On 10 May 2021, LAW submitted a letter to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, requesting the Committee to examine the issue of the protection of complainants’ identities who have suffered from conflict related sexual violence during its 79th session between 21 June and 9 July 2021, as a topic for a General Recommendation.
The letter and spirit of the Convention and its Optional Protocol is to ensure all necessary measures required for the elimination of all forms and manifestations of discrimination against women and girls are undertaken by State Parties and enforced. However, several significant challenges continue to affect the ability of women and girls to access redress before the Committee, and the Committee urgently needs to give them serious consideration. Indeed, women and girls who speak out against their perpetrators often face threats of retaliation including further violations and abuses; this is particularly evident when the perpetrator is the state or an agent of the state. Those remarkable women and girls who have the courage to speak out must be protected against retaliation, otherwise survivors will not be able to come forward and seek justice from the very Committee appointed to protect them.
It is thus imperative that the Committee allows women and girls who wish to file a communication to protect their full identities from the state or state agents whilst the communication is being considered. LAW suggests this topic for a General Recommendation, to allow the Committee to protect the identities of Complainants under the Optional Protocol in these exceptional circumstances. This will ensure that in cases where they are facing a threat, women and girl still have access to redress and empowerment.
On 10 March, Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) and Human Rights Watch co-hosted an online panel discussion entitled “The 4 August Beirut Explosion: Can the Lebanese investigation deliver justice?”
The event brought together the parents of three children that were tragically killed in the explosion, Sarah Copland, mother of Isaac Ohelers; Mireille Bazergy, mother of Elias Khoury, and Paul Naggear and Tracy Awad, parents of Alexandra Naggear. They were joined by Ambassador Ralph Tarraf, Ambassador of the European Union to Lebanon; Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch; Najat Rochdi, United Nations Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon; Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, and Nada Abdelsater, Esq. Managing Partner of ASAS Law and International Lawyer.
The parents, victims themselves, were united in their pain and anger. Each spoke of the tremendous but avoidable suffering that they, their children, their families, and the whole city experienced on the 4 August. They used the panel to highlight the Lebanese authority’s failure to protect their children from harm, and to call upon the international community to support their calls for an independent and impartial fact-finding mission into the explosion.
Please do not forget our case.
People say that the explosion was an accident, but we say that Isaac was murdered, because negligence on this scale is absolutely criminal.
I cannot believe that we live today in a planet where such inhumane things can happen and that a whole population that has been victim of it can be forsaken.
On Thursday 10 December 2020, International Human Rights Day, LAW and international law firm McDermott, Will and Emery, submitted a complaint to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (the Commission) on behalf of Setara Begum, whose husband was one of ten men unlawfully executed by Tatmadaw soldiers as part of the ‘Inn Din Massacre.’ The complaint argues that failings in the investigation, and the pardon and early-release of those convicted, is a violation of Setara’s rights as a widow.
The complaint requests that the Commission recommend significant compensation be made, seeking $2 million, reflecting the serious violation of her human rights.
On December 9, 2020, LAW hosted a webinar on the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. The event marked the 20th anniversary of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The event brought together women leaders at the forefront of WPS implementation in Lebanon, South Sudan and Sri Lanka.
Three panelists spoke at the event: Ghida Anani, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Public Health in the Lebanese University and founder and Director of ABAAD MENA; Jackline Nasiwa, Director of the Centre for Inclusive Governance, Peace and Justice in South Sudan; and Ramaaya Salgado, Programme Officer and Country Focal Point for UN Women Sri Lanka. The event was chaired by Lucy Geddes, the head of LAW Sri Lanka. Antonia Mulvey, LAW’s Executive Director, gave opening remarks.
The participants discussed the implementation of the WPS agenda in Lebanon, South Sudan and Sri Lanka, including efforts to develop National Action Plans and challenges to implementation in these different national and regional contexts, as well as future directions. They also discussed global challenges, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted a decrease in funding for WPS implementation across many contexts. The second half of the event was dedicated to a lively question and answer session in which the panelists fielded questions on topics such as cross-border coordination of WPS efforts, the utility of using dedicated government agencies for WPS implementation, and opportunities WPS implementation at the grassroots level.
On 25 November 2020, LAW, Allen and Overy and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Juba organised a webinar entitled Protecting Survivors of Conflict Related Sexual Violence: What role should CEDAW play in its 40th Year?
Chaired by Professor Suzanne Spears, partner in the International Arbitration group and Co-Head of the Global Business and Human Rights Practice at Allen and Overy, the esteemed panel included:
· Ambassador Siv Kaspersen, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Juba,
· Jane Connors, Victims’ Rights Advocate for the United Nations,
· Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of the Women’s international League for Peace and Freedom,
· Antonia Mulvey, Executive Director, Legal Action Worldwide.
Conflict related sexual violence is often used as a tactic of war and survivors’ ability to access justice continues to be a key issue, and impunity remains despite global efforts. Conflict related violence is a pervasive form of gender discrimination, and vulnerability and fear of reprisal are often obstacles to reporting, including to CEDAW. On 25 November 2020, LAW submitted a communication on behalf of 30 South Sudanese survivors of conflict related sexual violence and a request to the Committee for the protection of their identity.
The panel discussed key issues around the challenges and impediments for survivors of conflict related sexual violence seeking justice and in particular accessing UN Human Rights Mechanisms. Topics included the on-going situation of widespread sexual violence in South Sudan, as well as globally, the interpretation of Article 6.1 of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, the recent submission by LAW to the CEDAW Committee on South Sudan and the mass impunity that exists for conflict related sexual violence.
Ambassador Kaspersen highlighted the need for a survivor centred approach, and that access to justice for survivors/victims is essential. In the case of South Sudan, it is also crucial for the peace of the whole country. Ms Connors reflected on Article 6 of the Optional Protocol, and whether there should be a possibility to protect the identities of complainants in a communication. The conversation delved into the broader question of the objective and purpose of the Protocol, if it is not to protect the survivors. She also emphasised that whilst law and accountability are important, the needs of the victims/survivors are wide ranging, and this must be looked at holistically. Ms Mulvey spoke about LAW’s recent submission to the Committee. LAW represents 30 South Sudanese women and girls who were victims of appalling acts of sexual violence during the civil war. LAW argue that South Sudan has breached numerous articles of CEDAW and requested that the identities of the victims not be disclosed to South Sudan, to protect them from stigma and retaliation. She spoke of the distinction between anonymous communications, and communications where, owing to protection concerns, the identities of the victims should be protected. Finally, Ms Rees, emphasised the need to look at the context in which the violence occurs, taking into consideration the needs of individuals, and spoke of the necessity of protection being effective and articulated to the survivors/victims to encourage them to speak out and feel safe moving forward.
