Open Letter to European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva

An open letter written by the Global Justice Center to European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Kristalina Georgieva urging that EU humanitarian aid for women raped in armed conflict respect their rights to non-discriminatory medical care under international humanitarian law.

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Think Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remarks on “legitimate rape” went too far?

So do we. In fact, so does the Obama administration and the Romney campaign, both of whom were quick to condemn Rep. Akin’s ill-advised remarks that women who are “legitimately” raped rarely get pregnant.

Akin’s statements are particularly shocking as they ignore the fact that rape is routinely used as a weapon of war in areas of armed conflict, particularly in areas of ethnic conflicts as a way to redefine ethnic composition, as in Darfur or Rwanda.

Yet, despite both Presidential candidates proclaiming Akin’s remarks as unacceptable, the fact is the United States currently hinders access to safe abortions for thousands of girls and women raped in armed conflict every day.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers US humanitarian aid, puts a “no abortion clause” on every contract with NGOs, international organizations or even governments, preventing rightful access to safe abortion services for women – even in cases of rape or when the women’s life is in danger.

USAID’s position on this is clear and provides that “while USAID supports treatment for abortion-related complications, USAID does not support abortion as a means of family planning nor does USAID provide abortions in any circumstances.”

For this reason the Global Justice Center (GJC) launched the “August 12th” campaign last year – in commemoration of the anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. Under the Geneva Conventions girls and women raped in armed conflict are “protected persons” and entitled, as the “wounded and sick,” to “receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay,the medical care and attention required by their condition.”

Therefore the US “no abortion” clause not only exacerbates the suffering of rape victims in war, it violates the rights of these victims under international humanitarian law.

On November 5, 2010 during the Universal Periodic Review of the United States by the UN Human Rights Council, Norway recommended that the US “remove its blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering medical care given to women and girls raped and impregnated in situations of armed conflict.”

Since the launch of GJC’s “August 12th” campaign, more than 60 international organizations have written urgent letters to President Obama calling on him to lift the abortion restrictions. Among them are Amnesty International U.S.A., the New York City Bar Association, the Paris Bar Association, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, and the American Medical Women’s Association.

Most recently added to the call to lift the ban is a powerful letter from Women’s Synergie for Victims of Sexual Violence co-founder Justine Masika Bihamba, who works in the conflict area of Eastern Congo. To read Justine’s letter, click here. President Obama now has support from all over the world to lift these restrictions via an executive order.  

In wake of the response to Rep. Akin’s remarks from both Democrats and Republicans alike, the US must now support its words through actions. It is time for President Obama to issue an executive order lifting the abortion ban and ensure that girls and women raped in war are also allowed to make their own health care decisions. A girl or woman impregnated by rape should not be forced to bear the child of her rapist – whether it is in the United States or in armed conflict zones around the world.

The US Leads in ICRC Aid Donations, but Restricts Equal Rights for Aid Recipients

The United States strives to be a leader among the nations in terms of equality and fairness.  However, one area that starkly contrasts that desire is the US policy regarding how to use the funds it donates to humanitarian aid.  The United States is the largest contributor of humanitarian aid to the ICRC.  Along with its donation of over 240 million Swiss Francs, the US has instructed that its aid may not be used to fund abortions under any circumstances.

As the largest donor of aid to the ICRC, the US retains a great deal of control over how that money is spent.  In addition to holding the power to restrict how its own contributions are spent, the US’s power extends further in some instances to determine how donations from other sources may be restricted as well.  If the ICRC is funding an initiative with money that comes from the US as well as other governments whose funds may contain no restrictions, the entire initiative will be subjected to the restrictions that the US has placed on its donations.

Women who have been raped in armed conflict have been recognized as under the category of “wounded, sick, and shipwrecked” under the Geneva Conventions Additional Protocols, and that affords them the right to receive medical care to the greatest extent practicable, including abortions.  Without the ability to receive safe, legal abortions, pregnant war rape victims will be forced to endure great psychological and physical pain and in many cases resort to clandestine abortions or even suicide.

