GJC in the News

It’s Time to Call Abortion Bans What They Are—Torture and Cruelty

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

On August 24, 2022, Mayron Hollis sought an abortion after receiving news that her pregnancy was endangering her life and its continuation would likely result in uterine rupture and organ damage. Unfortunately, August 24 was also the day that Tennessee’s near-total ban on abortion went into effect. Denied care in her own state and unable to travel to one where she could get the care she needed, Hollis was forced to endure a dangerous pregnancy and birth, where she ultimately suffered severe hemorrhaging and lost her uterus, destroying her ability to give birth to any more children.

There are many terms to describe Mayron Hollis’s experience of being denied an abortion in Tennessee—harrowing, agonizing, unconscionable—but we should also call it what it is: torture and cruelty.

Torture often evokes images of individuals being interrogated in detention settings—a prisoner of war held in isolation. However, under the international human rights framework, torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (also known as “ill-treatment”) encompass a broad range of acts that cause severe physical or mental harm, including—in certain cases—the denial of abortion services. It’s past time that we acknowledge and treat cases like Hollis’s as torture and ill-treatment.

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Progress, Resistance, and Silence on Gender Justice in the Draft Crimes Against Humanity Treaty

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed authored by GJC Legal Advisor Tess Graham.

In April, States took a significant step toward negotiating a specific treaty on crimes against humanity (CAH) after years of delay and procedural wrangling. If adopted, the proposed draft articles could close gaps in the architecture of international criminal and human rights law and provide a critical opportunity to advance gender justice – or regress to outdated ideas about  gender. The unprecedented week-long discussion at the United Nations offered a glimpse at the opportunities a treaty might hold to advance gender justice.

Across the five day “resumed session” of the U.N. General Assembly’s legal committee the theme of gender arose repeatedly, with many States indicating support for progressive provisions on gender-related elements of the draft articles. Others indicated a desire to revert to obsolete gender provisions, setting up potential battles over key issues. Contentious questions included whether to define “gender” within the treaty (or leave it undefined, like other treaty terms including “race” and “religion”); definitions of sexual and reproductive violations; and slavery-related crimes. States also missed some opportunities to engage on pivotal gender issues, but diplomats and civil society leaders will have additional openings to raise these issues over the coming months.

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Differences ‘Getting Narrower’ on Proposed Crimes Against Humanity Treaty

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

States considering the International Law Commission’s draft articles for a proposed treaty on crimes against humanity sought to narrow their differences in a weeklong session last month that began an 18-month process of debate and discussion towards the goal — at long last — of negotiations to conclude a treaty on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity.

A diverse cross-section of States engaged substantively on a number of issues, and it was clear by the conclusion of the session that positive momentum continues to build. As State representatives and civil-society organizations meet in Ljubljana, Slovenia, to discuss a parallel process, negotiations for a multi-lateral mutual legal assistance treaty, we hope that it serves as a springboard to further support the momentum achieved on crimes against humanity.

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The Decision Heard Around the World: The Global Impact of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Excerpt of American Bar Association op-ed authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

When the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was revealed—first the leak and then the nearly identical ruling—the reverberations were felt not only across the United States but also around the world.

The decision elicited responses from a range of international actors. For instance, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called the decision “a huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality.” The World Health Organization, which had released comprehensive new abortion guidelines just months before, responded by emphasizing that “safe abortion is health care.” And UN human rights experts denounced the ruling as “shocking and dangerous.”

Countries allied with the United States were also vocally—and surprisingly—critical. French President Emmanuel Macron called abortion a fundamental right and said he stood in solidarity with women in the United States, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the news “horrific,” and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stated that he was very worried about the decision’s implications and “the signal it sends to the world.”

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Women Tortured in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries Looked to the UN for Justice. They’re Still Looking.

Excerpt of Women's Media Center op-ed co-authored by GJC Legal Intern Katelyn Buckles.

In October, the United Nations Committee Against Torture issued a final decision in Elizabeth Coppin v. Ireland that once again dashed hopes of justice for survivors of one of Ireland’s worst regimes of torture and abuse. The committee, under its mandate to examine individual allegations of torture and ill-treatment around the world, ruled that Ireland did not violate the Convention Against Torture — despite repeatedly calling the Irish government’s investigation into torture in the Laundries over the years inadequate. By ignoring their own jurisprudence, the committee is setting a dangerous precedent for standards of future investigations into violence against women and girls.

In 1951, the Listowel District Court found Elizabeth Coppin to be destitute and illegitimate, meaning she was born to a single mother who could not afford to raise her. They then committed her to an industrial girl’s school, a system which has also been investigated for abuse and neglect, which later sent her to Saint Vincent’s Magdalene Laundry in 1964. The Laundries were religious institutions where at least 10,000 women and girls — many of whom were perceived to be “promiscuous” as unmarried mothers (or their daughters) or as burdens to their families or the state — were confined and forced to work unpaid, laundering and sewing for local businesses or government departments. Coppin was transferred to two other Laundries before being discharged in 1968 at the age of 19.

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