International Committee on Racial Discrimination Calls on US to Protect Abortion Rights

NEW YORK — The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today called on the United States to take all necessary measures — at the federal and state level — to provide safe, legal, and effective access to abortion in line with its international human rights obligations.

The recommendation came as part of the committee’s “concluding observations” following its review of US compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which the US ratified in 1994. For more on US obligations on reproductive rights under ICERD, see this factsheet.

The concluding observations specifically noted the recent Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, citing its “profound disparate impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of racial and ethnic minorities.”

The committee questioned the US government in Geneva on August 11 and 12. During this session, it raised US abortion restrictions numerous times. The members were particularly concerned about disproportionate access to safe abortion for Black, brown, and indigenous women, as well as the prosecution of those seeking abortions post-Dobbs.

Dr. Christine Ryan, legal director at the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“Make no mistake, the international community put the United States on notice today for the racist impacts of its recent regression on abortion rights. Even before the conservative majority on the Supreme Court overruled the constitutional right to abortion, they had dismantled abortion access for decades. Black, brown & indigenous women seeking abortion faced profound and disproportionate obstacles. After Dobbs, they’re facing nothing short of a gross and systemic human rights crisis.

“Today’s recommendation on abortion is well within the committee’s mandate. ICERD prohibits racial discrimination in access to healthcare and requires the elimination of laws that perpetuate racial discrimination. Abortion restrictions in the US violate these measures at every turn. Forced travel for abortion is more difficult for women of color. Coerced pregnancy is more dangerous. And criminalization will target them at higher rates.

“This is also a critical moment of international accountability for the United States. For too long, the US government has failed to fully implement the very human rights framework it helped create. The international community should take every opportunity to interrogate the state of human rights in the US and commit to reversing this damaging trend.”

President Biden: Stop Israeli Government’s Attacks on Palestinian Civil Society

Dear Mr. President:

We write because your administration’s consistently yielding response to the Israeli government’s escalating attacks against prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society groups over the past 10 months has put the safety and well-being of Palestinian human rights defenders at serious risk. We call for immediate action in response to the Israeli government’s latest escalation so as to curtail any further imminent repressive tactics by Israeli authorities and ensure Palestinian civil society is free to continue its critical work.

Last week, in a significant escalation, Israeli military forces raided the offices of seven Palestinian human rights and community organizations in the occupied West Bank on 18 August 2022, sealing shut their doors, ordering them closed, and seizing computers and other confidential materials. In the following days, directors of the organizations were summoned by the Israeli military and Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) for interrogation. All staff are currently under threat of imminent arrest and prosecution. While many in the international community were swift to condemn the Israeli governments shameful political maneuver in October 2021 designating leading Palestinian human rights organizations as “terrorist” under Israel’s draconian Counter-Terrorism Law, your administration has refused to act or reject this clear attack on Palestinian civil society, and even took affirmative steps including canceling the valid U.S. visa held by the head of one of the targeted organizations. The response so far has only enabled and empowered the Israeli government to sustain and escalate its repression.

The targeted organizations form part of the bedrock of Palestinian civil society that has been protecting and advancing Palestinian human rights for decades across the full spectrum of issues of global concern, including children’s rights, prisoners’ rights, women’s rights, socio-economic rights, the rights of farmworkers, and justice and accountability for international crimes. They include: Defense for Children International - Palestine, Al Haq, Addameer, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. They are trusted partners in our collective work to secure human rights for all.

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Letter to Biden Admin: Take Steps to Implement Exceptions for Funding of Abortion Services Abroad

Dear Secretary Blinken and Administrator Power,

As organizations dedicated to protecting and expanding global reproductive health, rights, and justice, including abortion access, we are heartened to hear that you maintain an unwavering commitment to sexual and reproductive health care. The recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision is a public health emergency that has and will continue to threaten the health and lives of people seeking essential health care services, not just for those in the U.S. but also for people globally. We are glad to see those in USAID and the State Department recognizing and calling out the devastation that this decision will bring worldwide and reaffirming your commitment to protect and care for those you serve.

We look forward to working alongside you in this critical endeavor towards reproductive freedom, bodily autonomy, and dignity for people worldwide. We encourage you to start meeting this commitment today by authorizing USAID reproductive health funding to the full extent of the law. Under current law, U.S. foreign assistance may not be used for abortion services as a means of family planning. This requirement, however, still allows USAID and the State Department to provide funding for abortion services in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. It also allows for abortion service information and counseling. However, USAID and the State Department do not and have never funded abortion services in these circumstances - even though they can do so without breaching any congressionally imposed limits on abortion funding.

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US Supreme Court Repeals Constitutional Right to Abortion

NEW YORK — The United States Supreme Court today repealed the constitutional right to abortion. The ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization allows Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban to remain in place and explicitly overturns decades of precedent set by the Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions that prevented states from banning abortions before viability.