The repercussions that result from failure to provide abortions to war rape victims are enormously detrimental and the practice is blatantly discriminatory against women.  Many organizations and countries, notably the Paris Bar and the German Women Lawyers’ Association, have supported the efforts to try to get the US to change its policies and lift the ban on abortions for its international aid.  Most recently, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) has written to President Obama asking him to lift the restrictions through executive order.  ECWR, being the first Middle Eastern organization to support these efforts, is setting the tone for the rest of the international community as well as the United States itself, and that tone is one of equality and intolerance of discrimination.

In its letter to President Obama, ECWR points out the hypocrisy of the United States.  The US consistently demands that Middle Eastern countries end discrimination against women and advocate for women’s equality, yet they fail to follow through with the same position that they advocate by maintaining these discriminatory restrictions.  It is time for the US to put an end to its double standard and to institute the same policies domestically that it promotes for states.  The US is the example that other countries strive to emulate.  With restrictions that so blatantly discriminate against women, the US as an example leaves much to be desired and must rectify this injustice immediately, and truly demonstrate to the international community what is right.

“Call Me Kuchu” Resonates with Continuing Struggles for Equality

Last night, on the closing night of the Human Rights Watch film festival in New York City, the film “Call Me Kuchu” made its New York premiere.  A film about David Kato, the first openly gay man in Uganda, “Call Me Kuchu” depicts the harrowing story of David and his journey as an activist, fighting against discriminatory state laws that subjected HIV-positive gay men to death and propose prison sentences for anyone who fails to turn in a known homosexual.  David and his fellow LGBT activists had a difficult fight ahead of them, following the introduction of the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” up for debate in Ugandan parliament, pursuant to the American evangelical inspired “homosexual agenda.”  Despite the obstacles ahead, David did not back down and continued to speak out for himself and other victims of discrimination like him, as an activist against state sanctioned discrimination and homophobia.  Through his determination, David was ultimately able to make positive strides for the “kuchu” (homosexual) community in Uganda and achieved legal victory, when the Ugandan High Court ruled that by publishing names and pictures of 100 allegedly homosexual people and calling for their execution, a newspaper violated those people’s fundamental and constitutional rights.

David’s struggle showcases the need for strong voices and activists to not only shine a spotlight on government enforced discrimination, but to insist that such policies and legislation not be tolerated.  The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and this is clearly evidenced by the impact of discriminatory policies within the framework of an international legal system.  “Call Me Kuchu” delineates just one example of the horribly discriminatory state sanctioned discrimination and the terrifying impact it has on the discriminated group.  We cannot allow similarly discriminatory policies to continue, such as the US ban on abortions funded by their humanitarian aid contributions and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) deference to national law regarding availability of abortions for pregnant ware rape victims.

By deferring to national rather than international law in the case of pregnant war rape victims, the ICRC is discriminating upon certain women based upon where they live, only providing the fullest extent of care practicable (as guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions) to women in countries that allow abortions.  Furthermore, the US is one the largest contributor of humanitarian aid to the ICRC, but it places restrictions on its donations, preventing them from being used to administer abortions.  By restricting its donation, the US is failing to allow the ICRC to provide the proper level of care even in places where it would be nationally permissible.

As pregnancy is only a condition that can befall women, such policies discriminate against women, because preventing women from receiving abortions is equivalent to failing to provide women with the fullest extent of medical care practicable.  These practices are equally discriminatory with consequences equally dire, leading to imprisonment, ostracism, grave bodily harm, and even suicide and death.  There is no denying that failure to provide abortions for pregnant war rape victims is discriminatory against women and the toll it takes on them, expressed in death, harm, and punishment, cannot be ignored.  David’s fight reminds us all to stand up against discrimination, not to allow governments to institute unfair and unequal policies, and not to stop until there is equality for all.

Vice-Presidents of European Parliament Urge President Obama to Lift US Abortion Restrictions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  - March 2, 2012

[NEW YORK, NY] -  The Global Justice Center's August 12th campaign is gaining momentum. The Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament have written a letter to Obama to issue an Executive order to lift all current U.S abortion restrictions that prohibit girls and women raped in armed conflict from terminating their pregnancy.

