War and Peace

UN Marks International Safe Abortion Day

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United Nations Human Rights experts issued a formal statement on Friday, September 28, in honor of International Safe Abortion Day. The UN Human Rights Council Working Group fights discrimination against women in both law and in practice, and the group opened its statement by acknowledging the central link between a women’s access to reproductive agency and her access to justice, equality, financial security and all aspects of public life.

A woman’s ability to make her own reproductive decisions lies “at the very core of [her] fundamental right to equality, privacy and physical and mental integrity and is a precondition for the enjoyment of other rights and freedoms”.

And yet, 47,000 women die each year due to unsafe abortions. An additional five million suffer temporary or permanent disability. And an estimated 225 million women worldwide don’t have access to basic modern contraception, with girls under fifteen experiencing five times the risk of limited access and resulting unplanned pregnancy. If 225 million women could gain this access and prevent unwanted pregnancy, human health and human rights around the globe would experience a sharp increase.  

As stated by the group, “legal frameworks for abortion have been typically been designed to control women’s decision making through the use of criminal law.”

The World Health organization has demonstrated that criminalizing abortion does not prevent the procedure; instead, it pushes women to resort to unsafe and unregulated medical provision. In addition, in many cultures, women who have received abortions are mistreated by health professionals, denied emergency care, or are otherwise subject to forms of societal punishment that in many cases violate national and international law.

It is essential that governments reclaim this essential cornerstone of women’s reproductive rights through referendum, legislative and judicial action.

It’s also essential that concerns about unsafe abortion be addressed through public health policies and changes to relevant civil law including medical malpractice laws.   

Discrimination against women is a thread that winds through public and private life in times of both peace and war. It transcends national and cultural boundaries and is often fueled by power imbalances between women and men that are formally mirrored in laws, policy, and cultural practice. Many of these laws and practices are long-standing and deeply entrenched. But these laws can be removed with the systematic application of legal pressure and education; these are among the primary goals of the Working Group by the Human Rights Council. To learn more about the Working Group, click here. The next session of will take place in Geneva from October 22-26.

Taiwan’s Participation in the UN Assembly

The historically complex region we now know as Taiwan was once a colony of Japan, which was relinquished by the country after Japan’s WWII surrender in 1945. Handed over to China by US forces, the island received a seat on the UN security council alongside the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and France, an honor it received for being the first UN nation to be attacked by an axis power.

This influential position became awkward four years later after the Chinese civil war. Nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai-Shek lost the war to Communist forces and fled to the island, and a 20- year period began in which the Nationalist government of the island (then called the Republic of China) held a UN Security Council seat while China was closed out of the world body altogether.

Until 1975, Chiang held onto hopes of retaking China, and continually rejected a two-state solution in which the communist People’s Republic of China would hold Security Council seat while Chiang’s government would continue to hold onto the island (then called Taiwan or Formosa). Despite Chiang’s rejections of this option, the UN passed a resolution in 1971 that passed the seat to the People’s Republic.

Since that year, Beijing has aggressively promoted a “one-China” policy, which rejects the independent status of Taiwan and pressures the world community to consider Taiwan a part of China. China has block Taiwan’s participation in the UN and taken action against entities that reject or ignore the one-China position.

This week, the UN body will convene in New York. And this time Taiwan will not push for membership, as per custom. Instead, the island will be sending two ministers (digital and environmental protection) who will promote adherence to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, though they will not be able to participate in the Assembly itself. This is part of Taiwan’s ongoing and growing effort to present itself as a responsible stakeholder in world affairs.

Despite its past history of martial law and brutality, Taiwan is embracing its new profile as a defender of human rights. In fact, a sharp contrast is beginning to develop between Taiwan’s responsible reputation and China’s increasingly authoritarian government in which citizens cannot vote, speech is restricted, and Muslims have been detained in camps.

Though the UN continues to officially ignore Taiwan, and China continues its efforts to restrict Taiwan’s presence and influence on the world stage, a growing chorus of voices are recognizing Taiwan’s efforts to contribute to the world community. Follow us as we observe the proceedings of the UN assembly and in the meantime, learn more here and also here.

Peace Negotiations Across the Horn of Africa

In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Saudi diplomatic efforts have just played a key role in facilitating a historic peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eretria, two nations that have endured a simmering conflict since the 1990s. After a bloody, unresolved war followed by years of tense, frosty relations, the two countries have come together to sign a historic accord and hopefully continue a pattern of normalizing relations across the Horn of Africa.

