The United Kingdom’s Duty under International Humanitarian Law to Ensure Non-Discriminatory Medical Care to Women and Girls Raped in Armed Conflict, including Access to Safe Abortion Services
Excerpts of UK, EU and International Laws, Policies & Practices Relevant to this Duty
Updated as of October 8, 2013
The duty of the United Kingdom (“UK”) to respect international law, and in particular international humanitarian law, is firmly rooted in its body of domestic law which implements the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols, and is further supplemented by the laws, regulations, and guidelines of the European Union.
For women raped in armed conflict, abortion is a legal right under international humanitarian law (“IHL”). Girls and women raped in armed conflict are “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions and are entitled, as the ―wounded and sick, to “receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition.” This care must also be non-discriminatory. To deny a medical service to pregnant women (abortion), while offering everything needed for victims who are male or who aren’t pregnant, is a violation of this requirement of non-discrimination. Therefore, IHL imposes an absolute and affirmative duty to provide the option of abortion to rape victims in humanitarian aid settings; failing to do so violates the Geneva Conventions, its Additional Protocols, and customary international law.
These protections are further supported by international human rights law. The Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee have both declared the denial of abortion to be torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in certain situations. Furthermore, under these treaties, which apply concurrently with humanitarian law during armed conflict, State Parties are required to provide the highest standard of rehabilitative care for torture victims, which includes the provision of complete medical services for injuries resulting from torture. In the case of impregnated female rape victims, such care must include the option of abortion.
This compendium contains excerpts from British legislation, policy, and practice which underscore the UK’s commitments to ensure that its humanitarian aid to girls and women raped in armed conflict affords them their full and inalienable rights to medical care under IHL. This requires: (1) access to a complete range of health and life-saving treatments including abortion, and (2) compliance with the tenet of non-discriminatory humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.