LAW Annual Report 2021
Message from LAW Executive Director
I am very pleased to introduce LAW’s new annual report. 2021 was an extremely busy but incredibly rewarding year for the organisation. I am so proud that despite ongoing COVID-19 disruptions and the increasingly difficult contexts we work in, our teams continued to bring help, support, solidarity and hope for justice to victims and survivors of human rights violations and abuses.”
Antonia Mulvey – LAW Executive Director
A Message from LAW’s Board
I am very pleased to write this message on behalf of LAW’s Board. I have been involved in LAW’s work since its foundation and every year, as I reflect on what the organisation and its amazing people have accomplished, I am more and more inspired to continue supporting its work. LAW is truly unique, and over the past few years, the organisation has become more ambitious but also more relevant and incredibly important. Conflicts and protracted crises continue to kill, wound, and displace millions.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC – LAW Board
LAW’s Strategic Approaches
Accountability and Rule of Law
LAW works with state institutions to increase accountability and to build internal and international pressure for independent and impartial investigations into violations and abuses. Through this work, LAW aims to reduce the climate of impunity for serious criminal offences and contribute towards rule of law, increased access to justice, peace, and security.
Gender equality and sexual and gender- based violence
Gender inequality is a root cause of human rights violations and abuses against women and girls. We advocate for the voices of women to be heard in processes and discussions that aect them. We recognise women, men and members of LGBTQI+ community as powerful advocates of change. We support their efforts to secure justice for sexual and gender-based violence and challenge deep-rooted gender inequalities.
Transformative justice addresses widespread human rights violations committed during periods of
conflict and repression. It must be locally driven through a whole-of-society approach. We provide gender-sensitive and participatory technical assistance to local legal institutions and organisations and foster the meaningful participation of all groups affected at all levels of the process.
Natural Resource Exploitation
Marginalised groups such as women and displaced people are commonly denied land rights and use of natural resources in post-conflict contexts. We work with national governments through various dispute resolution mechanisms to improve marginalised group’s knowledge of their rights and how to exercise them.
LAW’S SURVIVOR-CENTRED APPROACH
Improving access to justice for victims is paramount to reducing impunity for human rights violations and abuses. It depends on the courage and resilience of survivors and presumes that they are empowered enough to come forward to share their experiences, articulate their needs for improved legal and other services, and demand justice. LAW supports victims to become survivors and then advocates who can speak out and fight for themselves, their families but also their communities. This is critically important because human rights violations and abuses, including SGBV, not only affect the person they were perpetrated against, but others including families, communities and those who witnessed those crimes.
LAW uses strategic litigation as a key approach to achieve rapid, significant and systemic changes in the law, practice or public awareness by taking carefully selected ground-breaking and landmark cases. We use domestic, transnational and international justice and human rights mechanisms to support our cases and secure justice.
2021 was a significant year for our strategic litigation agenda as we continued to lead breakthrough cases challenging impunity for international crimes, including conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as well as discrimination and human rights abuses against marginalised groups, such as migrant domestic workers (MDWs) and members of the LGBTQI+ community.
We represented Syrian survivors of sexual violence in their undeterred quest for justice. In May 2021, we filed a submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on behalf of 20 Syrian survivors. This is the first time that they urged the ICC Prosecutor to open a preliminary examination into crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Syrian government. The victims, 13 men and 7 women, are all survivors of sexual violence and many were children at the time of the violations. By filing the submission, the survivors were also the voices of thousands of Syrians who have been subjected to cruel and degrading treatment for daring to oppose the Syrian government.
“I think maybe 10 or 15 people would rape me. When they were raping me, it would last maybe 4 or 5 hours. That was the worst torture that I ever experienced.”
(Syrian survivor represented by LAW)
LAW also submitted communications on behalf of 41 Syrians to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, amounting to 477 pages of evidence detailing
a pattern of the use of enforced disappearances by the Syrian government against civilians. Our recommendations were quoted in the UN Working Group’s recent report.
