Submission to UK International Development Committee — Gender and Mass Atrocities

The following responds specifically to the topic: How the UK Government’s approach to atrocity prevention interacts with other government policies and areas of work, such as the FCDO’s approach to conflict prevention, the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative

Gender inequality is itself a root cause of mass violence and also increases its harm on disadvantaged groups, including women and gender minorities. As such, prevention that incorporates a gender lens has routinely been found to be more effective at adequately responding to situations of mass  atrocities and creating lasting peace. Prevention models must actively dismantle structural inequality through equitable representation in their programming, targeted efforts to prevent and suppress sexual and gender-based violence (“SGBV”), and include gender sensitivity in all stages of their responses. Despite the clear connection between successful atrocity prevention and gender integration, there are significant gaps in how States conceptualize and implement atrocity prevention. The failure to reckon with gendered experiences in prevention is evidenced by limited inclusion of gender indicia, or inclusion of overly simplified gender-related indicia, in early warning systems and risk assessments.

This submission outlines the need for UK leadership on gendering atrocity prevention and core principles to guide that leadership. First, it provides an overview of how gender informs the commission, planning, and harm of mass atrocity crimes, thus necessitating a gendered response. Second, it demonstrates how the inadequate accountability mechanisms, particularly gender gaps, feed the shortcomings of prevention frameworks. Third, the submission maps key international legal standards which must guide the UK’s prevention efforts and identify concrete measures for the integration of gender in atrocity prevention. Fourth, it assesses the opportunities and challenges in the UK’s current policies on atrocity prevention and their implementation. Finally, it provides recommendations on how the UK can improve its policies and practice with regard to atrocity prevention.

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Hold the Myanmar military and security forces accountable for their grave human rights violations, including violence against women

We, the undersigned women’s rights and human rights organizations, call upon the UN Security Council to hold the Myanmar military and security forces accountable for their grave human rights violations, including the use of violence against women. We strongly condemn the Myanmar military and security forces for their acts in violation of international human rights and humanitarian laws and norms, which amount to crimes against humanity according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, and the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. Since the Myanmar military’s attempted seizure of power on February 1, 2021, the junta has arbitrarily arrested and detained at least 11,047 people, and murdered over 1345. Nationwide, the Myanmar military junta is intensifying its use of air strikes and other heavy weapons against civilians, forcing thousands of women and children to flee their homes. Given the Myanmar military and security forces’ decades-long use of sexual and gender-based violence against ethnic minority women, including Rohingya, we are extremely distressed that the situation of the women of Myanmar will continue to be severely exacerbated.

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Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment in Global Health

Your excellencies,

The 16 Days of Activism, 25 November to 10 December, mark the global campaign for the prevention and elimination of Gender Based Violence. During the 16 Days of Activism 2021, we the undersigned organizations, wish to express our deep concern at the sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH) of women and girls by WHO staff during the tenth Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We stand with survivors of SEAH and whistleblowers in their pursuit of justice and the truth, and we call on WHO to act now to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls.

Power imbalances and root causes

As diverse organizations working for the rights of women and girls in global health, we are appalled at the reports of SEAH by United Nations’ employees and international aid workers, including WHO, outlined in the Independent Commission reportof 28 September 2021. The Commission uncovered 83 alleged perpetrators, 21 of whom were WHO employees. The allegations included 9 rapes and countless demands for sex for jobs. Women and girls as young as 13 years old became pregnant, had miscarriages and abortions as a result of rape and sexual exploitation, and a reported 22 children were born. It is shameful and completely unacceptable that male staff of UN and aid agencies have caused such deep harm and blighted the lives of women and girls whose health they were paid to protect. This case in DRC is one in a long series of such cases and almost certainly the tip of the iceberg within the health sector.

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Expanding Justice for Gender-Based Crimes with a Treaty on Crimes Against Humanity

Excerpt of Just Security article by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Legal Advisor Danielle Hites.

