Human Rights Council

Human Rights and Global Justice: A Never-Ending Goal

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In the midst of an encounter with atrocity or injustice, a community leader, an advocate, or a witness may be overwhelmed by a single goal: to bring the crisis to end. The motivating force for action in that moment may be short-term and ultimately attainable. If a migrant population is under assault or a marginalized group is threatened, it’s easy to recognize a simple need: bring relief to the suffering and bring the perpetrators to justice.

But what then?  

A true resolution involves an analysis of why the crisis occurred in the first place. The analysis must be followed by meaningful action to prevent a resurgence of the same circumstances. And since the forces that lead to global injustice are rarely simple, a perfect repetition of the same events will likely never happen. Instead, despite deep analysis and careful preparation, the next such crisis will still seem to arise without warning. And the next. And the next.

In fact, most experts on the subject of global justice seem to agree that the forces that contribute to oppression, unjust resource distribution and involuntary migration are rising at this point in history, not diminishing. From a spike in authoritarian governance to climate change, the factors that bring trouble are not decreasing with each lesson learned, but are instead gathering on the horizon like a dark cloud.

As we witness the annual arrival of Holocaust Remembrance Day, we’re once again faced with a difficult question: How can we declare “never again” in the face of injustice and truly follow through on that promise?

Like a boat on the sea, we are lifted and dropped by the currents that surround us. We can’t hold a fixed position, but we can learn to recognize the rhythms behind each shift, anticipate, respond, remain flexible and remain ever-vigilant. We can accept, as the Talmud instructs us, that we are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are we free to abandon it.

Here’s a beautiful example of a person who has “not become daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief”. This is an inspiring interview with Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and the newly confirmed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  

As Bachelet discusses implementing global systems and leveraging the existing resources of the Human Rights Council, recognize that her history includes detention and torture under the Pinochet regime in Chile, and note how far she has come from the rage that once burned at the core of her search for justice.

Though it is driven by chaos, rage and grief, the path to peace is a structured process. Resilience and determined forward motion are essential, even if the final destination seems always just out of reach.

Please join us on this path! Contact our team to help us maintain steady global progress toward a better and safer world.

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.

Inder Comar Speaks to The United Nations Council on Human Rights

The Iraq War is by no means over, and during the fifteen years since its launch, the initial invasion and its aftermath have taken thousands of civilian and military lives, left a trail of ongoing civil and political chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, and left power vacuums and spheres of disputed influence across the middle east. On the 15-year anniversary of the invasion, our founder Inder Comar spoke to assembled audience at a March 15th meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Inder’s words began with a discussion of the 2003 events surrounding the invasion and placed these events in a context, an era of ongoing encroachments on international law that may signal an existential threat to modern democracy. 

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Accountability and the Rule of Law

The rule of law exists in perpetual conflict with the rule of might, and in functional democratic societies, the rule of law defines criminal behavior and holds perpetrators accountable. The concept of international criminal law is not new, but the possibility of borderless accountability for the most grievous crimes against humanity—including genocide, torture, and human trafficking—took a significant step forward during the trials of Nuremberg. It was at this point that the global community named and began to define the crime of “aggression”, an illegal, unjustified act of war or invasion. 

The jus cogens prohibition against aggression does not permit any derogation and must be upheld by all member nations of the global community. The UN Charter prohibits violence against one state by another under all circumstances with only two exceptions: Acts of self-defense and acts granted explicit approval by the UN Security Council.

Since the Iraq war involved neither of these exemptions, the initial invasion and lack of accountability for the proceeding actions and events (including human rights violations and attacks against non-combatant civilians) represent disregard for the UN Charter and violations of international law.

To date, no high-ranking US government employee involved in this act of aggression has been prosecuted for war crimes, a circumstance that undermines the strength of the United Nations and grants a foothold to an increasing global threat of despotism and tyranny.

A functioning world order is made possible by a fundamental principle: no person stands above the law. If this principle is undermined or threatened, the door opens to a cascade of abuses that have historically altered the fates of otherwise thriving nations and peoples. These abuses include pernicious propaganda, a concentration of economic power in the hands of the few, and violations of civil and human rights, often in the name of security.

At our current moment in history, due to the abuses above and a growing lack of accountability for those in positions of power, we appear to be entering—or rather returning—to an age defined by humanitarian crises. Not since the days of ancient Rome have so many been controlled by the actions and self-interest of so few. 

But as Inder makes clear in his statement to the United Nations, one solution to this growing crisis may lie in creating accountability for the Iraq War.

Holding high ranking American officials responsible for their participation in an illegal invasion-- an act of aggression built on propaganda, false intelligence, and disregard for international law and order-- can potentially accomplish three important goals that can slow our current global trajectory toward a dark and chaotic future. This accountability may:

Restore international order based on the rule of law

Reset a bias in international law against impoverished nations

Provide justice to the victims of the Iraq War.

Those who abuse the United Nations to further a harmful and self-serving agenda must face appropriate censure and consequences in order to preserve a global future founded on the rule of law and safe from the allure of empire and authoritarianism.

The primary points of Inder’s speech align with the goals of Just Atonement: We seek to protect global justice and respect for international law. The Iraq War and its aftermath present us with a concrete opportunity to take action on our core principles. Read the text of the speech by clicking the link above and please consider joining our mission.

Our Recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council Regarding the Case of Saleh v. Bush

In February of 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit made a decision in the case of Saleh v. Bush, holding that high-ranking leaders from the Bush Administration--including George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others--were protected from allegations that they had committed the crime of aggression and violated international treaties by invading Iraq in 2003. This case holds important implications for Just Atonement and its mission, and it also holds implications for the future of human rights legislation and the strength and legitimacy of international law.

Our short paper, available here, provides a background on the details of the case, followed by a list of official recommendations for the United Nations Human Rights Council. We submitted the paper earlier this year and these recommendations were included as an agenda item at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, held in late September 2017.

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How did the Court Rule in Saleh v. Bush?

Despite evidence that the Bush Administration presented false evidence in order to generate support for the invasion of Iraq, and despite an apparent intent to overthrow the government of Iraq dating back to 1997, the Ninth Circuit found George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz -- the named defendants -- immune from civil liability in the U.S., due to a federal law called Westfall Act.

The Westfall Act protects former government officials from civil lawsuits if their actions can be considered “official”, or taking place within the legitimate scope of their authority. The plaintiff, Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother who had fled Iraq as a refugee, could not proceed with her claims since she could not identify any personal gain, financial or otherwise, linking the members of the administration to their actions while in office, no matter how heinous those actions may have been.

What are the Human Rights Implications of Saleh v. Bush?

1.       Unfortunately, the ruling shows a U.S. court giving precedence to domestic law over international law, part of an ongoing trend.

2.       The ruling reveals another trend as well: the movement of U.S. courts to limit opportunities for redress available to victims of U.S. foreign policy. Federal courts appear to be closing their doors to victims of international crimes conducted by U.S. officials.

3.       This ruling may weaken the strength of the Nuremberg Judgement and release the United States from international norms and laws regarding acts of aggression.

In light of these implications, we’ve submitted a list of specific recommendations to the Human Rights Council.  Feel free to review the list here.