In February 2021, Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) attempted a coup and in September 2021, we submitted a communication to the Prosecutor of the ICC on behalf of more than 500 Rohingya
refugees who survived the 2017 so-called “clearance operation”. The communication follows on from and supports the July 2021 declaration by the National Unity Government (NUG)
accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC over international crimes committed in Myanmar since 2002. In their communication, Rohingya survivors urge the Prosecutor to accept NUG’s recent declaration, and to recognise the NUG as representatives of Myanmar. If the Prosecutor upholds the communication, it will fulfil its mandate to investigate and prosecute the most serious crimes, some committed nearly 20 years ago, and whose perpetrators remain unaccountable and unchallenged.
We supported survivors and justice institutions in the country in the pursuit of legal redress for victims and accountability for perpetrators. In December 2021, 36 survivors and witnesses of international crimes committed during the conflict called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a preliminary examination into the situation in South Sudan. The letter followed the filing of a submission to the ICC Prosecutor endorsed by 31 of them. The survivors and witnesses have formed a group that meets regularly. We amplified their voices by sharing the letter on social media.
“We want justice because….” is a powerful and poignant statement on the lack of accountability for horrific crimes that remain unpunished.
“I want the perpetrators to face the court. I want those who are responsible for the war and for what happened to me not only to acknowledge what they did, but to be punished for what they did.”
(South Sudanese survivor of sexual violence)
LAW conducts strategic advocacy with national, regional and international decision makers and influencers. Through policy analysis and research, advocacy events, diplomatic meetings, and communications, we raise awareness of the issues we work on, contribute to critical debates and legal developments, and generate evidence that provides compelling arguments to advance our legal work and secure changes for the people we represent. We also support national champions to promote human rights and the rule of law.
In 2021, we organised a series of global events putting the voices of victims and survivors at the forefront of the discussions on important issues. We contributed to high level policy events, and in partnership with other international organisations and member states, we advocated for increased action from national and international legal and human rights institutions on tackling systemic impunity and securing justice for victims and survivors. We also raised awareness of critical issues through communications and media avenues, including traditional and social media engagement and creative advocacy.
Securing an international fact-finding mission into the Beirut Port Explosion
LAW works closely with survivors, victims, and their families, including the parents of children that were tragically killed in the explosion. Together, our advocacy efforts have focused on amplifying their calls for truth and justice by rallying support for the establishment of an international, independent factfinding mission to investigate the Beirut Port Explosion, under
the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In November 2020, LAW published a report setting out the publicly available facts on the explosion, the status of the Lebanese investigations, and the significant restrictions on access to justice in Lebanon. On the first anniversary of the explosion – 4 August 2021 – LAW published an updated report detailing the ongoing failures of the Lebanese domestic investigation to deliver justice for the survivors, the victims, and their families.
In 2021 LAW held two side events on the explosion, one to the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council on 10 March 2021, and one to the 47th Session of the Human Rights Council, on 15 June 2021. Those important events focused on the ability of Lebanon’s domestic investigation to deliver justice for the survivors, victims, and their families. They brought together UN experts, international experts, Lebanese lawyers, and the parents of three children that were tragically killed in the explosion, who spoke of the suffering that they, their children, their families, and the whole community experienced on the 4 August 2020. Parents 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
“Please do not forget our case.”
(Mireille Bazergy, mother of child killed in the explosion)
“People say that the explosion was an accident, but we say that Isaac was murdered, because negligence on this scale is absolutely criminal.”
(Sarah Copland, mother of child killed in the explosion)
On 16 September 2021, the European Parliament (EP) took a significant stand against the lack of accountability and lack of progress in the Lebanese investigation into the explosion, by passing a Resolution on the situation in Lebanon. The Resolution echoes LAW’s recommendation and calls “for an independent international fact- finding mission to Lebanon to investigate the Beirut explosion within the framework of the UN.” Through compelling letters and with our support, the families of the victims and survivors also urged the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Secretary General to establish an international fact-finding mission into the explosion.
Protecting South Sudanese Survivors and Victims’ Identities and Strengthening their Calls against Impunity
We have continued to advocate for better mechanisms for the protection of victims, survivors and witnesses of international crimes in South Sudan. In particular, in international judicial settings.