The panel concluded that there was a clear need to approach justice in a holistic and survivor-centred manner to ensure those who are brave enough to report on the violation suffered can access it safely. The role of the international community is crucial in making sure the conversation continues and justice needs are an integral part of peace processes in conflict affected and post-conflict countries, to the benefit of women, girls, men and boys who need it the most.
On 16 November, LAW released the first comprehensive report gathering all available facts relating to the 4 August Beirut explosion and the domestic investigation thus far. The report has been submitted to key individuals at the UN, and to representatives of key member states.
Together with key facts, the report sets out the five key requests of the victims group Victims of the Beirut August Massacre, which are as follows:
- To dispatch, without delay, an independent and impartial fact-finding mission, leveraging global expertise, to establish the facts and circumstances, including the root causes of, the 4 August 2020 Beirut explosion with a view to establishing state and individual responsibility and supporting justice for victims.
- That the Government of Lebanon do not destroy or render inaccessible any evidence related to the 4 August 2020 Beirut explosion, and issue clear, public and unequivocal instructions to all government authorities and security forces that all evidence must secured and preserved. Any investigation will be required to consider the destruction of evidence.
- That victims are ensured representation and participation in any proceedings arising from investigations, including civil or criminal proceedings before a competent court or tribunal, or any public inquiry;
- That member states, specifically: the United States of America and France or other members states who have conducted investigations into the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion, should report publicly on all evidence gathered by their state agents. As a minimum key findings should be released to victims as defined under the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, and their families;
- That the Government of Lebanon should acknowledge and provide a full, public apology to victims and seek their views on the establishment of a memorial. It should also urgently adopt a comprehensive policy and package of measures regarding the fulfilment of the right to reparation of victims.
On Tuesday 20 October 2020, LAW’s Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, participated in a high level event cohosted by the High Commissions of Bangladesh and Canada in the UK, entitled: Towards Sustainable Justice, Accountability and Returns: The Rohingya crisis into its 4th year.
The event was co-chaired by Her Excellency Ms Saida Muna Tasneem, High Commissioner for Bangladesh to the UK, and Her Excellency Mrs Janice Charette, High Commissioner for Canada to the UK. Remarks were made by The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, His Excellency Ambassador Masud Bin Momen, 2017 ‘clearance operations’ survivor Ms Hasina Begum, Mr Nicholas Koumjiian, Professor Payam Akhavan, His Excellency Karel Van Oosterom, Dr Simon Adams, Professor Yanghee Lee, Her Excellency Ms. Yamina Karitanyi, Mr Maung Tun Khin, Ms Rushanara Ali MP, Mr Hussein Thomasi, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and His Excellency Dr A. K. Abdul Momen, M.P.
The esteemed panel discussed the aggravating affect of the Covid-19 pandemic on Bangladesh and its ability to support the refugee population, and representatives of Bangladesh emphasised the importance of working towards the safe and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. The group of over 170 attendees, heard updates on the case before the International Court of Justice, brought by the Gambia against Myanmar relating to alleged violations of the Genocide convention and the need for the continued support of the international community for all potential justice processes concerning the Rohingya was repeatedly expressed.
On 8 October 2020, LAW filed a ground-breaking case on behalf of our client, Meseret Hailu, arguing that the conditions and treatment she was subjected to while a migrant domestic worker in Lebanon constituted crimes of slavery, slave trading, trafficking in persons, forced labour, deprivation of liberty and withholding personal documents, racial discrimination, gender discrimination and torture.
Meseret is a 38 year old female, born in Ethiopia, where she currently resides with her mother, brothers and sister. Meseret lived in Lebanon between March 2011 and September 2019, when she worked for the Defendant. Meseret’s contract, and her arrival in Lebanon, were facilitated by two brokers, one in Lebanon and one in Ethiopia. She was told that she would undertake domestic work, including housework and childcare, for a Lebanese family, and that she would be remunerated at a rate of three hundred dollars per month.
Meseret was only paid for 13 months of the 8.5 years that she worked. She worked from 6.30am – 10pm every day, and did not have a day off for the entirety of her time there. Meseret’s kafeel locked the door whenever she left the apartment and the only time Meseret left the building was when her kafeel took Meseret to clean the clinic where the kafeel worked. Here, again, Meseret was locked in. Other than to clean the clinic, Meseret only left her employers apartment three times in 8.5 years.
Meseret was subjected to physical and verbal abuse, denied food and medical attention, was prevented from speaking to her family and from returning to Ethiopia. She was finally released when a photo of Meseret was circulated in Beirut and a journalist contacted her kafeel asking about Meseret.
Find out more with LAW’s Frequently Asked Questions
Approximately 250,000 –300,000 migrant workers primarily from Ethiopia, the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are deprived of any legal rights or protection in Lebanon due to the ‘Kafala System.’ This renders migrant residency status’ contingent on their employment relationship. If the worker wishes to leave their employment, they need the consent of their employer or they lose their residency status and risk detention and deportation. This leads to a dangerous inequality of power; compiled with racial and gender discrimination which has led to a commonality of reports of sexual violence, including rape; physical and psychological abuse, deprivation of liberty, restricted access to passports and refusals to pay salaries. It is particularly stark for domestic migrant workers; the vast majority of which are women. The Kafala System contravenes Lebanon’s international human rights obligations, may engage international criminal law and inherently denies migrant workers access to justice.
A migrant worker’s entry, residence and work in Lebanon are governed by the entry visa and work permit. Beyond issuing a visa at a controlled point of entry and renewing permits on an annual basis, the government has few means to monitor conditions of residence and work. This renders the employment contract the main source of legal obligations to which the worker is subject.
Read LAW’s Policy Brief on Migrant Domestic Workers here
On 7 October, LAW Sri Lanka launched the Gender Justice Legal Network. The online launch event was chaired by Antonia Mulvey and featured two speakers (Prashanthi Mahindaratne and Serena Gates) with extensive experience with legal reform and the prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes. The Network connects victims of sexual and gender-based violence with lawyers who will assist them and advocate on their behalf in their interactions with the justice system. The GJLN will directly help victims to access justice and will promote the use of victim-sensitive practices in Sri Lankan courts, building the capacity of the domestic legal system to address widespread sexual violence.
