Briefs and White Papers

Human Rights Crisis: Abortion in the United States After Dobbs

Executive Summary

Following the United States (US) Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022, people in the US who can become pregnant are facing an unprecedented human rights crisis. In Dobbs, the Supreme Court overturned the constitutionally protected right to access abortion, leaving the question of whether and how to regulate abortion to individual states. Approximately 22 million women and girls of reproductive age in the US now live in states where abortion access is heavily restricted, and often totally inaccessible. This briefing paper details the intensifying human rights emergency caused by the decision, and discusses the ways that Dobbs contravenes the US’ international human rights obligations.

The consequences of the Dobbs decision are wide ranging. Restrictions on access to healthcare places women’s lives and health at risk, leading to increased maternal mortality and morbidity, a climate of fear among healthcare providers, and reduced access to all forms of care. Dobbs also enables penalization and criminalization of healthcare, with providers, patients, and third parties at risk of prosecution or civil suit for their involvement in private healthcare decisions. Relatedly, the decision opens the door to widespread infringement of privacy rights as digital surveillance is expanded to detect violations of new regulations. New bans also infringe on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, restricting the ability of physicians to counsel patients and clergy to provide pastoral care to their congregants. Finally, the harms of Dobbs violate principles of equality and non-discrimination; they fall disproportionately on marginalized populations including Black, indigenous, and people of color; people with disabilities; immigrants; and those living in poverty.

By overturning the established constitutional protection for access to abortion and through the passage of restrictive state laws, the US is in violation of its obligations under international law, codified in a number of human rights treaties to which it is a party or a signatory. These human rights obligations include, but are not limited to, the rights to: life; health; privacy; liberty and security of person; to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief; equality and non-discrimination; and to seek, receive, and impart information.

A version of this briefing paper was submitted to UN special procedures mandate holders in March 2023. The submission, cosigned by nearly 200 human rights, reproductive justice, and other concerned groups and individuals, requested urgent action from the UN mandate holders to examine the situation, engage with civil society, and call on the US to uphold its international human rights obligations.

Less than a year on from this catastrophic legal decision, it is now apparent that the consequences are even worse than feared. Women and girls in need of reproductive healthcare are being met with systematic refusals, onerous financial burdens, stigma, fear of violence, and criminalization. Thousands are being forced to remain pregnant against their will.

Part IIof this briefing paper outlines the consequences of Dobbs on the fundamental human rights of women and girls, as well as the disproportionate impact it has on certain demographics made vulnerable by systemic oppressions. This factual summary includes input from physicians in various states as part of fact-gathering efforts conducted by a number of organizations involved in this submission. Part III discusses the ways in which Dobbs contravenes the US’ international obligations. Part IV sets forth our Conclusion and Calls to Action.

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2021-2026 Strategic Plan

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The Global Justice Center began 2021 in a global advocacy environment more dynamic and tumultuous than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic only intensified existing threats to human rights, including shrinking spaces for civil society, rising nationalism, and attempted dismantling of the international human rights system. 

Despite these obstacles, advocates have made significant advances for the rights of women in recent decades. Yet the hard work of turning these gains into lived and sustainable gender equality remains unfinished. GJC occupies a critical space by identifying gaps in implementation and using a feminist interpretation of international law to transform human rights from paper to practice.

This framework will guide GJC’s work on the execution of our programs and projects for the coming five years. It encompasses both our overall programmatic goals as well our guiding principles, including our vision, mission, and theory of change. At its core, it is a constitution for GJC. 

Letter from the staff committee

We are proud to present this new strategic framework not only as a blueprint for GJC’s future, but also as a watershed moment in our evolution as an organization. The last few years presented historic challenges for GJC, both internally with the loss of our founder and externally with global attacks on human rights. But these struggles have only strengthened our resolve. Over the next five years, GJC will continue our groundbreaking legal and advocacy work with a focus on three major issues critical to the achievement of gender equality: (1) a feminist multilateral system; (2) the protection of abortion access; and (3) gender-competent responses to violence.

Creating this framework challenged us to think critically about our place in the world, and how we can best leverage our skills, privileges, and expertise to achieve our vision. It also puts our progressive feminist values front and center, and gives us the flexibilty to ensure that GJC remains a dynamic organization, including in our ability to respond to new and unforeseen challenges. With this new framework in hand, GJC marches forward in the struggle for human rights more prepared and energized than ever before.