We submitted a report to the CEDAW Committee, along with a request for a General Recommendation on the protection of victims’ identities by CEDAW’s individual complaint
mechanism. We also contributed to the HRC’s 47th Session by making an oral intervention at Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
LAW also called on the Government of South Sudan to step up efforts to provide Truth Seeking Accountability and Justice for the victims of the conflict including providing fair and adequate reparations for the survivors.
In December 2021, we held an official side event on accountability pathways for survivors in South Sudan at the 20th Session of the Assembly of State Parties (ASP20). The event, hosted by the Government of the Netherlands and with contributions of national and international experts, emphasised the urgent need for victims and survivors to access the justice and support they want and need, through domestic, regional and/or international mechanisms.
Demanding Action on Enforced Disappearances of Children in Syria
LAW continues to be one of the very few organisations advocating for greater action on enforced disappearances of children in Syria. This year, we published a policy brief : “The Light has Disappeared” Enforced Disappearances in Syria and their impact on children and young people. This important advocacy resource details the devastating consequences of enforced disappearances on families and communities across Syrian society, in particular children whose risks of violations and abuses are compounded by family members disappearing. The brief also considers the broader implications of missing and detained persons for the peace process in Syria but emphasises the few political avenues available to young people and children.
We also raised the visibility and understanding of the impact of children detainees through a video produced with Freedom Jasmine and released on the International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Finally, we also hosted with the European Union a webinar on “Arbitrary Detention of Children in Syria” which gave a platform to children who have directly suffered from human rights violations. The panel brought together survivors, international justice actors and civil society representatives to explore strategies for addressing the needs and supporting child detainees, their families and their communities in the pursuit of justice. Through powerful and
hard-hitting testimonies, survivors reminded Syrian authorities and the international community of the urgent need to take action to stop the arbitrary detention of children.
“I was in the “branch of the slow deaths”. I was 15, the youngest child there. They brought in a 12-year-old. He was crying calling for his mum. We had to silence him or we would be tortured…”
(Former child detainee, panellist)
Pushing Ground-Breaking Legislation in Somalia
We have continued to advocate for the adoption of the Sexual Offences Bill (SOB), which was developed with the technical advice and support from LAW in 2013-2015. The Bill is a significant milestone for women and girls as it criminalises a wide range of sexual offences.
We have also fought hard against an attempt to introduce a new Sexual Intercourse Bill which normalises violence against women and girls in the country, demonstrating that women and girls’ protection is just not a priority or even a concern.
Elevating Conversations and Amplifying the Voices of Unheard Victims and Survivors
We organised high level panel discussions to raise the sense of urgency and increase decision makers’ attention on critical issues, putting emphasis on bringing the stories and voices of victims
and survivors of international crimes whose calls for justice and accountability remain unanswered.
“Overlooked and Under-Investigated” was co-hosted with the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh and considered national and international responses to conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated against male and LGBTQIA+ survivors, and the links between high quality survivor services and the pursuit of justice and accountability, with a particular focus on the contexts of Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan.
We co-hosted an online panel discussion on international justice for Myanmar with Fortify Rights. The event was held on the margins of ASP20, which highlighted the need the National Unity Government (NUG) of Myanmar to lodge instruments of accession to the Rome Statute with the UN Secretary General and the importance of the solidarity between the peoples of Myanmar, including the Rohingya. Panellists called upon the ICC to urgently demonstrate its effectiveness and relevance as a justice mechanism, by acknowledging and responding to Article 12(3) Rome Statute declaration made by the NUG of Myanmar in July 2021, recognising the ICC’s jurisdiction.
On Human Rights Day, we convened a panel event on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Tigray, hearing from witnesses of the atrocities committed against women and girls, and amplifying Tigrayan victims and survivors’ calls for justice and support.
The event concluded with panellists, including Tigrayans, urging the international community to take action to stop more deaths and abuses happening through an independent investigation, and for Ethiopia to ensure immediate access to international humanitarian organisations, and the cessation of hostilities with a focus on finding political solutions.
“Rape is being used as a weapon of war with the intent to inflict unimaginable pain and suffering.”