Long-standing conflict between Djibouti and Eritrea may also reach a turning point this week in the same city as diplomatic representatives and national leaders come together to continue what appears to be an inspiring set of resolutions and peaceful negotiations.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, sees strong and positive implications in these agreements and has offered statements praising the leaders of both parties and expressing hope for stability in the region.

“We have seen a conflict that has lasted for decades ending, and that has a very important meaning in a world where we see, unfortunately, so many conflicts multiplying,” said Mr. Guterres.

As a very important part of this positive development, the border between the two countries has reopened at two key crossing points after 20 years of closure. As of the past few days, hundreds of citizens from both sides have crossed the border to reconnect with relatives and loved ones, and celebrations have taken place around the region.

Eritrea established its independence from Ethiopia in 1991, and the two countries enjoyed relatively stable relations until 1998, when conflict erupted over a host of issues, the border closed, and trade tensions escalated.

At this point, both sides will need to leverage the current spirit of goodwill as the next stage of border negotiations take place, but peace is expected to prevail. Read more here and also here and join us as we follow this encouraging story.



Are Displaced Residents Returning to Syria?

Here at Just Atonement, we’re interested the study of human migration across national borders, and we believe that the more we can learn about why, when, and how people migrate, the better prepared we will be for the migration trends that will occur as the planet changes.

War, internal conflict, drought, rising sea levels, unpredictable storms, and shifting growing seasons are all likely to follow on the heels of rising planetary temperature, and though some migratory paths will be unique to specific people and specific circumstances, most will be part of larger patterns. One example of such a pattern is emerging now in Syria.

Even though displacements still far outweigh returns in this country torn apart by ongoing violence, returns appear to be on the rise.

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than a half million Syrians who fled the country returned to their homes in 2017. (Syria’s population hovers around a total of 18 million). While the Syrian government has attempted to highlight this information in order to suggest that conflict is ebbing in the region, the UN migration agency emphasizes that these returns are by no means voluntary, safe or sustainable and these return migrations “cannot be considered within the context of a durable solutions framework.”

According to the IOM, about 97 percent of those returning to the country (the majority to Aleppo) have been able to return to their own homes, with the remaining 3 percent living with hosts, in abandoned structures or in temporary informal accommodations. Only 41 percent of returnees have access to water and 39 percent have access to health services.

So why are people re-crossing the border to return to areas they left under duress? Again, according to the IOM:

27 percent are returning to protect their assets and property

25 percent cite economic improvements in their home area

14 percent cite economic downturns in the areas to which they fled

11 percent cited “social or cultural issues” preventing integration in their destination areas, and

11 percent cited security improvements in the area they hope to return to.

It remains to be seen whether these resettlements will last. In Aleppo, government troops have recaptured some parts of the city once held by rebel forces, but several rebel strongholds still stand and conflict and instability in the area are far from resolved. All the same, many residents of the city feel compelled to return, even if only temporarily and in the face of significant risk and difficulty. By witnessing these returns and observing the outcomes, we can learn more about why people decide to leave or stay in place, and we can apply this information to similar decisions that will be made under circumstances we haven’t yet seen.

The ICC and Alleged US Crimes Committed During the War in Afghanistan

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In November of 2017, the International Criminal Court in the Hague began formally requesting an investigation of individual US citizens, including CIA employees and military personnel, over alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan after the launch of the Iraq invasion in 2003.

The Office of the Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, had been conducting a preliminary investigation into what is being called the Situation in Afghanistan since 2006, and by 2017, the office found reasonable basis for the belief that war crimes and/or crimes against humanity had been committed by:

  1. The Taliban and their affiliated Haqqani network

  2. The Afghan National Security Forces, specifically, members of the National Directorate for Security and the Afghan National Police, and

  3. Members of the United States Armed Forces within the Afghanistan territory and Members of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in secret detention facilities located in states that are party to the Rome Statute, principally during 2003 and 2004.

In light of the gravity of the acts committed and the lack of national proceedings (accountability from the justice system within the United States), the Prosecutor has determined that the case will be permissible by the ICC pursuant to the Rome Statute.

Based on the evidence collected during the preliminary investigation, the Prosecutor can ask ICC Judges to issue either summons to appear or arrest warrants or those believed to be most responsible for international crimes committed in Afghanistan.

Response from the US in 2018

As of Monday, September 10, the US has announced plans to “adopt an aggressive posture” against the ICC, including threats to the sanction ICC judges if they proceed with the investigation into these war crimes.

A speech by John Bolton will occur on Monday in Washington, according to Reuters, in which he is expected to declare the ICC an “illegitimate court” and announce to plans to shield US citizens from prosecution.

Read more on this development here and also here. We’ll be following this story closely, so check back in for future updates.