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

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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. 

Complaint - Unalienable Rights Lawsuit

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 the 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


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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.

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Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law

Executive Summary

Gender permeates the crime of genocide. It is woven into the perpetrators’ planning and commission of coordinated acts that make up the continuum of genocidal violence. It is through these gendered annihilative acts that perpetrators maximize the crime’s destructive impact on protected groups.

Female and male members of targeted groups, by the perpetrators’ own design, experience genocide in distinct ways by reason of their gender. Men and older boys are targeted as a consequence of the gendered roles they are perceived to inhabit, including those as heads of households, leaders, religious authorities, protectors, guardians of the group’s identity, and patriarchs. Assaults on women and girls pay heed to their roles as mothers, wives, daughters, bearers of future life, keepers of community’s and family’s honor, and sources of labor within the home. An understanding of what it means to be male and female in a particular society thus saturates perpetrators’ conceptions of their victims, and of themselves. In particular, the violence directed at women and girls during genocide is fed by existing misogynistic attitudes in society, and the traumatic impacts are magnified by the financial, social, cultural inequalities to which women and girls are subjected. 

Genocide is often understood as a crime committed predominantly through organized mass killings—the majority of victims of which, both historically and today, tend to be male. Consequently, non-killing acts of genocide—more likely to be directed against female members of a protected group—are often cast out of the continuum of genocidal violence. Equally, in privileging the act of killing, other acts of violence committed against men and boys—such as torture, rape, and enslavement—have also been obscured.

Gender Crimes Require Gender Justice for Burma's Rohingya

Rohingya women and girls have suffered targeted atrocities at the hands of Burma’s security forces. Amounting to crimes against humanity and genocide, these attacks were gendered in their conception, commission, and consequences. Accordingly, gender must be central to any and all efforts aimed at justice and accountability for the crimes committed against the Rohingya.

For an in-depth analysis of the sexual and gender-based crimes perpetrated by Burma’s security forces against Rohingya women and girls, see the Global Justice Center’s (GJC) legal brief: Discrimination to Destruction: A Legal Analysis of the Gender Crimes Against the Rohingya.

Discrimination to Destruction: A Legal Analysis of Gender Crimes Against the Rohingya

Since August 2016, the Burmese military (Tatmadaw), Border Guard, and police forces have conducted a systematic campaign of brutal violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s northern Rakhine State. These attacks come in the midst of a decades-long campaign of persecution of the Rohingya through discriminatory measures to police and control the group, including denying citizenship rights, restricting movement and access to healthcare, and limiting marriage and the number of children in families. While all members of the Rohingya population were targeted for violence, gender was integral to how the atrocities were perpetrated.

This brief seeks to bring to light the international crimes—crimes against humanity and genocide—committed against Rohingya women and girls since 2016 by Burmese Security Forces and highlight the role gender played in the design and commission of these atrocities. The military has long used rape as a weapon of war and oppression in its conflicts with ethnic groups, and in the recent attacks, Rohingya women and girls were targeted for particularly brutal manners of killing, rape and sexual violence, and torture. 

Iraq’s Criminal Laws Preclude Justice For Women And Girls

In light of the gender dynamics at the root of Daesh’s violence, gender must also be at the center of accountability. With justice for Daesh beginning, this Briefing details how Iraq’s current legal framework precludes meaningful justice for women and girls. It highlights the gender gaps in Iraq’s criminal laws and identifies opportunities for broader reform to better protect Iraqi women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence.


For years the world watched in collective horror as Daesh committed brutal atrocities. Central to this violence was sexual and gender-based violence, with explicit targeting of women and girls. Daesh used rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and torture—distinct crimes on their own as well as constituent elements of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes—as tools for recruitment, conversion, forced indoctrination, and the fundamental destruction of community cohesion.1 For many, the only thing that stood in opposition to these crimes was the prospect, however far away, of justice.