(Tigrayan women’s rights activist, panellist)
Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality, peace and security in Lebanon and Setting out a post-pandemic Agenda
As a member of the Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS), we partnered up with ABAAD (Resource Center for Gender Equality in Lebanon) to conduct research on the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality, peace and security in Lebanon. The GAPS project included the publication of 10 evidence-based country briefings and an overarching multi- country evidence-based paper that set out recommendations for national and international actions to respond to the gender, peace and security impacts of COVID-19 and future pandemics. Our research on Lebanon found that the immediate response to the pandemic was gender blind and failed to incorporate long-term and strategic approaches to address the needs of different communities and to end gender inequality and violence against women and girls.
Raising Awareness, Engaging Influencers and Building Pressure for Action and Change
We amplified the reach of our work by engaging with the media and delivering social media campaigns. Our work on the Rohingya crisis and the Beirut explosion was featured in national and
international press and the media, including The Washington Post, NBC News, Al Jazeera and The Guardian.
In support of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we ran a 16-day Twitter campaign featuring powerful and action focused quotes from our clients.
“He was from my clan, he raped me and my family wanted to hide the information. I refused to be silenced, I refused to give in. I went to the justice system and that’s where my fight began. I won the fight; he is in prison now.”
(GBV survivor, Somalia)
Legal Aid and Empowerment
LAW provides legal information, assistance and representation to individuals and communities to
facilitate their access to justice. We work with partners to increase victims and survivors’ rights awareness and knowledge of avenues for legal redress which is particularly challenging in fragile and conflict contexts. Recognising the critical importance of survivor-led justice, we first support and empower them to recognise and assert their legal rights and provide them with legal advice and representation, if they wish.
In 2021, we reached more than 30,000 people with legal information and assistance and represented more than 750 individuals. SGBV was one of the most common human rights violations that our clients needed assistance and representation with. Our legal representation work was undertaken nationally, regionally and internationally.
We provided legal assistance to 356 individuals and legal representation to 46 individuals. We also referred 147 persons for psychosocial, medical or other support services. 97% were women or girls; and 93% were victims of gendered crimes during the civil wars or relatives of a disappeared person.
“I really thank them because they stopped my brother and his wife from harming me. My brother used to hit me and abuse me, but now he doesn’t come near me, sometimes he calls me and I don’t answer. I feel safer than before.”
(Recipient of legal aid)
We provided 201 survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and community members with information on transitional justice and the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda during community forums. The insights shared by the women in the communities consulted during these forums was compiled in a brochure which will be published in 2022. The new resource will serve as a support for national organisations to advocate for the inclusion of CRSV and specific protection mechanisms for victims in the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing rules when it is established. 48 survivors – 34 of whom are currently represented by LAW – received legal information, assistance and representation.
75 justice actors and civil society actors received capacity-building on the WPS agenda, transitional justice mechanisms and the inclusion of women in transitional justice and decision-making processes. As a result, LAW’s partners were included in the Technical Committee for Public Consultations created to establish the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing. LAW’s partners also increased their bilateral relationship with relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Gender, through regular bilateral meetings and signature of Memorandums of Understanding.
Finally, LAW’s partners documented 62 cases of human rights violations between January and August 2021 and provided direct legal assistance to GBV victims in 9 domestic cases.
Since the launch of Sri Lanka’s Gender Justice Legal Network (GJLN) in October 2020, we have provided legal representation to 126 victims of SGBV and child abuse.
“The quality of standard maintained by the organisation when handling cases is highly visible. It is such a blessing for people like us who live in extreme poverty.”
(GJLN client victim of GBV)
In May 2021, LAW and the Centre for Equality and Justice launched Labyrinth, a multi-platform awareness media campaign. The campaign provides assistance to SGBV victims and survivors during the pandemic, including issue-specific legal advice and support across accessible platforms. The campaign reached over 700,000 people through Facebook between June and November 2021.
We also started a new project, working with the Women and Media Collective and Hashtag Generation to monitor and analyse online gendered hate speech and misinformation. In 2021, we began delivering trainings to help those affected by online gendered hate speech by improving their understanding of the issue and strengthening their ability to protect themselves from and respond to online attacks.
