Reproducing Patriarchy: How the Trump Administration has Undermined Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Care

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Introduction

Since taking office, the Trump administration has unleashed a blitz of regressive and discriminatory laws and policies. Of the many issues under attack, few have seen similar ire and attention as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Both internationally and domestically, the Trump administration has engaged in a broad, systematic effort to undermine reproductive choice and bodily autonomy. 

Internationally, the Trump administration has attempted to undermine international law and institutions that protect SRHR and has cut funding for organizations that promote reproductive rights and services. Within days of taking office, President Trump reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, an onerous policy that limits funding for foreign non-governmental organizations that provide abortion services as a method of family planning and restricts a wide variety of speech about abortion services, research, and advocacy, with well-documented detrimental impacts on sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS services, and maternal mortality. The Trump administration has attempted to erase language on SRHR from governmental and inter-governmental documents, such as in the State Department’s annual human rights report, United Nations (UN) negotiated documents, and UN resolutions.  In 2019, the United States (US) cut funding to the Organization of American States (OAS), a quasi-governmental regional body, for allegedly violating restrictions on lobbying for abortion rights by commenting on state practice on reproductive choice. Most recently, the unlawfully formed and operated State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, created to advise the Secretary of State on human rights and intended to inform US foreign policy, issued a draft report which misrepresents the nature of the international human rights framework and inaccurately frames access to abortion as a “divisive social and political controvers[y]” rather than an established right under international law. 

The Trump administration’s attacks on reproductive rights are not limited to international and foreign-policy related targets. Domestically, the Trump administration has also taken steps to erode protections for SRHR, including by targeting the Title X Family Planning program with new regulations, Compliance with Statutory Program Integrity Requirements (the Final Rule), published on March 4, 2019. The Final Rule imposes a number of new physical, financial, and administrative burdens on clinics receiving Title X funding in an effort to restrict women’s access to particular reproductive health information and services. As this report documents, the Final Rule violates fundamental human rights and the US’ obligations under international human rights law. Although the US has attempted to minimize or ignore its international human rights obligations, as shown in the recent Commission on Unalienable Rights draft document, this report reviews the substantive obligations of the US and the binding nature of these legal obligations. 

Limiting Scientific Research is Another Front in the War on Abortion

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed from GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg puts reproductive rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade in grave jeopardy. As part of its war on abortionthe Trump administration has banned scientists from using human fetal tissue (HFT) donated from terminated pregnancies in medical research.

The ban on HFT research is not only another attack on reproductive freedoms; it is limiting crucial medical advances, putting lives in danger and demonstrating the vast collateral damage unleashed by the war on abortion. Reproductive rights advocates must seize upon this dangerous politicization of medical research to forge new allies and further broaden advocacy coalitions.

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The Trump administration's war on abortion rights is worse than you think

Excerpt of The Hill op-ed from GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

The Trump administration has been executing a coordinated attack on what it sees as a critical public health issue. Unfortunately, the offensive is not targeting the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected over six million people and claimed almost 200,000 lives in the US. Instead, the campaign has its sights set on women’s sexual health and reproductive rights, especially abortion. With the recent death of Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg threatening the fate of Roe v. Wade, the security of abortion rights has never been more precarious.

The administration’s brazen anti-abortion agenda includes not only well-publicized executive actions such as the expansions of the global and domestic gag rules, “conscience” exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, and the packing of courts with anti-abortion judges.

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The Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice Releases First Priorities for an Incoming Administration

WASHINGTON — Today, the Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice released First Priorities, a detailed punch list of executive and agency actions for the opening days of an incoming administration.

First Priorities is based on the Blueprint, a bold, intersectional, and proactive policy agenda to advance sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice released last year and developed by a diverse coalition of more than 90 organizations. 

First Priorities for the Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice is a roadmap for an incoming administration’s first days. It lists specific actions centered around six key points and milestones:  

GJC Public Comment - Commission on Unalienable Rights

Dear Members of the US State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights,

This past May, the Global Justice Center sent a submission regarding our concerns with respect to the Commission, its work, and the potential harm that a final report produced by the Commission may have on the international human rights framework, specifically as it pertains to the right to abortion. 