Contradictions and Empty Guestures – USAID’s New Policy on Gender Equality

According to the United States Agency of International Development’s new Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, “Gender equality and female empowerment are …fundamental for the realization of human rights.” This policy directing USAID aims to: Reduce gender disparities in access to resources and opportunities, reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects on individuals and communities and increase capabilities of women and girls to realize their rights, determine their life outcomes. Certainly these are lofty and noble goals. Yet, is USAID making an empty gesture?

The tactical and deliberate use of rape as a weapon of war has been reported in at least 36 recent conflicts. Often, rape is used as an effective tool to terrorize and destroy communities, leaving women and girls with significant and sometimes deadly, physical, psychological and social consequences. Following the horrific wake of the Rwandan Genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) found that rape can be a war crime, crime against humanity and constitutive act of genocide.

Yet, for the victims of these heinous crimes, the chance of having a full and healthy life is often denied. Even if women impregnated by rape survive the high risks of maternal mortality, they often suffer further ostracisation from their community. Facing these harmful outcomes, women are denied the option of abortions – perpetuating their suffering and trauma.

USAID, while paying much lip-service to its gender-egalitarian vision, hardly mentions sexual violence against women in its policy. As one of its policy goals, USAID aims to reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects. In light of the suffering of impregnated women through rape, isn’t the most effective means in mitigating the harmful effects to provide safe abortions?

However, currently under the Helms Amendment and other related abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funding to motivate or provide abortions. This prohibits all non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments and humanitarian aid providers from using U.S. funds to “motivate” or provide abortions. The restrictions, placed in allforeign assistance contracts, contain no exceptions for rape or to save the life of a woman and affects the provision of services, as well as censors all abortion speech. Thus far from alleviating and mitigating the harmful effects of sexual violence, the prohibition actually perpetuates further suffering for the victims.

Additionally, the current restrictions violates the rights afforded to the “wounded and sick” persons, who are entitled to non-discriminatory and comprehensive medical care as envisioned under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and the legally-binding principles of customary international law. The prohibition has the effect of systematically denying girls and women in armed conflicts the right to complete and comprehensive medical care. How can women realize the fundamental human rights when current USAID restrictions deny them?

Although the USAID’s new policy highlights the importance of gender equality, it fails to meaningfully alleviate the harmful consequences of sexual violence. Behind the talk of gender equality and women empowerment lays a deep contradiction. While promising women relief and the realization of their human rights, USAID restrictions do the opposite. If women are to truly enjoy the ideals set out in USAID’s new policy paper, the Helms Amendment needs to be revoked.

Vice-Presidents of European Parliament Urge President Obama to Lift US Abortion Restrictions

Two Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, Alexander Alvaro, MEP, and Edward McMillan-Scott, MEP, have written a letter as a part of the GJC's "Augsut 12th Campaign" to Obama to issue an Executive Order to lift all current U.S humanitarian aid restrictions that prohibit girls and women raped in armed conflict from terminating their pregnancy, urging the US to abide by common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

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UK Parliamentarians' Letter to President Obama

Letter sent to President Obama by a group of UK Parliamentarians' as a part of the GJC's "August 12th Campaign" asking that he issue an Executive Order lifting US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid.

The letter was signed by: Tom Brake, MP; Baroness Tonge; Lord Ashdown; Ann Coffey, MP; Baroness Ludford, MEP; Jane Ellison, MP; Heidi Alexander, MP; Andrew George, MP; Madeleine Moon, MP; Lord Tope, CBE; Pauline Latham, MP, OBE; Jo Swinson, MP; Rt. Hon. Dame Joan Ruddock, MP; Sir Menzies Campbell, MP, CBE, QC; Baroness Greengross; Debbie Abrahams, MP; Baroness Kinnock of Holy Head; Baroness Walmsley; Baroness Thornton; Kate Green, MP; Sir Bob Russell, MP; Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer; Lord Lester of Herne Hill; Lord Morgan; Baroness Falkner of Margarvine; Lilian Greenwood, MP; Lord Faulkner of Worcester; Lord Richards; Baroness Coussins; Mike Gapes, MP; Jenny Willmott, MP; Lord Redesdale; Baroness Prosser of Battersea; Luciana Berger, MP; Julian Huppert, MP; Rt. Hon. Lord Steel Aikwood; Rt. Hon. Dr. Denis MacShane, MP; John Hemming, MP; Dame Anne Begg, MP; Lord Judd; Lord Puttnam of Queens Gate; Lyn Brown, MP; and Glenda Jackson, MP.