Justice, however, is complex. It requires accountability, redress and a focus on preventing the recurrence of violations. Justice efforts must be independent, credible, inclusive, and accepted by impacted communities, with special respect and recognition for the dignity of victims. Importantly, and as this Briefing illustrates, it must reflect the full scope and scale of the crimes that occurred.
As the international community and the Iraqi government begin the process of holding members of Daesh accountable for their crimes, it is critical to examine the legal systems that will be responsible for these prosecutions. Prosecutions to date, which have all been conducted under Iraq’s 2005 counter-terrorism law, have failed human rights standards and do not suffice the interest of justice. 

This Briefing highlights one such example—specifically how Iraq’s current laws fall far short of the requirements for justice, as they are unable to punish the most egregious of Daesh’s gender crimes. Iraq’s Penal Code is a patriarchal patchwork rooted in preexisting peacetime gender inequalities and violence.2 The way and manner in which the Code defines sexual and gender-based violence crimes is steeped in language and perspectives that are inherently and overtly discriminatory against women and fall short of international standards. Any justice mechanism organized under these laws will fail to provide full accountability and redress to Daesh’s female victims. 

In order to highlight these challenges, this Briefing: (i) identifies particular categories of Daesh’s gender crimes and considers how these crimes are currently codified in Iraqi law; (ii) details the gaps where Iraq’s laws do not entirely capture the ways in which Daesh committed sexual and gender-based violence; and (iii) describes international standards for defining and understanding the many facets of these crimes.

A complete reckoning with the planned and inherently gendered elements of Daesh’s violence is essential for Iraq to begin the transition out of armed conflict. These first steps of putting this history behind it must provide justice for victims, combat these victims’ marginalization, and prevent future violations against women, girls and other communities targeted on behalf of their gender. 

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US Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Aid and Their Impact on Free Speech and Free Association

The United States (US) imposes restrictions on its foreign aid that limit both services and speech related to abortion. They attach to nearly all recipients of foreign aid—limiting the activities, speech, and information that can be legally provided by doctors, health professionals, experts and advocates. These restrictions violate the US’s fundamental human rights obligations to protect free speech and free association.

This brief explains the restrictions on free speech and association imposed by the US Congress (the Helms and Siljander Amendments) and by the executive branch (the Global Gag Rule [“Gag Rule” or “GGR”]). It then details the US’s human rights obligations to respect freedom of speech and association, focusing on obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR only allows for the restriction of these rights in narrow circumstances: where the restriction is adequately provided by law, where it serves a legitimate aim (such as national security or public health), and where the state demonstrates that the restriction is necessary and proportionate in achieving that aim. This brief demonstrates that the Helms and Siljander Amendments and the GGR all fail that strict test, and therefore violate US obligations to ensure and protect the rights to free speech and association guaranteed under international human rights law.

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Prosecuting Genocide: European Union Obligations in the Age of Daesh

Daesh, also known as ISIS/ISIL, is committing genocide against religious and ethnic minorities, targeting women and girls in particular. The time is now for the EU to fulfil its international legal obligations to prevent and prosecute genocide. This means the EU must recognize this ongoing genocide, take steps to prevent and suppress it, and call for and facilitate its prosecution.

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When Terrorists Perpetrate Genocide: Legal Obligations to Respond to Daesh’s Genocide

Daesh is perpetrating genocide of the Yazidi, Christian, and other minorities as acknowledged by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the EU Parliament, Iraq, and others. The 1948 Genocide Convention was passed to protect distinct values central to humanity: the right of protected groups to their continued existence and the right of all people to live in a world enriched by diversity and marked by tolerance. Genocide is defined as acts to destroy national, ethnic, racial or religious groups, as distinct entities.  The joint attacks against Daesh in August 2014 to “avert potential genocide” of the Yazidi saved lives but did not stop Daesh from continuing to perpetrate genocide.

The international legal framework designed to keep the world free from genocide is distinct from that of other international laws and protects distinct values. Strategies to counter terrorism including, to prosecute and deny “safe havens” for terrorists, without more, do not fulfill the nonderogable obligations of states and international entities to stop genocide.

The Genocide Convention’s effectiveness in deterring genocide depends on states fulfilling their obligationsto take “all possible measures” individually and collectively to prevent, suppress, and punish genocide. The failure of states and international organizations to address Daesh genocide crimes undermines the legitimacy of the Genocide Convention and the effectiveness of counter terrorism efforts.