Now, we write to you again as part of the two week public comment period following the release of the Commission’s draft report on July 16, 2020. First, we wish to call attention to the fact this is an inadequate length of time for meaningful engagement, both by the public and by the Commission, before finalization of the report. There is little reason to believe that this report is even viewed as a draft version, since the Commission has already completed all of its meetings and there is no mention of “draft” in the text of the draft report itself. Having reviewed the July 16 “Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights” (“report”) and listened to Secretary Pompeo’s speech at its unveiling, as well as the following Commission meeting, we write again to express our concerns with the report and any final product that emerges from this Commission. More specifically, we are alarmed by the Commission’s flawed representation of the international human rights framework, its legal requirements, and its framing of abortion.

 
   

Download the full Public Comment 

 

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Abortion Rights Groups Announce First-Ever Bill to Repeal 47-Year-old Anti-Abortion Policy

Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act would repeal the Helms Amendment, which bars U.S. foreign assistance funding for abortion, expanding abortion access globally

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus Providers and Clinics Task Force, today introduced the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act. The Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act is the first-ever legislation to repeal the Helms Amendment,a 47-year-old policy rooted in racism that bans the use of any U.S. foreign assistance funds for abortion, putting an arbitrary line between abortion and all other global health services. Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Diana DeGette (D- CO), and Norma Torres (D-CA) signed on as original co-sponsors.

Rep. Schakowsky announced the new legislationon a virtual press conference with reporters on Wednesday morning, discussing the Helms Amendment’s harmful history, its burden on global reproductive and economic freedom, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to reproductive health care around the world. Joining her on the call were Dr. Ernest Nyamato, a Kenyan doctor and Quality of Care global team lead at Ipas, an international reproductive health and human rights organization, and former director of the Ipas Africa Alliance in Kenya; and Lienna Feleke-Eshete, public policy associate at CHANGE, a U.S. nongovernmental organization that advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls and others who face stigma and discrimination.

Pompeo Says Human Rights Policy Must Prioritize Property Rights and Religion

Excerpt of article from New York Times that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

But human rights scholars cautioned that this could set a global precedent for other nations to define human rights on their own terms, undermining diplomatic efforts to stop the persecution of religious minorities in places like China, or the promotion of women’s rights in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“You’re seeing the rise of autocrats across the world,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, the president of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights organization. “You’re giving a gift to those people, and not only taking away U.S. leadership, but giving them and feeding them arguments they’ve long been making as well.”

Read the article

Pompeo says protesters and mainstream media are attacking American way of life

Excerpt of article from Washington Post that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Some human rights groups immediately criticized Pompeo’s remarks and the report.

“There’s a tone-deafness for the moment we’re in,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “This is yet another tool in the arsenal of U.S. attacks on multilateralism. This is about all the other things the Trump administration has done to undermine and decimate the human rights system because they don’t like where it’s going.”

Rob Berschinski, vice president of policy for Human Rights First, said Pompeo is trying to recast American foreign policy in line with his personal religious and political views.

“Secretary Pompeo’s speech today on the Commission on the Unalienable Rights loosely clothed a foray into the culture wars under the seal of the U.S. State Department,” he said. “It should rightfully be seen as a political speech unbecoming of a secretary of state.”

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Sec. Pompeo and State Dept.’s Unlawful Commission Flouted Federal Law — Their New “Human Rights” Report Must Be Set Aside

Human Rights Groups Issue Statement in Response to Today’s Release of the Commission on Unalienable Rights’ Report

Washington, D.C. — This afternoon, Secretary Pompeo and his Commission on Unalienable Rights released their report on human rights at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, despite the health concerns of holding an in-person event during the coronavirus pandemic. The report is the product of a Commission that was unlawfully formed with a narrowly chosen membership made up of academics with little human rights experience and long records of opposition to the rights of women and the LBGTQI community. The Commission also unlawfully shut the public out of its work, leading Democracy Forward and four human rights organizations to file a lawsuit against the State Department.