Abortion is likely to become illegal immediately in roughly half of US states. Other states are expected to further limit abortion access, while some have taken steps to expand access in anticipation of the court’s ruling.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“Today will go down as one of the darkest days for human rights in American history. With the stroke of a pen, this court has barred millions from access to a medical service that the World Health Organization has deemed a ‘crucial part of healthcare.’ The repercussions for bodily autonomy and gender equality in the US will be devastating.

“Though decades of attacks have deeply eroded the protections of Roe, and safe abortion has for too long been inaccessible to many, today’s ruling puts the United States firmly in violation of its human rights obligations. Around the world, recognition of the right to abortion access is sweeping. Ireland, Colombia, Benin, and countless other countries have taken steps in recent years to expand abortion access. Make no mistake: the US is now a global pariah on abortion, and accordingly, gender equality.

“This is certainly the catastrophic day we all feared. But it is also a day we’ve long prepared for. While we fight state-by-state to secure abortions for anyone who needs them, there are actions President Biden and Congress can take now to protect the human right to abortion. With stakes this high, each day of inaction is an attack on every person now living in a country without bodily autonomy.”

US Supreme Court Reportedly Set to Repeal Constitutional Right to Abortion

NEW YORK — A majority opinion from the US Supreme Court that was leaked to the press shows a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the core legal precedent establishing the right to abortion in the United States.

The court has not yet issued its official ruling and abortion remains legal in the United States.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“If this leaked opinion is legitimate, it offers a preview of the catastrophic day reproductive rights activists have feared for decades. In just a few short weeks, this court is set to seize a human right from millions in America. This places the United States in violation of its human rights obligations and far out of step with global trends towards liberalizing abortion access.

“Let’s be clear: safe abortion is a fundamental human right and must be accessible to all pregnant people. Everyone from international human rights bodies to healthcare experts agree. And yet, abortion has been singled out, stigmatized, and targeted, including as a test run for broader assaults on human rights.

“The court’s ruling is still weeks away, but the time to act is now. President Biden and Congress must take all steps within their power to protect abortion access and expeditiously act to firmly enshrine this human right into law.”

U.S. Says Myanmar Military Committed Genocide Against Rohingya

Excerpt of Wall Street Journal article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Calls to prosecute Myanmar’s generals have grown since February last year, when the military overthrew the civilian government of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. The military has since been accused of more abuses including arbitrary arrests, custodial torture and killing of civilians.

“This is a welcome, yet long overdue step from the Biden administration,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “The same military who committed genocide against the Rohingya are those who are illegally in power as a result of a military coup—the cycle of impunity must be broken.”

In October 2016 and August 2017, Myanmar’s armed forces launched what they called “clearance operations” in response to attacks on state security forces by Rohingya insurgents in the country’s western state of Rakhine. Independent investigators from the U.S. and the U.N. concluded that Myanmar troops committed widespread atrocities: Civilians were tortured and killed, women were gang raped and children and elderly people were burned alive as entire villages were razed.

Read the article

United States to Designate Crimes Against Rohingya as Genocide

NEW YORK — Reports surfaced today that the United States will formally determine that atrocities committed against the Rohingya minority by Myanmar’s military in northern Rakhine State amount to genocide and crimes against humanity. The Biden administration will officially announce the designation tomorrow.

Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“This is a welcome, yet long overdue step from the Biden administration. Recognizing the crimes against Rohingya for what they are — a genocide — is necessary if the world hopes to marshal a swift and appropriate response. So it’s absolutely crucial that this designation is followed by a renewed campaign of action from the United States to hold the military accountable. The same military who committed genocide against the Rohingya are those who are illegally in power as a result of a military coup — the cycle of impunity must be broken.

“Powerful measures the US could take include pushing the UN Security Council to refer the crisis to the International Criminal Court, taking the lead in demanding a global arms embargo, and securing humanitarian access to vulnerable populations in the country.

“Any such renewed effort from the US should also explicitly recognize the gendered nature of this genocide. The military’s systemic use of sexual and other gendered violence is critical to understanding both the Rohingya genocide and its ongoing post-coup crimes.”

Abortion and President Biden's State of the Union

Dear President Biden,

People’s access to abortion in this country is in crisis, with attacks coming constantly from all levels ranging from the Supreme Court to state and local governments. That’s why it is imperative that everyone, from the White House to Congress to state and municipal governments to local communities, work hard to protect and expand abortion access.

As you prepare for the State of the Union, we urge you to be clear that protecting abortion access is of paramount importance given both the ongoing crisis in Texas and the likelihood that the Supreme Court will further decimate the constitutional right to abortion later this year. We also urge you to reiterate your support for the Women’s Health Protection Act, critical legislation that would establish a right to abortion throughout the United States and help to guard against the abortion bans and other medically unnecessary abortion restrictions being advanced and enacted by state politicians across the country.