On 15 September 2020 LAW hosted an online workshop on the Sexual Offences Bill and the Sexual Intercourse Bill, with the objective of starting an informed debate around the Sexual Intercourse Bill, and ensuring that all stakeholders have accurate information about its contents and how it differs from the Sexual Offences Bill.
The panel discussed the timeline of the Sexual Offences Bill and its merits, including the definition of roles and offences, and inclusion of provisions on aggravating factors, legal aid, protections for survivors, admissible evidence, compensation and guidelines on sentencing.
The panel then discussed the key areas of concern when the two Bills are compared, a discussion of which can be found in LAW’s comparative analysis brief here.
On 10-11 September 2020 LAW and Syrian survivors’ association Freedom Jasmine co-hosted the survivor-centred platform “Memory, Justice and Healing: Hearing from the Families of the Missing and Detained” in Gaziantep, Turkey. The event marked the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearance 2020.
30 Syrian families from Turkey and North-West Syria participated in a series of closed sessions to discuss the way their life has changed since the disappearance of their loved ones and their hopes for the future. The families had the opportunity to hear from Rwandan organisation Avega Agahozo, founded in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide by widows and their dependents to overcome the poverty and trauma they faced. The cross-regional exchange with widows from Avega’s 40-000 strong membership highlighted the importance of building a justice movement from the bottom up.
The platform was also an opportunity for families to deliver their messaging directly to some of the key actors working on enforced disappearances and detention in the Syria context. 18 representatives from international organisations and civil society joined the event remotely, with some of them addressing the families directly and fielding questions from the room.
Michelle Jarvis, Deputy Head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria (IIIM), briefed the families on the importance of making full use of the mandate given to the mechanism to collect and preserve evidence and ensure that it is ready for use by prosecutorial authorities. Ms. Jarvis explained the IIIM’s approach to documenting evidence relating to detention in Syria, and its commitment to sharing information that could help clarify the fate or whereabouts of the missing.
Sheerin Al Araj, Legal Advisor for the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), informed the families about OHCHR’s role in monitoring human rights violations in Syria and connecting families with relevant mechanisms. She also emphasised the victim-centred approach which OHCHR adopts throughout its work.
The event ended with families of the missing and detained refining their demands into the beginnings of an advocacy platform. All agreed on the importance, in the short-term, of using available mechanisms to register the names of their loved ones and create a record of enforced disappearances in Syria. LAW has already followed up with 21 families and will assist them in submitting a communication to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. The families also agreed that it was important to have similar spaces in the future to discuss their needs and to find strategies to target appropriate stakeholders.
Following the event, one of the women who had participated in the discussion approached Freedom Jasmine to ask for assistance in establishing their own survivors’ group. LAW will provide ongoing support to the families from Gaziantep and Urfa as they take ownership of their search for truth, justice and accountability.
“I cannot tell you how important it is to continue to hear these stories to keep the issues present in people’s minds.” Michelle Jarvis, Deputy Head of the IIIM
“We thank everyone who was involved. You allowed us to say anything. You did not get angry – you encouraged us and gave us hope that someone is listening to us.” Zariah (pseudonym)
“We are not the first population to be victims of such crimes. Other countries will not solve our problems. Organisations will not solve our problems for us. This is our problem, this is our cause.” Asma (pseudonym)
Tuesday 25 August 2020 marked three years since the start of the so called ‘clearance operations’ in Rakhine state, when 700,000 Rohingya were forced from their homes and over the border into Bangladesh. To mark the day, LAW, Shanti Mohila and the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK hosted an online event: Justice and Accountability for the Rohingya. Over 60 participants joined to hear from panelists Shanchita Haque, Chargé d’affaires and Deputy Permanent Representative to Permanent Mission of Bangladesh in Geneva; Professor Payam Akhavan, ICJ Counsel to The Gambia and ICC counsel to Bangladesh; Hasina Begum, Rohingya survivor advocate and member of Shanti Mohila, Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent
Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar; and Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation, UK.
LAW Executive Director Antonia Mulvey chaired the meeting, where panelists discussed the multiple and intertwined legal processes that are playing out globally for the Rohingya at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and in a Universal Jurisdiction case in Argentina. The panelists emphasised the continuing dire situation for those Rohingya who remain in Rakhine state and those in the camps in Coxs Bazaar, but also that legal proceedings provide hope for the Rohingya – hope for justice, for peace and for repatriation.
Feedback on the webinar included:
‘We really enjoyed this very important event and the discussions, thank you so much for inviting.’
‘Many thanks for the panel discussion it was really excellent.’
Alongside the webinar, Antonia Mulvey contributed an article to the Opinio Juris Symposium: The impact and implications of international law: Myanmar and the Rohingya , to mark the anniversary. You can read the article, Victims, Survivors, Advocates–The Multiple Justice Journeys of the Rohingya, here.
In August, LAW Sri Lanka hosted it’s third three day training retreat in Bentota, Sri Lanka, for 22 lawyers from the Attorney Generals Department Child Protection Unit. The training retreat brought together Chief Prosecutor of New South Wales Lloyd Babb SC, HH Judge Connell of UK Crown Courts, UK barrister Serena Gates, former Supreme Court Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane, Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris, Deputy Solicitor General Thusitha Mudalige, Senior Deputy Solicitor General and Head of the Child Protection Unit Chethiya Goonasekera, Judicial Medical Officer Dr Sriyantha Amararatne, and leading clinical psychologist Professor Piyanjali de Zoysa.
Participants were introduced to prosecution policies and procedures for victims of sexual abuse from an Australian perspective and judicial perspectives on the treatment of child victim/witness testimony in UK courts. The training also covered common mistakes in drafting indictments, tips on stress management and vicarious trauma, evidence and credibility assessments in the UK, an overview of a judicial medical officer’s process: medical impact and evidence, an overview of international human rights of the child and of child victim testimony in Sri Lankan courts.
Feedback from participants included:
“The training was very useful and we gathered a lot of knowledge. Thank you very much!”
“The training was excellent. A big thank you to the team for providing such a helpful and interesting event. “
“This was a really great experience. Thank you very much for everything to the crew.”
On 12 August 2020, LAW and NCA hosted a webinar for legal aid providers looking in detail at the guidance note: 5 Key Guidelines for Providing Remote Legal Aid to GBV Survivors, published last month. The webinar saw LAW’s own legal aid providers present the Guidelines to over 60 participants, reflecting on their own experience of working in lockdown, and how they have overcome the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speakers working in Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon and Bangladesh discussed fundamental aspects of legal aid provision that have been affected by lockdowns worldwide, including how to contact your client and how their safety may be implicated by the lockdown, how to conduct remote rapid assessments by phone, how to obtain documentation required to provide legal aid when you can’t meet your client, and the importance of having strong referral systems in place to ensure holistic support is available to clients whose situation may have deteriorated considerably during the global pandemic.