In response to today’s release of the report, Democracy Forward, joined by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, CHANGE (Center for Health and Gender Equity), Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

Secretary Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights has produced a biased, pseudo-academic report that purports to clarify the grounding for U.S. human rights advocacy abroad. It fails in that objective, neither laying the groundwork for better human rights advocacy nor explaining why the Trump administration has done so little to stand on principle against human rights denials by other countries.

From day one, the Secretary and his Commission have flouted federal law. The State Department unlawfully stacked the Commission with members hostile to LGBTQI and sexual and reproductive rights, excluded career diplomats and mainstream human rights groups, and denied the public a meaningful opportunity to engage with the Commission and follow its work. Indeed, the report claims that abortion and same-sex marriage are not rights but “divisive social and political controversies.”

The Commission has not only ignored federal law in its procedures but has grossly wasted taxpayer resources. The report unveiled today is the fruit of a poisonous tree. Secretary Pompeo should be admonished for these failings, and neither he nor the State Department should be permitted to rely on the recommendations made by this unlawful Commission.

Learn more about the unlawful Commission and our suit to shutter it here.

US Supreme Court Upholds Speech Restriction on NGOs

NEW YORK — The United States Supreme Court today ruled that foreign affiliates of American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be required to oppose sex work as a condition of funding. The ruling therefore holds that these affiliates, and the Americans who speak through them, have no First Amendment rights.

The policy upheld today is similar to other ideology-based US policies like the Global Gag Rule and the Helms Amendment, which prohibit US-funded NGOs from speaking about abortion.

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

“With today’s ruling, the Supreme Court is putting its stamp of approval on yet another US policy that limits the human rights to free speech and association. Whether on abortion rights or sex work, the US is using the power of its purse to impose its own regressive ideology on the world. This has real world harms, as it devastates the critical work of NGOs, who are forced to choose between US funding, free speech, and the pursuit of work based on evidence and human rights. Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court further entrenches the ability of the US government to impose ideology over evidence.”

Coalition of Groups File Brief in Support of Lawsuit Challenging Sec. Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights

Amici Charge The Commission Is Unlawful, Misunderstands Human Rights Law, and Will Harm the Marginalized Groups They Work On Behalf Of

Ongoing Lawsuit Seeks to Shut Down the Unlawful Commission Ahead of Expected July 4th Report

New York, N.Y. — Six human rights organizations submitted a “friend of the court” brief in support of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s unlawful formation and operation of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. Chartered by Sec. Pompeo to conduct a “profound reexamination” of the human rights landscape, the Commission has violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by operating behind closed doors and with a membership stacked with academics hostile to reproductive rights and the rights of the LGBTI community. The plaintiffs — four human rights advocacy groups represented by Democracy Forward — are now joined by amici in raising concerns that the Commission is poised to issue recommendations that will change America’s stance on fundamental tenets of human rights law, including by prioritizing religious liberties over other rights, and that it will do so in violation of federal law. Sec. Pompeo has said that he expects to receive the Commission’s final report around July 4th.

In their brief, Human Rights Watch, American Jewish World Service, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights First, and the International Women’s Health Coalition write that they “are deeply troubled by the Commission’s apparent intent to undo decades of progress — repeatedly affirmed in multilateral treaties which the United States has signed and, in some cases, ratified — by replacing authoritative interpretations of international human rights law with those of the Commission’s members.”

The amici concur that the State Department has violated federal transparency law in its creation and operation of the Commission. In particular, the groups are concerned by the Commission’s biased membership, which “includes no advocates for the rights of LGBTI individuals to equal treatment under the law or the right to access reproductive health care.” Although federal law requires that outside advisory committees include a fair balance of viewpoints, the Commission is stacked with members who have openly opposed these rights. It is chaired, for instance, by former Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, a staunch abortion opponent who has also argued that marriage equality is not a civil right but “a bid for special preferences.”

