The recent and/or ongoing asserted genocides of the Uyghurs, Rohingya, Yazidis, and Tigrayans all include, prominently, allegations of sexual violence and, in some instances, prevention of births. But whether these are discrete prohibited acts or elements thereof, or should be viewed in composite or as evidence of the intent to destroy the group in whole or in part depends upon a fulsome analysis. This panel of experts will use gendered legal analyses to examine the similarities and differences of each manifestation, and whether or not there are elements that are more or less difficult to discern.
In 2014, ISIS soldiers massacred Yazidi men and boys, while the women and girls of child-bearing age were separated and distributed around the region to ISIS soldiers to be their slaves. In 2017, Myanmar's military used rape and sexual mutilation as weapons of war against Rohingya women fleeing for their lives. As a result of the Chinese Communist Party's coercive birth prevention programs targeting the Uyghurs and other minorities over the last several years, the estimated population loss from suppressed birth rates in southern Xinjiang alone ranges between 2.6 and 4.5 million. Beginning in 2020, armed forces in Ethiopia have used rape and sexual violence to inflict lasting physical and psychological damage not only on victims, but on whole communities. In this discussion, Akila Radhakrishnan and Emily Prey will examine the oft-overlooked, under-litigated gendered dynamics of genocide, why it is so crucial to engage in gendered analyses, and what state parties to the Genocide Convention, including the United States, can do to further these conversations.
Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes a GJC factsheet.
This week’s coup could bring further complications, with the military that orchestrated the crackdown once again in control and the country’s elected civilian leaders in detention.
“In principle the coup has no direct impact on the ICJ case,” international rights group Global Justice Center said in a statement. “For the ICJ’s own purposes, it is the state of Myanmar, however constructed, that is the subject of this case and changes in political leadership have no bearing. The coup does however, raise other questions, including whether a military-led government will continue to engage with and defend the case, as well as how the Court will view compliance with the provisional measures orders.”
In January last year, the court told Myanmar to take provisional measures to “protect against further, irreparable harm to the rights of the Rohingya group under the Genocide Convention” and ordered the country to report on the situation every six months.
Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.
Human rights groups condemned the failure of the council to take swift action.
“No one should be surprised that the world’s body for maintaining international peace and security failed to issue a statement condemning a brazen military coup,” Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center said in a statement urging world leaders to take action including selected sanctions, arms embargoes and economic divestment to “disempower” the military.
“The time has passed for failed strategies promoting ‘stability’ and quiet diplomacy over accountability and justice,” she said. “The military has destabilized the country irreparably. It’s now on the international community to stem the tide of military violence and impunity before it’s too late.”
Excerpt of ABC News Australia article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.
There are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, including the Rohingya, Karen, Rakhine, Shan and Chin peoples. Recent clashes in Karen state have led to 4,000 being displaced since December.
"It's quite likely that this will be utilised as a convenient excuse by the military to extend their state of emergency," Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, told the ABC.
"The military has only committed to ceasefires and peace when it is in their interests, and there is little to no trust between many of the ethnic armed groups and the military."
On November 11, 2019 the Republic of The Gambia filed suit against the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) for violations of the Genocide Convention. This historic lawsuit brings a critical focus to Myanmar’s responsibility as a state for the Rohingya genocide.
The Gambia’s case focuses on Myanmar’s security forces’ so-called “clearance operations” in 2016 and 2017 against the Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority, in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. These attacks against Rohingya were massive in scale, ghastly in brutality, and meticulous in coordination. Approximately 800,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in a matter of weeks, with survivors reporting indiscriminate killings, gender-based violence, arbitrary detention, torture, beatings, and forced displacement. Rape and sexual violence were widespread, pervasive, and often conducted in public, to the extent that the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission (“FFM”) found that sexual violence was a hallmark of the Security Forces’ operations.
On January 20, 2021 Myanmar filed preliminary objections in The Gambia v. Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”). The objections challenge The Gambia’s ability to bring its genocide suit against the state of Myanmar.
This fact sheet answers fundamental questions about the Preliminary Objections stage of the ICJ case. (Answers to questions about the early stages of the lawsuit, Myanmar’s responsibility for genocide, and its impact on the Rohingya population are here and here.)
Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.
Human rights groups said the international community needed to recognise the shortcomings of their engagement during Myanmar’s democratic transition and take tougher steps to rein in the military.