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Promises Not Progress: Burma's National Plan for Women Falls Short of Gender Equality and CEDAW

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Executive Summary

In late 2013, the Government of Burma/Myanmar (“the Government”) issued a National Strategic Action Plan for the Advancement of Women 2013-2022 (NSPAW) based in part on its obligations under the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Heralded as a “historic and essential step towards substantive equality between women and men,” NSPAW was released amidst a flurry of other governmental plans, strategies, promises, and actions ostensibly aimed at transforming the country into a democracy. However, conspicuously missing from these reforms, including NSPAW, were deeper systemic overhauls of the many legal, political, cultural and socio-economic barriers to the full enjoyment of human rights in Burma which must underpin any true democracy.

The issuance of NSPAW invites assessment of the state of gender equality in Burma, the prospects for NSPAW’s success in meeting its goals, and a comparison between NSPAW and Burma’s international legal obligations under CEDAW. Taking note of the need for such an assessment, as well as the opportunities presented by the forthcoming review of Burma by the CEDAW Committee in July 2016, this report by the Global Justice Center (GJC) and Leitner Center for International Law and Justice (Leitner Center) evaluates NSPAW against the reality for women on the ground in Burma and the Government’s legal obligations under CEDAW.

In short, the critical analysis in this report reveals that NSPAW’s provisions are aspirational and ambiguous, without clear guidance on implementation or benchmarks for meaningful evaluation. This report further demonstrates how NSPAW fails to meaningfully grapple with the structural barriers precluding gender equality—including the 2008 Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, decades of armed conflict and the continuing power of the military, antiquated laws and legal frameworks, and the difference between discrimination “in law” and discrimination “in effect”—all of which must be addressed in order to achieve substantive gender equality in Burma.

As this report shows, at its best NSPAW is an inadequate and amorphous effort to improve women’s experience in Burma without disruption to long-embedded power structures that insulate the country’s male-dominated elite. At its worst, NSPAW is a deceptive document that pays lip service to Burma’s CEDAW and other human rights obligations while actually entrenching gender inequality. Either way, NSPAW suffers from critical shortcomings related to its conceptualization, substantive content, and implementation. Specifically, this report identifies three ways that NSPAW falls short: (1) flawed conceptual foundation, in particular due to its incorporation of and reliance on existing systematic barriers to equality including the 2008 Constitution; (2) lack of practical, action-oriented provisions, as evidenced by the fact that two years after the issuance of NSPAW, no implementation plans have been developed or produced; and (3) absence of accountability through monitoring and evaluation.

Ultimately, NSPAW poses the threat of complacence—both on the part of the Government regarding the treatment of women and girls, as well as on the part of the international community in failing to critically evaluate the Government’s claims of progress. NSPAW is one plan of many in a pattern of cursory improvements to a deeply flawed system. It is GJC and the Leitner Center’s hope that this report, and in particular its recommendations, is a useful tool for all actors working in Burma, including the Government and civil society, to meaningfully address and challenge gender inequality in the country, including through the forthcoming CEDAW review.

Importantly, this report is not intended to be a comprehensive appraisal of women’s rights in Burma and instead examines certain salient substantive areas raised by the interaction of NSPAW, CEDAW and the current state of affairs. Similarly, the report only generally touches on the intense interconnectedness of the issues (e.g. decades on conflict implicate instability in women’s education and professional opportunities, which affect women’s opportunities to participate in political processes, which complicates the ability to earnestly address health, violence, and cultural issues only affecting women). However, we hope the report’s analytical framework can serve as a template for the meaningful consideration of the status of women in Burma through the lens of CEDAW. 

The report is organized by substantive issue area, with reference to the articles of CEDAW addressing that issue (e.g. Adoption of a Legal Definition of Discrimination (Articles 1, 2); Women and Education (Article 10); Eliminating Negative Practices, Stereotypes, and Media Portrayals (Articles 5, 15 and General Recommendation 21). Each substantive section of the report is broken up into four smaller sections covering: (1) Burma’s legal obligations under CEDAW; (2) the current situation on the ground in Burma; (3) analysis of NSPAW in light of CEDAW and the current situation; and (4) recommendations for the Government to bring itself into full compliance with CEDAW and to meet its commitment to gender equality.

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