The amici further contend that the Commission will cause concrete and widespread harm to the communities on whose behalf they advocate. “Religious refusals,” the groups argue, “could be used to deny services — including housing, employment, education, health, and commercial services — to LGBTI individuals.” “The Commission,” the organizations write, “begins from the premise that gains made by marginalized groups represent a ‘proliferation’ of new rights that undermine ‘fundamental’ rights such as freedom of religion. But marginalized groups do not seek special rights; they seek rights to which everyone is entitled: privacy, autonomy, dignity, and equal treatment under the law.”

On Tuesday, concerns about the Commission were also raised by members of Congress. Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter to the Commission expressing grave concern that its “upcoming report will undermine our nation’s ability to lead on critical issues of universal human rights, including reproductive freedom and protections for millions of people globally in the LGBTI community.” Their letter is but the latest in a string of objections raised by members of Congress since the Commission was announced. A group of 20 Senators recently expressed their concern with the Commission in a letter sent on May 20.

The amicus brief was filed on June 9 in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York. Read the full brief here.

Ahead of Expected July 4th Report, Human Rights Orgs Advance Case to End Sec. Pompeo’s Unlawful Commission on Human Rights

Commission Appears Poised to Reshape American Foreign Policy, Recommend Stripping Protections for Women, LGBTQ+ Communities Abroad Under Guise of Religious Freedom

In Response to Litigation, Trump Admin Releases Limited Commission Meeting Records; Continues to Shield Commission from Public View

Washington, D.C. — A coalition of human rights organizations advanced their suit against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for unlawfully creating and operating the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The Commission is expected to send its recommendations to Secretary Pompeo by July 4, 2020. The new filing comes on the heels of President Trump’s Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom.

Four groups represented by Democracy Forward — Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and the Global Justice Center  sued the Trump administration for stacking the Commission with members who have staked out positions that run counter to fundamental human rights principles and threaten LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. Excluded from the Commission are the perspectives of mainstream human rights groups, as well as career diplomats within the State Department. The Commission has also operated without the transparency required by federal law.

The Commission, which was announced at a press event last July, is a project of particular and special interest to Secretary Pompeo. Its membership — comprised largely of religious liberty scholars — suggests that its true purpose is to provide the Secretary with a roadmap for prioritizing religious freedom rights over all others, a move that could lead to restrictions on reproductive freedom and the discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals.

As the groups have argued, the Commission’s goals are “harmful to the global effort to protect the rights of all people.” In this latest filing, they further assert that: “The Commission has been unlawful since its inception. At every step of the way, the State Department has failed to operate the Commission in accordance with FACA’s requirements.”

“Accordingly,” the groups argue, “the State Department should be barred from relying on any recommendations the Commission has produced in secret.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Commission violates FACA’s requirements that outside groups that advise federal agencies on policy are in the public’s interest, have balanced membership, and make their records available to the public. Specifically:

  • Secretary Pompeo failed to articulate why the Commission is necessary and not duplicative of other government resources, like the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which has the authority to advise the secretary on human rights policy.
  • The Secretary excluded the voices of mainstream human rights groups and career diplomats in favor of eleven academics with records of opposing LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. Commission members have, for instance, argued that marriage equality is “nonsensical,” that homosexuality is “one of the signs of the End Times,” and that women should not have access to contraceptives to prevent transferring the Zika virus to newborns.
  • The Commission has also shielded its records from public view, making it more difficult to track its activities and know what the Commission will recommend when it sends its report to Secretary Pompeo next month.

State Department records produced in response to this litigation further substantiate how State has violated the law, including by shielding the commission from public oversight. The State Department, for instance, withheld witness remarks and video recordings of the public meetings, providing them only after this lawsuit was filed. This belated disclosure does not resolve the violation as the public lacked the benefit of the Commission’s records while it was continuing to meet publicly.

More than 20 U.S. Senators and 50 members of Congress objected to the Commission’s formation and mission. They questioned why the Commission is necessary given the Department’s internal human rights experts. Members of the Senate reiterated these concerns on May 20 and, with the anticipated July release of the Commission’s report, encouraged Secretary Pompeo to ensure the Commission’s work reaffirms the U.S.’ commitment to human rights.