A recording of the webinar will be available soon.
On 8 August 2020 a new Sexual Intercourse Bill, also known as the Penetration Bill, was tabled for consideration before the Parliament of Somalia. After progress made with the adoption of the Sexual Offences Bill by the Council of Ministers in May 2018, the contents of the proposed Sexual Intercourse Bill represents a deeply concerning regression for the rights of women, girls and victims of sexual violence.
LAW has reviewed the provisions of the proposed Sexual Intercourse Bill against the Sexual Offences Bill (2018) and has prepared a comparative analysis setting out the key issues, concerns and implications of the proposed Sexual Intercourse Bill.
LAW’s three recommendations are as follows:
- Call upon Parliament to immediately withdraw the proposed Sexual Intercourse Bill and table the Sexual Offences Bill for approval.
- Advocate about the harmful and prejudicial impact the Sexual Intercourse Bill will have on the rights of women, girls, men and boys in Somalia.
- Share these messages and support the petition calling for the withdrawal of the Sexual Intercourse Bill, which can be found here.
On 30th July, LAW and EuroMed Feminist initiative (EFI) cohosted a closed online roundtable: Supporting a Survivor-led Justice Movement. The event brought Syrian survivors together with key actors who represent survivor movements in conflict-affected and post-conflict regions. Syrian survivors’ groups heard first-hand about the various approaches, challenges, and benefits of community organising to pursue justice during and after the Balkans conflict.
The roundtable was the first in a series of discussions aimed at cross-regional exchange and peer-to-peer learning on the strategies available for dealing with past violations and international crimes, both at the interpersonal level and at the level of legal and political advocacy.
Key matters considered included the challenges, lessons learned and positive experiences in:
- Organising effectively during different phases of conflict, with a focus on post-conflict organising;
- Engaging key stakeholders in justice strategies;
- Mitigating the security risks associated with human rights advocacy in a conflict and post-conflict setting; and
- The promise of healing and community-building through the pursuit of justice
One participant said:
“Thank you LAW for this amazing opportunity to discuss challenges and experiences with other survivor groups who lived through the war and understand what the Syrian people are going through.”
On 20 July 2020, LAW released “Transforming the Legacy of Somalia’s Conflict to Ensure Long-Term Stabilisation” a policy brief providing an analysis on how past and ongoing efforts to re-build Somalia can be scaled up to effectively implement a ‘transitional justice approach,’ ultimately bringing about a deeper and lasting peace for Somalia. The brief contains four key recommendations highlighting opportunities to strengthen Somalia’s social fabric and to embed this change into ongoing and future state-building processes. In doing so, Somalia can break past and current cycles of violence and address deep-rooted inequalities.
You can read the policy brief here.
On 2 July 2020, LAW and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) published: 5 Key Guidelines for Providing Remote Legal Aid to GBV Survivors.
This year we have seen states worldwide implementing restrictions on movement and an increase in gender-based violence globally, leaving legal aid providers facing new challenges in service provision.
In order to circumvent these challenges and ensure that GBV survivors can exercise their human rights effectively, through accessing legal aid, NCA and LAW have developed a guidance document for providing legal aid services when it is not possible to meet your client.
LAW and NCA hope that these guidelines and tips will assist legal aid providers to continue providing fundamental and life-saving services in the difficult circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, or similar emergency situations.
Strengthening Access to Services for Male Rohingya Sexual Violence Survivors in BangladeshTeaser: Sexualised and gender-based violence in peace times as well as during conflicts affects women and girls disproportionally. Although at a lower scale, men and boys also suffer from sexualised violence during conflicts. It is therefore important to pay attention to why it happens and how support services can be catered also to male survivors.Globally, in contexts of conflicts and forced displacement, sexualised and gender-based violence (SGBV) is exacerbated. Women and girls are the most affected amongst civilians. This was dramatically illustrated by the grave human rights violations against the Rohingya in Myanmar in 2017. However, this reality often tends to obscure the fact that sexualised violence is also perpetrated against men and boys. Male survivors are often marginalised, not only because of their under-representation among survivors of sexualised violence, but also because of gender stereotypes and narratives that portray men as perpetrators and women as victims. As a consequence, the support services offered by NGOs and humanitarian organisations are mostly designed for female survivors and tend to exclude male survivors.The GIZ Sector Programmes “Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Rights” and “Forced Displacement” provided a 13-month grant to the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) for the pilot project “Strengthening access to services for male Rohingya sexual violence survivors in Bangladesh”. WRC has partnered with Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) to implement the project in the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) between November 2018 and December 2019. The main objectives were to improve the access to services for male survivors of sexualised violence in Cox’s Bazar and to empower male Rohingya to address this kind of violence especially against men and boys in their community. The project and the observations made during its implementation confirmed the urgent need of sensitised psychosocial, medical, and legal aid services for male survivors.The project was strongly based on the approach of peer support. LAW delivered trainings and ongoing mentoring on sexualised violence, psychosocial support skills, protection and advocacy skills to 24 Rohingya men. These Survivor Advocates established trustful relationships with survivors in the camp and continue to support them to access available services. The project provided an opportunity to better understand the gender-specific effects and perception of sexualised violence as well as the particular needs of male survivors, including the LGBTI community. Surveys completed by organisations supporting survivors of sexualised violence in the camp and by Survivor Advocates before and after their training, as well as interviews of survivors provided a valuable source of knowledge about this still little-known issue.This pilot project helped us to improve the knowledge base on supporting survivors of sexualised violence and provides important lessons learned for future projects and approaches. By improving support and protection for survivors of sexualised violence in contexts of conflict and forced displacement, this project made important contributions to the goals and objectives of the German National Action Plan for the implementation of the agenda “Women, Peace and Security” (NAP II 1325). Moreover, training Survivor Advocates from within the community rather than employing external experts to conduct community sensitisation proved to be a promising model. Important progress was made in raising awareness on this issue amongst the Rohingya refugee community as well as progress in accessing justice for male Rohingya survivors.
On 24 June 2020, LAW issued a press release on the situation of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon and the abusive ‘Kafala system.’
