translates to meaningful action. It’s insufficient for the UN to pay mere lip service to the concept of human rights. Rather, the call to action should be used to fundamentally shift the UN’s culture and ensure that all parts of the system work to promote, not suppress, human rights.”
Excerpt of DropLabs article that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.
What we become inspired by often is genuinely determined by our experiences. For some, the passions they discovered at a young age eventually do manifest into their professional careers, and for others, such a pathway becomes best informed by time and experience. In Akila Radhakrishnan's story, a mixture of both helped shape the direction of her career today. As a kid, Akila recalls always saying she wanted to be a lawyer, citing her love for being argumentative as an indicator of the direction she wanted to pursue when she got older. However, it wasn't until attending law school, working in the field and learning more about herself and the work she aimed to achieve that a path in advocating for human rights ended up unfolding.
Presently, Akila serves as the president of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights organization. Founded in 2005, the non-profit organization works to advance gender equality by helping to implement and enforce human rights laws. Akila's journey into her present role has been accented by incredibly hard work, a dedication to social justice and a willingness to be as diligent as possible in upholding the GJC's mission.
We, the undersigned XX organizations, demand that you rescind the final regulation published Friday, January 24, 2020, in the Federal Register, Visas: Temporary Visas for Business or Pleasure, RIN: 1400-AE96. This regulation is an attack against immigrant women, particularly those of color, and with low incomes. The Department of State (“Department”) justifies these changes to temporary visas in the name of national security, when in reality they are thinly veiled racist and xenophobic attacks on the health, dignity, and well-being of immigrant women of color and their families. The consequences of this regulation will only stoke fear and confusion in immigrant communities who are already subject to the brutal whims of an administration that embraces blatantly discriminatory policies against immigrants and people of color.
During the United States’ (US) second-cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR), multiple states made recommendations concerning US abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, including the Helms Amendment. In addition to donor and recipient countries, these restrictions have also been the subject of concern for human rights bodies and experts. The US has failed to take any action on these state recommendations; in fact, in 2017 the Trump administration further entrenched and expanded the scope of these policies with the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule (GGR).
The restrictive abortion policies include those imposed by the US Congress – the Helms and Siljander Amendments (Helms-related restrictions) – as well as the Presidentially imposed GGR. The restrictions impact different pools of money: the Helms-related restrictions dictate how US foreign aid can be spent and apply to all foreign assistance funds, while the GGR limits how funds from any donor can be spent if a foreign non-governmental organization receives US global health assistance. These restrictions not only ignore the US’s own obligations under international law, but violate a broad array of women’s rights, deny them essential services, and put their lives and well-being at risk.
The Global Justice Center’s full submission highlights continuing concerns over these US policies which impose blanket prohibitions on abortion services and speech, in violation of US obligations under international humanitarian law, international human rights law, customary international law, and UN Security Council Resolutions. It is long past time for the US to repeal these regressive and harmful policies, direct their aid to pursue positive health outcomes for women, and to realize women’s fundamental rights under international human rights and humanitarian law
The State Department’s newly formed Unalienable Rights Commission held its third public meeting today. It’s been six months since the commission was first announced in July 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but it’s important to not lose sight of the dangers this commission poses.
To start, the very existence of this group as a way to determine and define human rights fundamentally distorts and misunderstands the very nature of human rights—they cannot be limited based on the views of a single government. Further, we should be most alarmed at its obvious intent: to erode long-established human rights in service of a regressive agenda, with clear antagonism toward abortion rights in particular.
At the outset, the commission is working under a seriously flawed premise. Universal human rights norms exist to hold states accountable: they cannot be defined or redefined based on the demands of an individual administration. Especially an administration like Trump’s, which has systematically disengaged from, rejected and attempted to erode the human rights system since its inauguration.