The Trump administration has a long record of illegally outsourcing policymaking to outside groups in violation of federal law.

The motion for summary judgment was filed on June 2, 2020, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Read the Plaintiffs’ full brief here.

US demands removal of sexual health reference in UN's Covid-19 response

Excerpt of article from The Guardian that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, said the letter was “a disgraceful and dangerous attack on essential health services at the worst possible time”.

“No matter what the US government says, abortion is a fundamental human right and reproductive care is always essential, including during a pandemic. At a time when countless lives are at risk, the US has yet again decided to put its efforts into restricting healthcare instead of expanding it.”

She said Guterres should be commended rather than “bullied” by the US administration.

Read the article

Submission to the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Dear Members of the US State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights,

As a human rights non-governmental organization, we write to express our deep concern with the Commission, its work to date, and the potential harm that a final report produced by the Commission, in line with its mandate and the views expressed by several of its members, may have on the international human rights framework.

In particular, based on comments made by members of the Commission during public hearings, we are concerned that the Commission’s final report will aim to reinterpret the agreed-upon international human rights framework in a manner that regresses on clearly recognized and protected rights, including through the establishment of interpretations that are at odds with those from human rights bodies, experts, and courts, and may seek to establish a false and preferential hierarchy of rights. Any hierarchy that privileges some human rights - such as the freedom of religion - to the exclusion of others - such as sexual and reproductive rights, is fundamentally contrary to the framework of modern human rights, including as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”). Finally, we have strong concerns with regards to the Commission’s approach to sexual and reproductive rights, which is the particular focus of this submission.

With this letter we wish to reiterate that the international human rights law framework already adequately defines human rights; in particular, within that framework access to safe abortion has become firmly entrenched as a protected right.

Download the Full Submission

'Disgraceful': US accused of using coronavirus to promote 'pro-life' agenda in letter telling UN abortion is not 'essential'

Excerpt of article from The Independent that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, called the USAID's demands "a disgraceful and dangerous attack on essential health services at the worst possible time".

"No matter what the US government says, abortion is a fundamental human right and reproductive care is always essential, including during a pandemic," Ms Radhakrishnan said in a statement. "At a time when countless lives are at risk, the US has yet again decided to put its efforts into restricting healthcare instead of expanding it."

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USAID Chief Demands Abortion be Removed from UN COVID-19 Response Plan

NEW YORK — Acting Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), John Barsa, sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres yesterday requesting references to sexual and reproductive health be removed from the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan to fight COVID-19.

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

“This is a disgraceful and dangerous attack on essential health services at the worst possible time. No matter what the US government says, abortion is a fundamental human right and reproductive care is always essential, including  during a pandemic. At a time when countless lives are at risk, the US has yet again decided to put its efforts into restricting healthcare, instead of expanding it.

“Administrator Barsa’s attack on abortion care during COVID-19 is an extension of the longtime US strategy to hold millions of dollars in lifesaving global aid hostage to serve its extreme anti-abortion agenda. Policies like the Global Gag Rule and the Helms Amendment that restrict funding to abortion services have devastated global health for decades. Now, they’re opportunistically using a pandemic to further their efforts.

“UN Secretary-General Guterres should be commended for recognizing the importance of reproductive rights in COVID-19 response plans. Instead, he’s being bullied by a US administration hellbent on decimating reproductive health and bodily autonomy at all costs.”

The Commission on Unalienable Rights: A U.S. Assault on Human Rights

Description:
While the devastating impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the health and rights of millions, it is important that we stay vigilant in monitoring and addressing the Trump administration's attacks on the global human rights agenda. This Zoom webinar will discuss the work of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, announced by Secretary of State Pompeo last year, a panel he said was aimed at providing "fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation's founding principles of natural law and natural rights."  The Commission is mostly made up of individuals who have taken extreme anti- LGBTQ-rights, anti-reproductive rights positions, and is set up to narrow the scope of U.S. human rights advocacy, with religious freedom prioritized over other rights, potentially undermining human rights protections for some of the most vulnerable people across the globe. Its compliance with the federal law governing such outside advisory committees has also been called into question in a lawsuit brought by Democracy Forward on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, CHANGE, the Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center.