The press release accompanies LAW’s 6 demands:
1. Immediately: The Ministry of Labour must ensure that agencies and employers adopt the new standard unified contract (SUC) suggested by the International Labour Organisation and Ministry of Labour. The new SUC provides improved conditions including freedom of movement, for migrant domestic workers (MDW) to remain in possession of passports and ID documents, an allowance to keep a phone and make and receive calls, and the right not to be locked in the home of the employer. It also regulates working hours, and the right for the worker to terminate the contract if they wish to.
2. Immediately: The Ministry of Labour should provide adequate and free housing for for MDW that have been evicted by their sponsors and the Ministry of Health should provide free psycho-social care as needed.
3. Residency status of MDW should be linked to the individual worker and not the employer. The legal stay of the MDW must not be linked to the sponsor, and MDW should be able to work with different employers if they chose to, and to “live out” if they please.
4. Lebanese Labour Law should be amended to provide protection to MDW including legal rights to minimum wages, annual leave, working hours and social security.
5. Employers and agencies who have acted unlawfully and abusively should be held accountable within a reasonable period of time.
6. The General Security Office (GSO) must investigate allegations by MDW promptly, fairly and impartially. This includes an estimated two deaths per week as well as slavery; torture and forced labour. A rapid deployment investigation team should be established within the GSO that is trained to deal with cases involving MDW and their investigation reports should be submitted to the Minister of Labour and Minister of Justice.
LAW commemorated International Widows Day on 23 June with videos from two of LAW’s programmes for which the day holds particular significance. The first, produced by LAW’s Syria team alongside Freedom Jasmine, a Syrian survivors group, highlighted the experience of widows of the missing and detained in Syria. The second recognised the widows of the Rohingya community who lost husbands and members of their family during the Tatmadaw ‘clearance operations’ in Myanmar, in 2017. This video provided a platform to Shanti Mohila, a group of Rohingya women supported and represented by LAW in their pursuit of justice.
LAW stands with the widows of the missing and detained in Syrian, watch the video here.
LAW stands with Shanti Mohila in their pursuit of justice for the Rohingya, watch the video here.
On 19 June 2020, to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, LAW hosted a Webinar on “Overcoming the Legacies of Sexual Violence in Conflict and Gender-based Violence in South Sudan”. The webinar was attended by 30 participants, from USAID, UK FCO, JMEC, OHCHR and a range of NGOs.
LAW’s Head of Africa, Stella Ndirangu, mediated the discussions between leading South Sudanese and Ugandan Human Rights lawyers and activists. The panellists shared their insights, experiences, best practices and ideas on how to tackle violence against women and girls in South Sudan.
Discussion during the webinar highlighted the need for women to be involved in political, legislative and judicial processes, to ensure on one hand that their needs and concerns are taken into account, and on the other that they are aware of their rights and can rise as survivor advocates to address stigma at the community level. The panellists and participants also identified a dire need for accountability in South Sudan not only for Conflict Related Sexual Violence in times of conflict, but also to address root causes of gender based violence in times of peace, including the powerful harmful customary practices. Passing legislations and creating a specialised Gender Based Violence Court in South Sudan are good first steps, but political will, funding and awareness raising are key to ensure they are actually implemented and allow survivors of crimes to report them and effectively seek justice.
On 18 June 2020, LAW cohosted the webinar “Gendered crimes and protection of children in Syria” as part of the EU’s Brussels IV Conference, alongside the EU delegation to the UN in Geneva, The Permanent mission of United Kingdom to the UN in Geneva, and the Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UN in Geneva: Qatar. The webinar brought international justice actors and Syrian civil society representatives together to respond to the findings in “They have erased the dreams of my children”, a landmark report by the International Independent Commission of Inquiry on children’s rights in the Syrian Arab Republic. The webinar was attended by over 120 actors working on the Syria crisis, comprising representatives from the international donor community and the humanitarian sector. Panelists included Hanny Megally, member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Michelle Jarvis, the Deputy Head of the International Independent and Impartial Mechanism for Syria, and Maimounna Al-Alammar, child protection specialist for Hurras Network.
LAW’s Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, briefed the conference on a survivor-centred approach to accountability for the following violations against children including civil registration and access to legal documentation, sexual violence against girls and boys, including sexualised torture and child and forced marriage.
“If anyone is not familiar with the work of LAW they should familiarise themselves, because they are doing fantastic work in many countries throughout the world … They have a lot to say on Syria.”
Carl Hallergard, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva
On 15 June 2020, LAW submitted a written statement to the CEDAW pre-sessional Working Group reflecting on the implementation of CEDAW in South Sudan. The statement highlights key issues of concern in advance of the session of the Committee on South Sudan to be held in February 2021.
On Tuesday 9 June 2020, LAW cohosted a webinar with the International Commission of Jurists Kenya, on The Arrest of Felicien Kabuga: Addressing Questions of Trial Process and Trial Location.
LAW’s Head of Africa, Stella Ndirangu, moderated the event alongside Abdul Noormohamed, Executive Director of ICJ Kenya. The panel included Wilfred Nderitu, Advocate of the High Court of Kenya, Chantal Umuhoza, Executive Director of Spectra and Allan Ngari, Senior Researcher and Project Manager at the Institute of Security Studies. The moderators led a fantastic discussion which was structured around three key questions:
1. What is the significance of the arrest of Felicien Kabuga to the victims of the Rwandan genocide?
2. What are the next steps following the arrest of Felicien Kabuga and arraignment in French court?
3. How can the relationship between national judicial bodies and international justice mechanisms be strengthened?
With the start of the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council on Monday 24 February, LAW urge the Council to support the extension of the mandate of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
Read the full letter here:
On 17 December Legal Action Lebanon held a workshop for Syrian lawyers in Beirut, discussing international law, gendered violence and human rights violations. The workshop was organised with our partner EFI, and funded by the European Union. Twenty lawyers from Syria came to Lebanon for the workshop.
Executive Director Antonia Mulvey held a session on Documenting Gendered Crimes: Challenges and Best Practices, and Legal Fellow Terry Flyte held a session on Gender in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.
On November 5, 2019, the Government of Canada hosted an interactive high level event, “The Future of the Call to Action: Working in the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus,” on the margins of the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-based Violence in Emergencies Annual Partners Meeting. H.E. Leslie Norton, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Canada to the Office of the United Nations in Geneva delivered the opening remarks, explaining the purpose of the evening, which was to hear from diverse speakers to bring forward new ideas to inspire the future Road Map. The current 2016-2020 Road Map provides an overarching guiding framework that sets out common objectives, targets and a governance structure, to ensure that pledges are translated into concrete and targeted actions on the ground, but it is now coming to an end. The evening’s speakers and conversations helped identify the collective way forward for the international community to prevent, mitigate and respond to gender-based violence in the coming years. Manisha Thomas of the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) moderated the interactive event (continued below).
