United Nations Human Rights Council

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.

Report on Myanmar Released After a UN Fact Finding Mission

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One year ago today, the marginalized and essentially stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar (denied full citizenship but also denied the right the leave the country legally), were subject to a brutal campaign unleashed by Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority state security forces.

 

In response to alleged attacks by Rohingya militants against government forces, security members and allied civilian mobs launched an all-out attack on defenseless Rohingya villagers, cutting off their efforts to escape to safety on foot and firing on them from helicopters and from the ground. The unofficial death toll quickly climbed into the hundreds, taking several decades of brutal and systematic oppression to the next murderous level. By mid-August of 2017, over 76,000 people had attempted a dangerous escape across the border to Bangladesh, through rain swollen areas that left more bodies washed up on riverbanks.

Many of those who eventually reached refugee camps described villages surrounded and families shot systematically and stabbed to death, including children.

A year later, six generals have been named as priority subjects for investigation and prosecution by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. In a newly released report describing the campaign and its atrocities, their actions have been called “undoubtedly…the gravest crimes under international law.” Here’s the report.

The government of Myanmar has rejected the allegations, claiming that the attacks were warranted. But the three-member panel responsible for the report has attached the most serious allegation, genocide, to the list of charges against the military leaders. The panel finds enough evidence to support accusations of genocidal intent, and members have cited an organized plan for destruction and evidence of an extreme scale of brutality and violence. The panel cites over 10,000 deaths, harrowing witness accounts and over 700,000 refugees by the end of the 2017 actions in Rakhine.

Despite Myanmar’s refusal to allow access or cooperate with the investigation, the report contains hundreds of pages of witness accounts, interviews, satellite data and other information that will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.

The United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has previously condemned the army’s actions, but this newly released report will likely increase pressure for immediate international action. After reviewing the report, the UN Security Council may refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or set up an international tribunal. The Council may also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and penalize those most responsible with travel bans or asset freezes.  

But the path toward justice, if one exists, will not be clear. Since Myanmar’s civilian authorities have proven unable and unwilling to investigate or deliver justice on their own, any form of accountability will need to come from the international community. And since international criminal law is a nascent entity at this point, the outcome of any form of condemnation remains uncertain.

A year after the fact, the generals responsible for high crimes and human rights violations and the civilian authorities who enabled them remain both unpunished and unrepentant. Read more here and please join us as we follow the developments surrounding the newly released report.

Just Atonement in Geneva

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We are thrilled to be participating in the 37th Human Rights Council Session in Geneva!

Specifically, we are presenting our work on the need for accountability over the Iraq War.

March 20, 2018 marks the 15th year anniversary of the Iraq War.

Along with our colleagues and supporters in Geneva, Just Atonement will be calling for the creation of an international tribunal with jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by the United States and the United Kingdom related to the Iraq War, including the crime of aggression, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Check out our concept note about the presentation. 

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.