“The Tatmadaw has exposed the vast vulnerabilities of Myanmar’s democratic institutions by staging this brazen coup,” Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center.
“Given the history of military rule, the risk of ensuing violence and atrocities is greater than any moment in recent memory. We can’t ignore the repeated failure of the international community to take concerted action to curb military power and hold it accountable for its constant human rights abuses, including its genocidal campaign against the Rohingya.”
Excerpt of UPI article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.
Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights law organization, chastized the council for failing to agree on a statement.
"The council's paralysis on Myanmar is unacceptable and must be dismantled," she said in an emailed statement, while calling on world leaders to take independent action.
"Targeted sanctions, arms embargoes and economic divestment are just some actions that must be considered" she said. "The time has passed for failed strategies promoting 'stability' and quiet diplomacy over accountability and justice."
Excerpt of BBC World News segment featuring GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.
Excerpt of Anadolu Agency article that quotes GJC factsheet.
A final decision at the UN’s top court in the legal battle against Myanmar for the alleged genocide of Rohingya Muslims could be delayed, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is first set to rule on objections filed by Myanmar.
A legal summary prepared by the New York-based Global Justice Center, shared with Anadolu Agency, stated that Myanmar has raised objections over whether the western African country of Gambia was eligible to file the November 2019 case alleging that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine state violate the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
“The ICJ’s final ruling on whether Myanmar violated the Genocide Convention, and what reparations are therefore necessary, will be delayed by the time it takes for the court to hear arguments and decide on the preliminary objections, a delay of likely at least a year,” the center said.
Excerpt of Associated Press article that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.
Human rights groups, which have been generally critical of Trump administration policies, welcomed the move, which Pompeo said was taken with an eye toward the U.S. role in prosecuting Nazi war crimes during WWII at the Nuremberg trials.
“We hope to see the U.S. follow these strong words with decisive action,” said Grant Shubin of the Global Justice Center. “Where there is a risk of genocide, there is a duty to act. Moving forward, this designation should inform the entirety of U.S. foreign policy and we hope to hear more from the incoming Biden administration on how it plans to follow through on this historic announcement.”
Excerpt of The Hill article that quotes GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.
The Global Justice Center, an international human rights and humanitarian law organization, said the U.S. is right to label atrocities in Xianjing as genocide, but raised concerns that Pompeo’s move is weakened by political considerations.
“The United States is right to bring the brutal, years-long repression of the Uighurs within the framework of genocide. What’s more, it correctly cited gendered crimes of biological destruction like forced sterilization and birth control. However, the human rights community should be alarmed at reports that this decision was motivated by policy goals instead of a legal obligation to prevent and punish genocide,” Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, said in a statement.
“Our legal and moral duty to combat genocide should inform our policy goals, not the other way around. The US should be applauded for taking action to prevent the destruction of the Uighurs and we hope other nations join them. But we must see fighting genocide as a cause for humanity rather than a geopolitical wedge," Shubin continued.
NEW YORK — The United States today declared China’s government is committing genocide and other international crimes against the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority living in western China. In the past, President-elect Joe Biden has also deemed the repression of Uyghurs genocide.
Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:
“The United States is right to bring the brutal, years-long repression of the Uyghurs within the framework of genocide. What’s more, it correctly cited gendered crimes of biological destruction like forced sterilization and birth control. However, the human rights community should be alarmed at reports that this decision was motivated by policy goals instead of a legal obligation to prevent and punish genocide.
“Our legal and moral duty to combat genocide should inform our policy goals, not the other way around. The US should be applauded for taking action to prevent the destruction of the Uyghurs and we hope other nations join them. But we must see fighting genocide as a cause for humanity rather than a geopolitical wedge.
“We hope to see the US follow these strong words with decisive action. Where there is a risk of genocide, there is a duty to act. Moving forward, this designation should inform the entirety of US foreign policy and we hope to hear more from the incoming Biden administration on how it plans to follow through on this historic announcement.”
On this online event, international justice experts from around the world will share an update of the ongoing international justice processes against Burma at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and in Argentinian courts through a Universal Jurisdiction case, and give insight on how the international community could work to hold the newly elected Burmese government more accountable in uplifting the rights and security of Rohingya people during the country’s ongoing political transition.
Participants will include:
- Akila Radhakrishnan (Moderator), President of the Global Justice Centre.
- Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation – UK (London, UK).
- M. Arsalan Suleman, Foley Hoag, legal counsel to The Gambia in its case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice.