Speakers shared the following recommendations:
- Antonia Mulvey, Founder and Executive Director of Legal Action Worldwide provided the following recommendations: put justice at the centre of the Road Map, better communicate between humanitarian, peace and development actors, ensure legal agency for individuals, provide services to those who identify as LGBTQI, and recognise that climate change induced displacement will increase, leading to increased GBV.
- Shoko Arakari, new Director of Humanitarian Response Office of UNFPA stressed the importance of putting the Minimum Standards for GBV in Emergencies into practice.
Yusuf Amos, Executive Director of Clear View Integrity Foundation, a local CSO in Nigeria, stressed the role of local CSOs as “boots on the ground” to prevent and respond to GBV now that “the culture of silence has been broken” and called for quality funding, including same levels of core funding to local partners as to INGOs.
Gillian Triggs, new Assistant High Commissioner for Protection of UNHCR encouraged broader thinking with development actors on sustainable response and addressing underlying causes of GBV, touched upon women empowerment and access to self-sufficiency, regretting the decline in resettlement opportunities and sustainable solutions/opportunities for women in host countries, and encouraged using the Global Refugee Forum as a platform for generating new ideas for working across the triple nexus, in addition to pledging financial and in-kind support.
Jos Verbeek, Special Representative to the UN and WTO for the World Bank underlined the World Bank’s interest in fragile and conflict-affected contexts and associated strategy 2020-2025 within which GBV features importantly, noted that the World Bank has committed USD 300M on GBV-specific projects, and mentioned the issues associated with data collection and analysis on GBV, arguing that the UNHCR/World Bank joint data centre in Copenhagen could support in finding innovative ideas for data collection and analysis on GBV.
Mike Ryan, new Executive Director of World Health Organisation Health Emergencies Programme stressed the importance of strengthening national systems to ensure sustainable provision of services to GBV survivors by accountable governments.
Mendy Marsh, Executive Director of Voice Amplified stressed the need to recognise the wealth of knowledge of local women and that the role of the Call to Action and the new Road Map is to amplify this knowledge.
On 24 October 2019, LAW submitted written observations to the International Criminal Court supporting the prosecutor’s request to open an investigation into the situation in Myanmar. The submission supported the request of the prosecutor, setting out the views of survivors interviewed by LAW, including male survivors of sexual violence. The views of Shanti Mohila, a group of more than 400 Rohingya women and girls supported by LAW, were also detailed in the submission.
The submission highlighted the unanimous support of survivors of sexual violence for an ICC investigation into crimes that took place in Myanmar. These include the crimes against humanity of forced deportation, persecution and other inhuman acts, and the crime of genocide.
The prosecutor was authorised to open an investigation on 13 November 2019. In its decision, the Pre-trial Chamber highlighted that, “victims unanimously insist that they want an investigation by the Court.”
On 19 September 2019, LAW organised “Justice for the Survivors of Gendered Crimes: The Case of Myanmar,” a side event to the forty-second session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, co-sponsored by the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva, and the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations in Geneva. The event, which was attended by almost 100 representatives from dozens on countries, brought together members of the International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, senior legal experts and survivor representatives to discuss how survivor-centred justice can be secured for gendered crimes in the context of Myanmar.
Key speakers included Julian Braithwaite (Ambassador and Permanent Representative, UK Mission to the UN, Geneva) Marzuki Darusman and Radhika Coomaraswamy (Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar), Nicholas Koumjian (Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar(IIMM)), Khin Ohmar (Progressive Voice), Antonia Mulvey (Legal Action Worldwide) and Peter Haynes QC (President of the International Criminal Court Bar Association). The discussion was chaired by Ambassador Veronika Bard, Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations.
UK Ambassador, Julian Braithwaite, highlighted important work done to date in his opening remarks, including the development of the Murad Code, which sets out the expected standards of behaviour when gathering evidence of sexual violence for courts in conflict situations. Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the IIMM, underscored the changes needed in criminal proceedings around sexual violence crimes, especially, in ensuring survivors and witnesses are not retraumatised during investigation or trial.
LAW Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, highlighted the importance placed by survivors upon justice. In this respect, she emphasised the importance of including survivors, from the affected communities, in discussions about justice moving forward.
In August 2019, the IIFFMM published “Sexual and gender-based violence in Myanmar and the gendered impact of its ethnic conflicts” which describes military use of sexual violence as “hallmark of the Tatmadaw’s operations in northern Myanmar and in Rakhine,” used “with the intent to intimidate, terrorise and punish the civilian population and as a tactic of war.”
On 6 September 2019, LAW, along with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, released a joint statement condemning the prolonged delay to the appeals in the murder and sexual assault case arising from the 11 July 2016 attack on the Terrain hotel in Juba, South Sudan.
A missing case file has not been seen since it was sent to President Salva Kiir in 2018, meaning the Supreme Court cannot move forward with appeals by the victims and those convicted one year after 10 soldiers were convicted for the sexual assault and rape of at least five aid workers, and the murder of a journalist during the attack.
The appeal could set an important precedent for future prosecutions in rape cases in South Sudan, where sexual violence is widespread and has been used as a weapon of war since December 2013.
You can read the statement in full, here.
In July 2019, LAW undertook a field mission to further engage South Sudanese SGBV survivors, listening and documenting their views, concerns, demands for justice and reparations for the violations they suffered. Survivors continue to emphasise their demand for justice and comprehensive reparations that take into account their daily challenges, such as medical care and education. One survivor said that “I want my issue to be taken seriously. The right steps should be taken to bring justice for what the government and the soldiers have caused me.” Another survivor stated that “the government of South Sudan should be brought to justice for what happened during the war and the soldiers held accountable.”
South Sudan’s armed conflict, led to thousands displaced and killed, has had a staggering effect on women and girls, with sexual violence being widespread and systematic. There have been minimal efforts to bring justice to survivors. LAW is working close to them to enable them to obtain legal redress for the violations. In December 2018, LAW supported 30 South Sudanese in their groundbreaking complaint to the CEDAW Committee in Geneva, in relation to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, gang-rape and sexual slavery, perpetrated by the army of South Sudan.
On 19 June 2019, LAW celebrated its fifth birthday and the launch of Legal Action in Lebanon. The event was held on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, in order to bring attention to ongoing sexual violence committed in conflict globally and to highlight the work LAW is doing both in Lebanon and globally to increase access to justice for the survivors of these violations and abuses.