We appreciate your clear call for a “whole-of-government”response to the dire state of abortion access in Texas. Indeed, it is critical that all parts of the administration work tirelessly to protect abortion access in the face of ever increasing threat, building on the work of Vice President Harris, the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra and his staff, and the White House Gender Policy Council, work tirelessly to protect abortion access in the face of ever increasing threats.

Read the Full Letter

Diaspora, CBOs/CSOs, NGOs Urge President Biden to Implement a Coordinated Response Against the Burmese Military Junta

Dear President Biden,

We, the undersigned 233 diaspora, CBOs/CSOs and nonprofit organizations from 17 countries, write to urge your Administration to implement a coordinated and comprehensive response to the Burmese military’s shocking and escalating violence since the February 1, 2021, attempted coup. The Burmese military’s systematic violence has resulted in extensive loss of life, daily human rights violations and the forced displacement of tens of thousands, especially in ethnic areas. On the one-year anniversary of the military’s illegal coup, we call upon you to treat the situation with the urgency and decisive action it demands by not only publicly condemning the ongoing brutality across Burma but also implementing a multi-step response plan, which includes coordinating a global arms embargo and sanctioning the military’s oil and gas revenues.

Most crucially, a global arms embargo is necessary to prevent the military from accessing the artillery and air strike equipment that it currently utilizes to indiscriminately attack civilians. This relentless campaign of terror is funded by key oil and gas revenues that allow the military to continue paying their personnel and purchasing deadly weaponry. Thus, cutting off the military’s profits from oil and gas revenues is necessary to strangle a crucial source of funding for the brutal campaigns and militarization currently seen in several ethnic states. Third, supplying cross-border aid is imperative given the countless internationally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring Thailand, where they shelter in unsanitary, inhumane, and insecure conditions. Lastly, to show true solidarity with efforts to resist the junta’s illegal rule, the National Unity Government must be recognized as Burma’s only governing body to effectively invalidate any power commandeered by the State Administration Council. The primary means to ensure genuine democracy in Burma is to recognize the legitimacy of the political will of the Burmese people and to defund and delegitimize the Burmese military because of what they are: illegitimate usurpers and unconscionable perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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United States: Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review

Summary

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. The US has failed to take any action on these 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 (or “GGR,” officially termed “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance”). It should be noted that when the GGR is in effect its repeal tends to be the sole focus of advocates and policymakers; however, it is important to highlight that the long-standing pernicious statutory restrictions, including the Helms Amendment, enable the GGR, cause their own unique harms, as well as compound those of the GGR, and their repeal must also be the subject of attention. This 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.

Download the Full Submission

Response to Proposed United States Strategy on Women, Peace and Security

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE— June 13, 2019

[NEW YORK, NY] - This week, the Trump Administration released the United States government’s latest strategy on women, peace and security (“WPS”).  While it contains lofty goals to advance women’s equality and political participation, these objectives are directly undermined by current US policies.

“The Trump Administration’s stated commitment to advancing women’s equality through the WPS strategy is absurd,” says Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan. “In fact, this administration is actively harming women and girls around the world by expanding the Global Gag Rule, blocking language on access to life-saving healthcare services for war rape victims at the UN Security Council, and impeding international efforts at accountability for gender-based violence through its threats against the International Criminal Court. Until these policies, and others, change, this WPS strategy is not even worth the paper it’s printed on.”

UN Security Council Adopts Resolution 2467

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 23, 2019

[NEW YORK, NY] – Today, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2467 on Women, Peace and Security. Although the resolution purports to address the needs of victims of sexual violence in conflict, it contains no direct references to reproductive health—a key component of necessary and comprehensive medical care. This last-minute compromise was made to avoid a certain veto by the United States government.

United Nations Human Rights Committee Requests Information on United States Violations of Sexual and Reproductive Rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 3, 2019

[NEW YORK, NY] – Today, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) challenged the United States’s restrictive abortion policies as potential violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its list of issues prior to submission of the fifth periodic report of the United States. The Global Justice Center (GJC) commends the HRC for asking the US to provide information on the impact of the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule on women's rights under the ICCPR, including to non-discrimination and equal protection under Article 2, 3 and 26, the right to life in Article 6 and the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 7.

International Law Demands the U.S. Do Better on Abortion Policy

Read GJC Staff Attorney Danielle Hites' post on the Ms. Magazine Blog.

Within days of assuming office in 2017, President Trump re-instated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which restricts funding for international organizations that provide or “promote” abortions. Two years later, feminist lawmakers serving in the now Democratic-led House kicked off their own terms by attempting to roll it back.