Speakers:
Kerry Kennedy
, President, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Rob Berschinski
, Senior Vice President, Policy, Human Rights First
Mark Bromley
, Council Chair, Council for Global Equality
Serra Sippel
, President, CHANGE
Molly Bangs
, Research Associate, Equity Forward 
Ben Seel
, Counsel and Legal Analyst, Democracy Forward
Rabbi Michael Rothbaum
, Congregation Beth Elohim, Acton, Massachusetts

Moderator:  
Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center 

Submission to the Group of Independent Experts: The Need to Center Gender in the Review of the International Criminal Court and Rome Statute System

Introduction

Gender permeates the planning, commission, and resolution of criminal acts within the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction. It is woven into perpetrators’ planning and commission of crimes, as well as victims’ (individual and collective) experience and recovery of acts committed against them. Accordingly, gender must be a central criterion in the group of independent experts’ review of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) and the Rome Statute system. Laudably, the Rome Statute was among the first international treaties to extensively address sexual and gender-based violence. Moreover, from the beginning of her term ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has made it a priority to close the gender justice gap, as evidenced by her Policy Paper on Sexual and GenderBased Crimes, the first ever such policy for an international court or tribunal. Despite these foundational pillars and priorities, in the 18 years of the Court’s operation there has only been one standing conviction on sexual violence. This submission highlights avenues for improving gender justice at varying stages of a case. It identifies opportunities for progress regarding staffing and prosecutorial strategies on case selection, prioritization, and investigation that hinder access to justice in these cases. Until gender is mainstreamed throughout all stages of ICC cases, the Court will be limited in its capacity to deliver justice.

Download the Full Submission

Abortion is a human right. A pandemic doesn't change that

Excerpt of CNN op-ed co-authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Access to abortion is an essential service and a fundamental human right. Period. The denial of it, including in times of global crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

In the United States, the Trump administration's colossal failure to help keep people healthy and to slow the pandemic-driven implosion of the economy shouldn't come as a surprise to much of the public. He has delayed acknowledging the severity of Covid-19, prematurely hinted at an end to social distancing and over the course of his term in office, attempted to slash funding for the WHO, the CDC, and other preparedness agencies that are tasked with the monitoring of such epidemics. The list goes on and on.

Read the Op-Ed

Human Rights Orgs Sue Sec. Pompeo for Unlawful Commission Designed to Redefine Human Rights, Undercut Universal Protections for Women, LGBTQI Individuals and Others

Unalienable Rights Commission Intent on Privileging Religious Freedom Over Other Rights, Appears Set to Provide Trump Administration Roadmap to Deny Equal Rights for All
Slanted Membership, Withheld Records and Closed Door Meetings Violate Federal Law

New York, NY — Today, a coalition of international human rights organizations sued the Trump administration for creating and operating the State Department's Commission on Unalienable Rights in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unlawfully created the Commission in July 2019. Since then it has been working behind closed doors to articulate a definition of human rights that is grounded in certain religious traditions and that will eliminate rights for LGBTQI individuals, restrict sexual and reproductive health and rights and remove protections for other marginalized communities across the globe. The Commission's establishment — and its mandate to fundamentally reconsider the U.S.’s commitment to human rights — represents yet another way in which the Trump administration has eroded U.S. human rights commitments and practices, both domestically and abroad. 

Democracy Forward filed today’s lawsuit on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center. 

“The Trump administration’s agenda is on display at the Supreme Court this week for all to see,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Our lawsuit is bringing light to their attempts to export their misogynistic and homophobic policies around the world—policies which would deny women basic reproductive health rights like access to contraceptives, would deny LGBTQI people recognition as rights holders, and would hand over who gets rights and who doesn’t to religious sects and autocrats.”  