Over the last 30 years, the world has seen progress, largely due to feminists, in delivering justice for gender-based crimes — particularly sexual violence. However, most of this progress has relied on retrofitting gender-specific experiences into pre-existing legal frameworks that didn’t care much for gender. Take, for example, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s groundbreaking finding of rape as an act of genocide in the Akayesu case, or much of the jurisprudence out of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia related to sexual violence, including finding rape as a form of torture. These precedents were built on gendered readings of crimes whose definitions make no explicit reference to sexual or gender-based violence.

The Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) was certainly an improvement on the Genocide and Geneva Conventions in its explicit codification of sexual and gender-based crimes. But the last 20 years of the Court’s practice have also shown its limitations, with only two standing convictions for sexual and gender-based crimes.

Given this track record, a new convention on crimes against humanity could be a gamechanger for the effective prevention and prosecution of gender-based crimes.

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It’s Time We Talk About Gender-Based Violence Against Hong Kong Protestors

Excerpt of Women's Media Center op-ed by GJC intern Hannah Kohn .

Since February 2019, the mass demonstrations roiling Hong Kong have been consistently met with police brutality. But sexual and gender-based violence has flown under the radar in most mainstream coverage of the protests. It is time for the international community to heed the call of Hong Kong-based activists and hold the government to account for this human rights crisis.

The unrest began when Hong Kong’s government proposed legislation that would allow extraditions to mainland China, which critics argue would allow for anyone in the city to be picked up and detained — including political activists — and essentially erode Hong Kong’s independence from the mainland.

Shortly thereafter, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens (in some cases almost 2 million) took to the streets to protest. The government responded to these largely peaceful protests with widespread, severe police brutality. As a consequence of the government’s disproportionate response, the protests blossomed from the narrow goal of opposing the extradition bill into much wider demandsfor police accountability and democracy.

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ICC Case Could Make History with Gender Prosecution

Excerpt of Women's Media Center op-ed from GJC Legal Intern Sarah Coniglio.

Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began its presentation of what could be a landmark case for the prosecution of gender-based crimes. Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud (“Al Hassan”) has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, rape, sexual slavery, and gender persecution surrounding Mali’s 2012-2013 internal armed conflict. The ICC has not had a standing conviction for persecution on the basis of gender due to the overturning of the conviction of former Congolese military leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, in 2018.

The Al Hassan case has the potential to shine light on the unique harm perpetrators commit against individuals based on their gender, which enforces patriarchal social norms and increases the potency of their crimes. It could also chart a path forward for international criminal law to define gender.

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Canada and the Netherlands to Intervene in Myanmar Genocide Case at World Court

NEW YORK — The governments of Canada and the Netherlands today announced their intention to intervene in the genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of both governments said the move furthers their solemn pledge to prevent genocide and hold those responsible to account. They also made clear their intention to “pay special attention to crimes related to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape.”

Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

“Today’s announcement from Canada and the Netherlands is nothing short of historic. The Gambia took the brave and necessary step to file the case late last year, but the cause of the Rohingya must be a cause of the whole world. Canada and the Netherlands took a major step today towards fulfilling their legal and moral duty to act against genocide.

“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. 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.”

Rohingya Symposium: From Rhetoric to Justice–Ensuring a Gender Perspective in Accountability Proceedings for the Rohingya Genocide

Excerpt of Opinio Juris op-ed from GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

This August marks not only the 3rd anniversary of the start of the Rohingya genocide, but also the 6th anniversary of the start of the Yazidi genocide. Beyond starting in the same month, these two genocides share some key features, not the least of which is that both were conducted along highly gendered lines. In the two we see some similar patterns in the way there were carried out, even where they vary significantly in the details; the separation of men and women, the subsequent fast killings of men and boys, and systematic sexual violence against women and girls.

In 2016, in its analysis of the Yazidi genocide, “They Came to Destroy,” the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (“Syria COI”) found that “ISIS fighters systematically rape Yazidi women and girls as young as nine.”

In 2018, in its analysis of the Rohingya genocide, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, found that sexual violence was a “hallmark” of the Myanmar military’s operations against the Rohingya.

And yet, ongoing accountability processes for both genocides risk leaving gendered experiences, including sexual violence, behind.

