"The women of Rio Negro, some of them pregnant, were dragged from their homes, and along with their children, were raped, tortured, and killed. "The soldiers and the (paramilitary civil defense) patrollers started grabbing the girls and raping us," recalls Ana, one of a handful of survivors of the massacre."--as stated in a collection of testimonies from Guatemala
After 36 years of civil conflict, Guatemala has yet to try anyone for war crimes. However, thanks to years of women's activism, capped by brilliant legal work from a pioneering international women's caucus, crimes of violence against women may soon be prosecuted by a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) to be created under the auspices of the United Nations (see Ms. May/June 1996), located in The Hague. Essentially, the ICC is a permanent version of temporary tribunals like those that were established to address crimes that occurred in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
The idea of a court had been tossed around the U.N. since the end of World War II, and when it finally looked like something might happen, a group of more than one thousand nongovernmental organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, came together to push for it. In 1998, the NGOs, now named the Coalition for an International Criminal Court, launched a campaign to encourage nations to ratify the treaty that would establish the Court by 2004. As of July, the Netherlands became the thirty-seventh country to sign on. Having shot past the halfway mark much sooner than expected, the coalition hopes that the U.N. will have the 60 signatures needed for the Court to be up and running by July 2002.
According to Kofi Annan, the U.N.'s secretary-general, the ICC is being established "to supply what has for so long been the missing link in the international legal system, a permanent court to judge the crimes of gravest concern to humanity-genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes." Annan failed to mention another missing link: the fact that gender-based crimes have never been considered crimes against humanity. But now, in a historic first, they are. A network of more than three hundred women's organizations worldwide, known as the Women's Caucus for Gender Justice, and other global activists successfully lobbied the U.N. to include women's rights.
"Delegates worked hard to ensure that crimes against women are not, as they have been historically, misrepresented, under-prosecuted, ignored," says Betty Murungi, one of the Kenyan attorneys who monitor the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The women's groups pushed the U.N. to go beyond just defining rape as a war crime, and got a host of other offenses -like forced pregnancy and sterilization, sexual slavery, and enforced prostitution-to be considered war crimes and crimes against humanity. The newly defined crime of "persecution based on gender" was also added. Activists believe that by using "gender" instead of "sex" in the law's language, a much broader scope of crimes will fall under the Court's jurisdiction, including crimes based on sexual orientation.
Ratifying the Court's treaty will encourage nations to improve their own women's rights laws, says Rhonda Copelon, director of the City University of New York's International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic: "The ICC's proposed definition of rape, for instance, while not perfect, recognizes a broad range of coercive circumstances instead of a narrow and sexist concept of force, and thus supports feminist efforts to get rid of archaic laws in many countries."
It's hard to imagine anyone having a problem with the Court: only perpetrators of the most egregious crimes, whose countries cannot or will not prosecute them, will come before it. But while activists are celebrating its speedy progress toward ratification, conservatives in the U.S. are getting nervous about the growing consensus for an independent ins
10/30/2014 Medication Abortion Access Threatened by Oklahoma Court Ruling - An Oklahoma state district court judge has refused to block a state law restricting medication abortion, clearing the way for the law to go into affect on November 1.
The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. . . .
10/30/2014 UPS Switches Pregnant Worker Policy Ahead of Supreme Court Case - The United Parcel Service (UPS) is changing its policy on light duty assignments for pregnant workers, even though the company will stand by its refusal to extend accommodations to a former employee in an upcoming Supreme Court case.
UPS announced on Monday in a memo to employees, and in a brief filed with the US Supreme Court, that the company will begin offering temporary, light-duty positions to pregnant workers on January 1, 2015. . . .
10/30/2014 North Dakota Medical Students Speak Out Against Measure 1 - Medical students at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences are asking North Dakotans to vote no on Measure 1, a personhood measure on the state ballot this fall.
The students issued published a letter in the Grand Forks Herald stating that they opposed Measure 1 in part because they are against "the government's taking control of the personal health care decisions of its citizens." Nearly 60 UND School of Medicine students signed the letter, citing concerns over the "very broad and ambiguous language" used in the proposed amendment, which has no regard for serious and life-threatening medical situations such as ectopic pregnancies.
Measure 1 would change the North Dakota state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" for humans "at any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization and conception. . . .