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How the “August 12th Campaign” sparked a movement

Top Queen Councils in protest against President Obama’s “no abortion” clause

The London Times published an article feauturing the Queen’s Counsel’s effort to pressure President Barack Obama to issue an Executive Order lifting the “no abortion” clause that affects U.S humanitarian aid for girls and women involved in conflict.

This movement was inspired by the launching of the Global Justice Center’s “August 12th” campaign which urges President Obama to reinstate U.S support for the Geneva Conventions by removing the blanket abortion prohibitions embedded in U.S humanitarian aid that endanger women and girls who have been raped and impregnated in armed conflict. To read more information regarding to this campaign, click here.

Almost 50 of the UK’s most prominent Queen’s Counsel, headed by Amanda Pinto, QC, director of international affairs of the Criminal Bar Association and Vice Chairman of the international committee of the Bar Council, have written urging Obama to take action on this issue.

To read the article click here.

The Perils of the Inaccessibility to Reproductive Healthcare in Eastern Burma

A woman should never have to resort to using a fishing hook or dangerous medications as the only feasible options to terminating a pregnancy. Yet these dangerous tactics remain pandemic in eastern Burma where inaccessibility to proper healthcare and safe abortions threatens the livelihood of thousands of women. A recent report by Ibis Reproductive Health highlights the dire state that women on the Thai-Burma border are in. The fact that so many women in Burma turn to these fatal and unsafe method of pregnancy termination underscore the need for safe abortions.

Yet, despite this clear need, USAID silences any prospects for these women to enjoy a healthier future. The United States, being the largest donor of humanitarian aid, has an immense amount of influence on how aid is distributed. When Congress implemented the Helms Amendment in 1973, abortion restrictions were placed on foreign aid. Under “Helms” no USAID funding may be used to pay for abortion as a method of family planning. The amendment contains a provision that prohibits abortion speech, saying that the funds cannot be used to “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” The Global Justice Center staunchly argues that these abortion restrictions are a violation of the rights of girls and women raped in armed conflict under international humanitarian law. This is because the Geneva Conventions recognize that women and girls raped in armed conflict, as “protected persons”, are classified as “wounded and sick” and are entitled to “receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition.” Therefore, depriving these girls and women of this care is unlawful and this injustice is the driving force behind the Global Justice Center’s August 12th campaign.

Focusing in on eastern Burmese women, it is clear that they do not have a credible institution to turn to when it comes to reproductive healthcare. In fact, reproductive healthcare in Burma is known to be the worst in the world.  The “Separated by Borders” report, released by Ibis Reproductive Health and the Global Health Access program exposes the crippling healthcare infrastructure in eastern Burma.  The GJC has long noted the terrible state of eastern Burmese women when it comes to accessibility to reproductive health care and abortion, especially during conflict. The Global Justice Center is using legal tools to work diligently to help lift the “no abortion” clause in U.S humanitarian aid to make this type of care more accessible so women in order to prevent prolonged suffering.

Based on the Ibis Reproductive Health Report, RH Reality Check author Anna Clark notes the life-threatening repercussions of depriving Burmese women of reproductive services including unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and death. Furthermore, 80 percent of women in eastern Burma have never used birth control due to the overall inaccessibility of contraceptives and the lack of legitimate healthcare.

Granting women in eastern Burma their rights, including access to reproductive healthcare will be a step in the right direction for Burma. Burmese women will not only be alleviated from suffering, but, they will also have the opportunity to become more active members of society. Utilizing the rule of law, the Global Justice Center works to dismantle the patriarchal structures inhibiting women’s rights to make sure that the prioritization of women’s health will be factored into the equation in the years to come.

To read more about this issue on RH Reality Check, click here and here.

To read the “Separated by Borders” report, click here.

To read more about the Global Justice Center’s August 12th Campaign, click here.