- Erin Rosenberg, Senior Advisor to The Ferencz International Justice Initia-tive, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- Tomas Quintana, Argentinian lawyer and lead counsel in the current Uni-versal Jurisdiction case brought in Argentina, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea and former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar.
Remarks from GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan
Thank you for having me on such a distinguished panel of speakers and experts today, and I want to echo Simon’s thanks for the inclusion of civil society in this conversation. As Ambassador Rae mentioned, I am Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights organization dedicated to advancing gender equality through the rule of law. And as an organization, we have been working on Myanmar since 2005, particularly justice and accountability for sexual violence against ethnic minorities.
In reflecting on the topic for today’s panel, “Rohingya Crisis in the Fourth Year: Challenges to Securing a Sustainable Solution” - I am left with the sense that the questions we are asking ourselves four years on are almost identical to the questions we were asking ourselves 4 years ago, and frankly those for those of us who have long worked on Myanmar, much longer.
As I prepared my remarks for today, I spoke to a wise colleague about this issue and he pointed me towards some statements that Government of Myanmar has made with respect to the Rohingya, including that “there was no discrimination based on religion,” that allegations of misconduct were “fabricated by some big countries and certain foreign news agencies”, that the “Rohingya do not exist in Myanmar either historically, politically or legally”, and that the Tatmadaw is a “methodically and systematically organized institution made up of highly trained and disciplined personnel”, and that the “grotesque allegations made against the Tatmadaw were totally false.”
While these statements sound like they could have been made by Myanmar yesterday, they are in fact statements made to the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance in 1992. I use this to show how while the face of Myanmar’s government since then has changed, how little the Government's rhetoric or posture has changed not only in the four years since this “crisis” began, but rather in the decades of oppression of the Rohingya. And this should be a rallying cry to the international community that business as usual on Myanmar cannot continue. Myanmar should no longer be allowed to set the terms of the debate and the scope of action.
And nowhere is this more stark than when it comes to the deeply rooted gender issues at the heart of the Rohingya genocide. SRSG Patten has powerfully laid out how crimes of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including transwomen, as well as men and boys was systematically used by the Tatmadaw in their operations so I won’t repeat what she has said and instead pick up briefly on some key issues that are essential to delivering gender justice and changing the conversation on Myanmar.
As a starting point, there can be no true justice for the genocide of the Rohingya if acts of sexual and gender-based violence are not at the center of all accountability proceedings at the international and domestic level. And here, countries like The Gambia, Bangladesh, Canada, and the Netherlands and institutions like the ICC, OHCHR and the IIMM need to be commended in their efforts to take bold steps to move the justice and accountability conversation forward. And in particular, I must say thank you to Canada and the Netherlands for their commitment to addressing crimes of SGBV in their intervention at the ICJ. But while international efforts move forward, it has been profoundly disturbing to see members of the international community continue to validate and legitimize deeply flawed domestic processes, in particular the International Commission of Enquiry.
As an advocate for gender-justice, that fact the ICOE’s executive summary categorically dismissed evidence of rape and gang rape, despite extensive documentation of these crimes, should immediately disqualify this report. If the ICOE is to be the evidentiary base for domestic accountability proceedings, where does this leave those who were subject to acts of sexual and gender-based violence? While there is little to no transparency around Myanmar’s court-martials, it can be assumed that none of the court-martials that have been announced on the basis of the ICOE report will include charges of sexual and gender-based violence, including those that were announced yesterday. And even outside of the cases it may underlie, just the matter of its dismissal and exclusion from the ICOE’s report is a step in the erasure of gendered experiences.
The concerns are compounded with larger concerns over the ICOE, including their limited and flawed mandate, to questions about their independence, impartiality and methodology, and its findings. However, in looking for openings to address the seemingly intractable situation in Myanmar, most states have chosen an approach of selective acceptance and “constructive” engagement with regards to the ICOE, even as they have yet to see the full report. This is what operating on Myanmar’s terms looks like.
In fact, just last week, the joint statement released following yet another closed-door Security Council meeting on Myanmar called for the implementation of the recommendations of the ICOE. It is not possible to divorce the recommendations of a report from the analysis and narrative that underlies it, and the continued legitimization of this report, signal the international community’s comfort with the erasure of gendered experiences in pursuit of “solutions.” Rhetoric decrying sexual and gender-based violence is not enough, the international community must ensure that all of its actions on Myanmar are undertaken with a gender perspective.