The event was attended by approximately 100 guests from Embassies, United Nations agencies, national and international non-governmental organisations and journalists. The speakers at the event were United Kingdom Ambassador Chris Rampling, European Union Ambassador Christina Lassen, and LAW’s Founder and Executive Director Antonia Mulvey. His Excellency Ambassador Rampling highlighted the work of UK government’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) and described LAW as an organisation that is ‘strengthening justice for survivors and shattering the culture of impunity.’ The EU Ambassador spoke about the work LAW does to provide vital legal support to migrant domestic workers, a particularly under-served community. Antonia called for all partners to work together to help ‘turn victims of sexual violence into survivors, and to shift the shame of sexual violence from the survivors to the perpetrators.’
On 23 and 24 May 2019, LAW participated in “Ending Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Humanitarian Crises” – an international conference held in Oslo, Norway. The key objectives of the conference included to :
- mobilise stronger political commitment to prevent incidents of, and protect people at risk of, SGBV and conflict-related sexual violence, and to ensure that the response is life-saving, timely, and promotes the needs, rights and dignity of survivors and those at risk;
- mobilise additional financial resources, especially for SGBV response through UN coordinated response plans and for the ICRC’s 2019 special appeal; and
- highlight best practices and lessons learned from efforts to prevent and respond to SGBV in humanitarian situations, and help improve the evidence base in this field.
On 23 May, LAW Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, chaired a panel discussion as part of the Oslo Conference, “Moving from a culture of impunity to a culture of deterrence,” which brought together leading experts in conflict, healthcare and international law to discuss how accountability for sexual and gender-based violence and access to justice for survivors of these crimes can be improved.
On 24 May, LAW and Human Rights Watch issued a joint statement calling for increased access to improved, survivor-centred medical and legal services in the immediate aftermath of crises, including access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. The statement also called for increased funding and support to local women-led and survivor-led civil society groups. You can read the LAW and Human Rights Watch statement in full here or watch Phil Robertson (Human Rights Watch) delivery of the statement in Oslo here.
LAW is delighted to announce that we have established a presence in the Netherlands! LAW’s office in The Hague will form part of LAW’s Global Practice, focusing on ground-breaking research, high-level advocacy and cutting-edge strategic litigation. We look forward to bringing you more information about our work in The Hague soon!
On 24 April 2019 at the United Nations in New York, LAW Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, spoke at “Strengthening The Work Of The Security Council On Sexual & Gender-Based Violence In Conflict: The Strategic Use Of Evidence From Un Investigations,” a panel discussion coinciding with the UN Security council open debate on sexual violence in conflict.
Speaking about her experience as former gender advisor to the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Antonia highlighted: “When I interviewed survivors, they said ‘we want justice … Many of them cannot read or write, but they know what justice is, and they wanted accountability.”
You can read more about the event here.
On 8 – 11 April, Legal Action Worldwide, in partnership with the Sri Lankan Attorney General’s Department, hosted a training, “Legal Strategies and Psychology for Prosecuting Sexual Violence Cases,” on the prosecution of serious sexual offences for thirty-five prosecutors in Ahungalla, Sri Lanka.
Following the training our Sri Lanka Head of Office, Jessica Stober, received an award from the Attorney General of Sri Lanka.
You can read more about LAW’s work in Sri Lanka here.
On 10 and 11 April 2019, LAW participated in ‘Ensuring Representativeness in Open Source Human Rights Research’ a workshop hosted by the University of Swansea and organised by OSR4Rights. Human rights investigators and staff from both non-governmental organisations and the United Nations human rights system; academics from law, human rights, computer science, geoinformatics, statistics, and cognate disciplines examined the extent to which open source evidence can be said to be representative of affected populations in investigations of mass atrocities and human rights violations, how this may affect investigations, and whether and how issues of informational bias can be overcome or mitigated.
On 2 April 2019, Baroness Hodgson of Abinger intiated an important debate in the House of Lords (the Upper House of the UK Parliament) on conflict related sexual violence, in which she asked the UK Government: what assessment they have made of the adequacy of international mechanisms to hold perpetrators of sexual violence to account; and what steps they are taking to ensure justice for survivors.
This debate followed a June 2018 GAPS/INGO Panel Discussion on this topic, in which panellists, including LAW’s Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, had highlighted the difficulties in holding perpetrators of sexual violence to account, despite the number of treaties and mechanisms under international and regional law, designed to bring about justice.
You can read the debate in full here.
Congratulations to LAW’s Transitional Justice Champions!
Pavithra Rajendran, Rajeevi Mapalagama, and Lahiruni Ekanayake (pictured left with LAW staff) were selected to represent LAW as young peacebuilders following LAW’s transitional justice course for 23 law students from University of Colombo in August 2018, in a project funded by the United Nations Peace Building Fund. They presented at the Youth Peace Champions Event from 2 – 4 April 2019, organised by our partner National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. Students from 12 universities from across Sri Lanka came to share their ideas on reconciliation and transitional justice. They used short plays, skits, lectures, and short films to creatively present on Sri Lanka’s transitional justice process, tackling issues that can be difficult to talk about with mere words. LAW’s champions delivered their idea for Sri Lanka’s future truth commission.
On 26 and 27 March, LAW attended the inaugural Stand, Speak, Rise Up! international conference in Luxembourg, hosted by HRH the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. The international conference sought to identify means of ending conflict-related sexual violence, placing survivors of sexual violence at the centre of discussions. In addition to the Grand Duchess, speakers included Nobel Prize winners, Dr. Dennis Mukwege, Nadia Murad and Professor Muhammad Yunus. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, Special Representative of the UN Secretary general on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, Pramila Patten and former President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga were also amongst the speakers. Importantly, a number of survivors of sexual violence discussed their experiences, including at a Gala Event on the evening of 26 March.
On 21 and 22 March, Legal Agenda and Legal Action Lebanon held a regional seminar on women and justice in the Arab region. This discussed key issues related to women’s rights in the region. The four main topics, Ijtihad in religion; equality; protection; and rejection of social marginalisation, we discussed by deputies, lawyers, judges and professionals from Lebanon and around the Arab region. Participants sought to promote effective means of achieving gender equality, including through strategic litigation. LA’s Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, shared today her experience in investigating and addressing sexual gender-based violence in Somalia, occupied Palestine, South Sudan and Myanmar, as well as in Lebanon.