Pending legislation to establish a budget and keep the government open beyond the three week negotiation period includes a provision that would protect NGOs from being categorically defunded, effectively rescinding the Global Gag Rule. The House spending bill would render health and medical services of such organizations, including counseling and referral services, as insufficient for the sole basis for ineligibility for U.S. funding, and allow NGOs to use non-U.S. funding with fewer regulations.

Every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has enacted some version of the Global Gag Rule, but Trump drastically expanded its scope—and magnitude of harm. NGOs receiving U.S. foreign aid are now prohibited from spending any of their funds, including funding from non-U.S. sources, on abortion-related services, referrals, counseling or advocacy. Trump’s iteration of the Global Gag Rule also applies to all U.S. global health assistance, as opposed to previous version which were centered solely on U.S. family planning funds, meaning it affects $8.8 billion of foreign aid rather than $575 million.

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Censorship Exported: The Impact of Trump’s Global Gag Rule on the Freedom of Speech and Association

Joint policy brief by the Global Justice Center and the Center for Health and Gender Equality (CHANGE)

In January 2017, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum reinstating the Global Gag Rule (GGR), an onerous policy that not only limits the provision of abortion services as a method of family planning but also restricts a wide variety of speech about abortion, including information, certain types of research, and advocacy. 

Two years on, the detrimental impacts of Trump’s GGR on sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS services, and maternal mortality are well documented. But the GGR, in conjunction with other US abortion restrictions on foreign aid, also violates the fundamental rights of individuals and organizations to free speech and association. This policy brief looks at the documented impacts of the GGR that have been observed over the past two years against the human rights framework protecting the fundamental freedoms of speech and association. This is an edited version of GJC and CHANGE’s submission to the Human Rights Committee’s 125th Session for the preparation of the US List of Issues Prior to Reporting.

Read the Full Analysis

Leitner Human Rights Speaker Series – Exporting Censorship: The Suppression of Abortion Speech and Information

From Jan. 29, 2019 12:30 until 13:30

At Fordham Law School, New York, NY

Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan will discuss illegal US abortion restrictions' violations of the freedoms of speech and association, including the Global Gag Rule, Helms Amendment, and Siljander Amendment.

Related Resources:

 

Observations and Topics to be Included in the List of Issues United States of America: US Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Assistance

With this submission, the Global Justice Center (GJC) and the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) aim to provide guidance to the pre-session Working Group in its preparation of the list of issues to be examined during the Human Rights Committee’s (“Committee”) review of the United States (US). It specifically focuses on areas of concern with respect to the US’s violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) related to sexual and reproductive rights of individuals around the world.

Read the Full Submission

Why the US Needs CEDAW: Abortion as a Human Right in the United States

By Jessica Pierson

This year marks the 42nd anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision barring the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in extreme circumstances. The Hyde Amendment has been a key way in which conservative lawmakers have been able to systematically deny a large portion of women their constitutional right to an abortion. Even though the right to abortion is the law of the land, U.S. constitutional law does not affirmatively guarantee that every person must be able to access an abortion. A case in point being that the Supreme Court has ruled twice that the Hyde Amendment is constitutional, even though its effects have been detrimental to American women.

A human rights framework, on the other hand, requires that government respect, protect, and fulfill the right to an abortion. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the international treaty on women’s rights that has been ratified by nearly all the United Nations member states except for the U.S. In contrast to the U.S. Constitution, CEDAW imposes an equality standard that requires all laws that disparately impact women be scrutinized to secure de jure and de facto equality for women. The CEDAW Committee, the monitoring body for the treaty, has repeatedly made clear that it considers restrictive abortion laws incompatible with the human rights of women. Therefore, the Hyde Amendment would violate a human rights framework, which would require that the state ensure that every woman, regardless of her income or race, could access the same rights. As the founder of the Global Justice Center, Janet Benshoof, has argued, ratification and full implementation of CEDAW in the U.S. would radically change the basic equality rights of American women, including the right to an abortion.

I Won’t Stop Fighting for Title X—Because it Transformed My Mother’s Life

GJC Grants and Development Manager Danielle Stouck published an op-ed in Ms. about the impact of Title X funding on young women's reproductive health and rights.

My mother can recall in vivid detail the day she went with her friends to buy birth control in 1970. She planned the excursion meticulously: Her high school nurse wrote notes excusing her and her friends from class that day, and she secretly borrowed the family car while her parents were out of town. Soon, they were on the road to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Newark, New Jersey.

Before her trip, pregnancy was, in my mother’s words, her “greatest fear.” The stigma associated with teenage pregnancy was suffocating. Roe v. Wade was still a few years away. Two of her closest friends had become pregnant, but New Jersey laws strictly prohibited abortion.

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