Second, while justice is an important part of the larger accountability picture, it cannot be the sole focus. Rather, accountability needs to be holistic and survivor-centered and should seek to address and transform the root causes of violence--including patriarchal structures and misogyny--both in Myanmar and in the Rohingya community itself. Therefore, punitive measures against individuals cannot alone address it; to comprehensively address SGBV takes much more: reparations and redress, including guarantees of non-repetition, and access to comprehensive medical and psychosocial care for survivors, including essential sexual and reproductive health services such as safe abortion.
And as accountability proceedings are underway, it is crucial that the Rohingya themselves, including Rohingya women and girls, are able to determine their own priorities for justice and restitution. To borrow a phrase from American reproductive justice activists, “nothing about us without us.” And on this, while I deeply appreciate being included in this conversation, I note with disappointment that the direct voice of Rohingya women is not represented today. Rohingya women and girls must be the architects, not objects, of their future.
Thank you so much for the ability to participate.
Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.
The New York-based Global Justice Center welcomed the move by Canada and the Netherlands, calling it "nothing short of historic".
Akila Radhakrishnan, the group's president, said: "Just as important as their intention to intervene is their promise to focus on gendered crimes of genocide like sexual and gender-based violence, which was central to the atrocities against the Rohingya."
She added: "Too often, gendered experiences do not translate to justice and accountability efforts and leave the primary targets of those crimes - women and girls - behind. This is an important step forward to address that gap and Canada and the Netherlands should be applauded for this move."
Statement in Solidarity and Support of the Rohingya Community: The Need for Justice and Accountability
Three years after the Myanmar military launched its campaign involving acts amounting to crimes against humanity and acts the UN's Fact-Finding Mission determined may amount to genocide against its Rohingya Muslim citizens, the Asia Justice Coalition today joins the Rohingya community in remembering and honouring their victims and survivors. Over a million Rohingya remain refugees, most of them in Bangladesh, but also scattered in other countries including Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and in Europe. Some 126,000 individuals have also been internally displaced and are living in dire conditions.
We reflect on the need for justice for the Rohingya, including through investigations and prosecutions of those individually responsible for crimes under international law committed against the Rohingya, and to uphold their right to safe, dignified and voluntary return. We recognize the global efforts undertaken so far, and encourage further action to ensure ensure truth, justice, and reparations for the Rohingya.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a great threat to populations already at risk of genocide and crimes against humanity at the hands of their governments. The pandemic may be weaponized by authoritarian states as an opportunity to commit mass atrocities while attention is elsewhere or to deny certain populations their right to health.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) will host a conversation on the prevention of mass atrocities during the pandemic, to coincide with the August 25 anniversary of attacks by Myanmar security forces on Rohingya Muslim residents in northern Rakhine state, driving hundreds of thousands to live as refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.
Yee Htun, JD is a lecturer on law and clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. She fled Myanmar in 1988.
Akila Radhakrishnan, JD is president of the Global Justice Center, which works to define, establish, and protect human rights and gender equity by enforcing international laws.
Lawrence Woocher, MA is research director at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center and a lecturer at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He formerly served as senior atrocity prevention fellow with the United States Agency for International Development.
Atlas Webinar Series: Existing Legal Limits to Security Council Veto Power in the Face of Atrocity Crimes
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
Honourable Marilou McPhedran, Independent Senator, Parliament of Canada
Her Excellency Jacqueline O’Neill, Ambassador for Women, Peace, and Security, Canada
Honourable Bob Rae, Special Envoy on Humanitarian and Refugee Issues, appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada
Prof. Payam Akhavan, Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague; Faculty of Law, McGill University; Counsel for The Gambia at the ICJ in the case of The Gambia v. Myanmar
Prof. Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (May 2014 to 30 April 2020)
Prof. Susan Breau, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria, Canada
Prof. Christine Chinkin, Emerita Professor of International Law, London School of Economics, UK
Prof. Victor V. Ramraj, Faculty of Law and Director, Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, University of Victoria, Canada
Prof. John Packer, Associate Professor of Law, Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC) & Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution, University of Ottawa, Canada
Ms. Razia Sultana, Chairperson, Rohingya Women’s Welfare Society, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Ms. Wai Wai Nu, Rohingya/Burmese founder, Women’s Peace Network, Yangon, Myanmar
Ms. Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center, New York, USA
Ms. Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, New York, USA