On Monday 11 March, Hamida Khatun, a member of Shanti Mohila, became the first female member of the Rohingya directly affected by 2017 ‘clearance operations’ by Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) to appear before the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Legal Action Worldwide was delighted to support Hamida in this historic event.
In her statement, Hamida described her experience fleeing Northern Rakhine State following the attack on her village and murder of members of her family. She emphasised that her experience is not unique and that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are currently based in impoverished refugee camps in Bangladesh. Hamida set out three key requests from Shanti Mohila to the international community: Justice including compensation; to return home in safety and security including citizenship; and access to education.
Shanti Mohila are a group of 400 Rohingya refugee women and girls based in Bangladesh having fled during ‘clearance operations’ by the Tatmadaw in 2017. Shanti Mohila are represented by Legal Action Worldwide.
You can find out more about LAW’s work with Shanti Mohila and on the Rohingya Crisis here.
You can read Hamida Khatun’s statement here.
On 18 and 19 February 2019, LAW and OHCHR co-chaired ‘Making Technology Work for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence’ in Geneva. The expert roundtable brought together leading minds from different fields, including law, gender and technology to explore how technological innovation could be used to address sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated in the context of armed conflict. Participants discussed how existing innovations addressing serious rights violations could be adapted for conflict contexts. Key areas of dialogue included the use of technology in: preventing sexual violence; improving security for survivors and rights defenders; interviewing survivors; and the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.
On 28 December 2018, LAW’s Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, was interviewed by the BBC’s Mishal Husain for a special episode of the Today Programme, guest edited by Angelina Jolie. The episode focused on conflict-related sexual violence and its impact on women and girls.
Antonia discussed her time as gender and children investigator to the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and LAW’s work representing Shanti Mohila, a group of 400 Rohingya women and girl refugees based in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, having fled the violence in Rakhine state, Myanmar. LAW and partner Global Rights Compliance, are assisting Shanti Mohila in preparing a victims submission, to be provided to the International Criminal Court.
On 6 December, Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) submitted the first ever case against the Government of South Sudan for the rape, mass rape and sexual slavery of 30 South Sudanese women and girls by members of the South Sudan army and the Presidential Guard. The case was lodged at the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva. “[T]ens of thousands of young girls and women have been subjected to horrific sexual violence by Government security forces. To date almost no one has been held accountable. We have to ask ourselves: Why are we not doing more to protect them?” said Antonia Mulvey, Executive Director of LAW. “This is a landmark case which is the first step on a long road to justice for all women and girls in South Sudan.”
You can find out more about LAW’s work on South Sudan here.
On 19 November 2018, LAW staff met with those involved in LAW’s Independent Complaints Mechanism, in Mogadishu, Somalia. LAW is establishing an Independent Complaints Mechanism in IDP camps in Mogadishu and Kismayo (South Central Somalia) allowing a safe, secure means of reporting rights violations or abuses. Alongside this, LAW has stablished a Civilian Oversight Board, which visits police stations in Mogadishu to document standards and record the concerns of detainees. Both the Civilian Oversight Board and Independent Complaints Mechanism have a particular regard for complaints involving sexual and gender-based violence.
On 15 – 16 November, LAW chaired ‘Violations of International Law and occupied Palestine,’ a closed Roundtable, at the offices of Bindmans LLP in London.
The Roundtable brings together experts to discuss ongoing transnational litigation cases, strategies and challenges and provide updates on relevant thematic issues. The forum is closed and all discussion is confidential – one of the purposes is to provide a space in which litigators can think creatively and share ideas. It is one of the few spaces bringing Israeli and Palestinian lawyers together in a neutral environment where they can speak freely and confidentially. Topics of discussion included the role of multinational organisations involved in the occupation of Palestine, Palestine’s application to institute proceedings before the International Court of Justice against the United States of America regarding the transfer of its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the innovative use of technology in securing accountability for violations of international law.
On 7 November 2018, LAW and its partner, the Permanent Mission of Sweden in Geneva, co-organised a closed roundtable, ‘Prevention and Response to Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) for Conflict Victims: The Case of the Rohingya.’ The Roundtable brought together brought together a range of experts and stakeholders from the humanitarian and human rights sectors to discuss the practical implementation of proposals identified at a March 2018 Roundtable, ‘Addressing Sexual And Gender Based Violence: Innovative Legal Solutions’ focusing on the Rohingya Crisis as an example.
On 6 November 2018 LAW Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, spoke at a Civil Military Relations Seminar, organised by the Swedish Armed Forces International Centre in Kungsängen, Sweden. Antonia spoke about the role of the military, including UN Integrated Missions, in prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence. Additionally, Antonia highlighted the difficulties faced by many survivors in accessing justice and opportunities for collaboration between military and civil society to address this.
On Thursday 25 and Friday 26 October 2018, LAW had its first annual global retreat in Nairobi, Kenya. Staff from LAW’s offices around the world participated in the two-day retreat, discussing LAW’s successes to date and identifying key next steps for improvement and expansion.
LAW Executive Director, Antonia Mulvey, has participated in a number of side-events to the 39th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
On 17 September, Antonia participated in ‘Cycle of Gender-Based Violence,’ a panel discussion organised by Euromed Feminist Initiative, in partnership with LAW, the Coalition of Syrian Women for Democracy and the Women’s UN Report Network, discussing ongoing sexual and gender-based violence in Syria and around the world. Antonia highlighted the need for improved information gathering, especially by first responders, increased use of technology and the importance of shifting stigma from the survivors to the perpetrators of sexual violence.
On 24 September Antonia was a key speaker on ‘Women’s Rights Under Occupation.’ Here, Antonia emphasised the disproportionate impact of the ongoing occupation of Palestine upon women. Antonia and the panellists discussed potential avenues for redress open to Palestinian women, and the opportunities and challenges involved.
In her capacity as gender advisor and sexual and gender-based violence investigator to the UN Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar, Antonia participated in the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) launch of guidance on ‘Integrating Gender into Human Rights Investigations.’ During this event, on 25 September, Antonia underscored that, “trained SGBV investigators were crucial to uncovering the horrific scale of sexual violence occurring in Myanmar.”
Legal Action Worldwide welcomes the conviction and sentencing of ten soldiers for the July 2016 rape of aid workers and murder of a local journalist during the attack at the Terrain Hotel Compound in Juba, South Sudan. LAW further calls on the Government of South Sudan to secure accountability and end impunity for the thousands of instances of sexual violence, as well as other grave human rights violations committed in the country’s civil war.
Read LAW’s full press statement here.