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Mandatory Birth Control: China Weaponizes Reproductive Health Against Uyghur Women

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed from GJC Legal Intern Shelby Logan.

Women and their reproductive health are at the center of one of the most severe humanitarian crises in recent memory. Yet, while some may have heard of the persecution of China’s Uyghur minority, the gendered campaign of forced birth control, which many experts say indicates a serious risk of genocide, is less understood. It is a clear violation of international law—but what is less clear is the path forward for accountability.

In November 2019, 403 pages of internal documents from China’s ruling Communist Party were leaked to the global community. They detailed how authorities have corralled as many as a million ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs and others into internment camps and prisons over the past three years. Survivors of the camps claim to have experienced extreme conditions, including torture. 

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Inequality before the law

Excerpt of International Bar Association article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

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.

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Genocide: China’s reported persecution of Uighurs exposes states’ legal obligations under international conventions

Excerpt of International Bar Association article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

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’.

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Myanmar’s Protection Bill falls Short of Addressing Violence against Women

Excerpt of Inter Press Service article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

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.

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Q&A: The International Criminal Court Investigation into the Situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar

On 14 November 2019, the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) authorized the Court’s Prosecutor to investigate alleged international crimes occurring during a wave of violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar in 2016 and 2017. The investigation follows a brutal campaign of violence by Myanmar’s security forces against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. These so-called “clearance operations” were conducted through widespread and systematic murder, rape and sexual violence, and other abuses that forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

The ICC Prosecutor’s investigation, and any prosecutions that result, is one process among many aimed at accountability for crimes committed by Myanmar’s security forces (Tatmadaw). While somewhat limited in scope, the investigation carries the potential to hold individuals responsible for grave violations against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.

This fact sheet answers fundamental questions about the ongoing ICC investigation and individual criminal responsibility for crimes committed against the Rohingya.

 
   

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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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UN Secretary-General Releases Report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

NEW YORK — United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres released a report this week on sexual violence in conflict. It is the 11th report on the issue since the creation of the secretary-general’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2010.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“The secretary-general’s report should be commended for clear progress it makes in several areas, including recognizing the intersecting identities of survivors, the need to move from political commitments to actual compliance, and the focus on a rights-based survivor centered approach. Still, we need to see stronger commitments to ensure sexual and reproductive health for survivors.

“We’re a year out from a Security Council resolution thatcalled for a survivor-centered approach to conflict-related sexual violence and nevertheless are witnessing unprecedented attacks on women's bodily autonomy. The secretary-general could have made it unequivocally clear, like he has in multiple reports in the past, that we must fund and support comprehensive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive care, including abortion services and emergency contraception.”

Notably, the secretary-general’s report again included Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, in its annex of parties responsible for conflict-related sexual violence.

“We should note the report’s inclusion of the Tatmadaw is directly contrary to what Myanmar’s internal investigation, the ICOE, found. This is another reminder that the ICOE was not a credible investigative body and did not produce a credible report. Domestic avenues for real accountability in Myanmar are non-existent.”

Justice for genocide: Yazidis hopeful as Islamic State trial opens in Germany

Excerpt of Al-Monitor articles that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

“Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes fall under this bucket [of universal jurisdiction],” explained Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the New York-based Global Justice Center.

“It’s a recognition that when these serious international crimes happen, they are a concern not just for the country where they occurred, but they are a concern to everybody.”

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First Yazidi Genocide Trial Commences in Germany

Excerpt of Just Security articles that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

As outlined by Sareta Ashraph and Akila Radhakrishnan, sexual violence forms an integral part of how genocide has been committed towards Yazidi women and girls. Yet sexual slavery is often mischaracterized as a recent or modern form of slavery, as highlighted by Patricia Viseur Sellers and Jocelyn Getgen Kestenbaum in their discussion of the Habré trial. Consequently, it is vital in this context to understand the gendered dimensions of slavery and the slave trade, which include the relation of both types of criminal conduct to sexual violence.

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UN Secretary-General Releases Report on Impact of COVID-19 on Women

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."