“The Trump administration is continuing its pattern of illegally outsourcing policymaking to hand-picked groups to reach pre-determined outcomes,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “This time, Secretary Pompeo seeks to use an unlawful advisory committee to redefine human rights and undercut protections for women and the LGBTQI community across the globe, so we are suing to stop him.” 

“The State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights is just another stepping stone in the White House’s agenda to roll back well-established human rights for women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Disturbingly, this Commission includes members who have loudly opposed women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights, but excludes the voices of those who would forcefully advocate for these rights,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). “CHANGE objects to this unlawfully biased Commission, and is proud to join this lawsuit to hold the U.S. accountable to its commitments to human rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

“Secretary Pompeo often argues that the modern proliferation of human rights claims cheapens the currency of human rights,” noted Mark Bromley, Chair of the Council for Global Equality. “But it is this illegal Commission, with its warped use of religious freedom and natural law to deny rights, that cheapens the very notion of religious freedom and our country’s proud tradition of standing up for the rights of those who are most vulnerable.”

“Secretary Pompeo’s illegal Commission is part of the Trump administration's wider attack on a human rights system that has firmly established access to safe abortion as a protected right under international law,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center.

Secretary Pompeo established the Commission with the predetermined goal of recasting human rights based on what the State Dept. called the “founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” This terminology has previously been employed to justify curtailing human rights and, in particular, restricting reproductive freedom and rejecting equal treatment for LGBTQI individuals. Proponents of this view, like Secretary Pompeo, assert that historically marginalized communities’ successes in claiming their rights have led to a “rights proliferation,” which they claim has diluted the very meaning of rights and caused unworkable tension and chaos within the international legal system. Secretary Pompeo has crudely dismissedthe rights of historically marginalized groups as rewards for political “pet causes.”

The Federal Advisory Committee Act requires any outside advisory group that provides recommendations or advice to a federal agency maintain a balanced membership, fulfill a public interest need and operate transparently. The Commission is violating all these requirements. It is unlawfully:

  • Stacked with members who have staked out positions hostile to LGBTQ and reproductive rights, such as the belief that marriage equality is “nonsensical,” homosexuality is “one of the signs of the End Times,” and that women should not be given contraceptives to prevent transferring the Zika virus to newborns. 

  • Sidelining mainstream human rights groups, as well as career diplomats within the State Department, who have advised administrations of both political parties about U.S. human rights commitments and the role they should play in foreign policy.

  • Holding closed door meetings to conduct significant Commission business outside of the public’s view and scrutiny, including efforts to redefine human rights terminology and commitments.

  • Failing to provide adequate notice of meetings and to release key documents to the public.

Since assuming office, the Trump administration has made clear its intention to reduce the United States’ role in human rights protection overseas. The establishment of the Commission is yet another means of achieving this retreat from global human rights leadership. 

This is all the more concerning in the context of Secretary of State Pompeo’s speech to Concerned Women for America at the Trump Hotel, where Pompeo professed his personal belief that human rights should be grounded in religion rather than law: “I know where those [human] rights came from. They came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.” 

The Commission has also spurred both concern and action from Congress. In response to the administration’s May 2019 announcement of its intent to establish the Commission, five members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations raised alarms about the Commission’s membership. The next month, more than 20 U.S. Senators wrote to Secretary Pompeo in July 2019 seeking information “as part of Congress’ role in ensuring compliance with FACA.” That same month, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel and more than 50 other Members of Congress wrote to Secretary Pompeo questioning why the Commission, which has a mission duplicative of the State Department’s own human rights office, is even necessary. Last summer, the House of Representatives passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline that would block the State Department from expending funds on this Commission.

The Trump administration has a record of illegally outsourcing federal policymaking. Democracy Forward obtained a court order that prevents the Department of the Interior from relying on recommendations provided by a committee — stacked with oil and gas industry insiders — that was established in violation of FACA. Similarly, Interior disbanded the International Wildlife Conservation Committee — a deceptively named trophy hunting council stacked with trophy hunters, donors to the Trump administration, and firearms manufacturer — after Democracy Forward challenged the unlawfully established advisory panel.