Bangladesh: Rohingya Crisis
We provided legal assistance to 257 Rohingya (107 women, 150 men) up from 122 in 2020. We also provided legal representation to 533 Rohingya (479 women and 54 men), including acting on behalf of these clients in communications to the ICC, and the International Court of Justice. As of
December 2021, LAW was also representing 279 individual clients and a community network of more than 400 Rohingya women “Shanti Mohila”.
We concluded a programme that focused on empowering women to meaningfully contribute to justice, support, and advocacy services for SGBV survivors in Mogadishu. We received more than 1,400 complaints, of which 70% were related to GBV. 316 GBV complaints were reported to police,
all of which were investigated, resulting in 192 prosecutions. Convictions included prison sentences and fines.
“First I received legal advice, then I was taken to police station to report my case, after which the perpetrator was arrested and immediately taken to court. That was all before my family intervened in my case. It is time for you to also report in case you face any form of abuse. ”
We co-hosted with EuroMed Feminist Initiative (EFI) an international conference on “Supporting a Survivor-led Justice Movement in Syria”. The hybrid conference was held in Paris in October 2021, and part of a series of discussions between Syrian survivors, activists, civil society and representatives from other conflict-affected regions. The 58 participants engaged in a cross-regional exchange with leaders and human rights defenders from Syria, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Palestine. Discussions highlighted the importance of gender-sensitive and gender-inclusive approaches to peacebuilding processes with meaningful participation of survivors and victims. Participants also stressed the need for empowering victims to become survivors and enabling Syrian civil society to lead efforts towards justice, accountability, and sustainable peace.
“It is not easy for us to talk about our pain. Because the injury is still in our hearts. We were in Geneva and talking about people who were forcibly disappeared. The burden of finding my father, sisters and relatives is on my shoulder. And this is a big burden, but
we keep going because we believe in justice.”
(Syrian activist, speaker)
LAW works with national justice institutions, law faculties and partners to strengthen their ability to deliver survivor-centred and effective justice and uphold human rights through targeted capacity building programmes adapted to the contextual situation and specific needs. We often connect national lawyers with international experts for long-term mentoring and cross pollination of legal strategies and capacity-development.
This year we combined a range of in-person and virtual activities globally and in-country, fostering learning, peer-to-peer information exchange and dialogues between justice and legal actors, including survivors, civil society organisations, and authorities.
In 2021, Syrian lawyers received 130 days of on-the-job mentoring from our legal team investigating human rights abuses and international crimes in Syria. Our mentoring programme encourages the development and implementation of robust client and case methodologies in human rights work. The programme is centred around 4 key pillars: 1) identification and pre-screening of witnesses 2) referrals 3) interviewing, and 4) safe storage, use and analysis of evidence. It promotes professionalism, understanding of best practice, and a sense of the law’s strategic potential.
Our partner lawyer in North-west Syria cites LAW’s mentoring as a major contributor to her professional development and her desire to use her legal training to identify and solve problems
in her community. She is now conducting legal information sessions for internally displaced women to raise awareness of the importance of registering births.
In July and August 2021, LAW collaborated with C4Legal, a prestigious Sri Lankan law firm, to provide five educational webinars on human rights law.
The multilingual series was aimed at informing Sri Lankan lawyers, students, and other members of civil society of the relationship been Sri Lankan domestic law and human rights – particularly the rights of children and the relationship between gender and the law. These webinars were viewed and shared by hundreds of internet users in Sri Lanka, significantly expanding knowledge and awareness of rights issues and gaps in the existing legal framework in Sri Lanka.
We also worked with the National Peace Council to deliver 24 conflict management, pluralism and reconciliation trainings to Sinhala majority communities in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala, Kandy, Badulla, Monaragala, Ratnapura, and Kegalle. We trained 870 participants in total, reaching our pre-COVID-19 targets. The trainings were aimed at five target groups including youth, women, religious leaders, government officers and local-level politicians. All these trainings were facilitated by the Master Trainers who were trained and received capacity-building support in the initial stages of the same project.
“Joining the Master Trainer network opened-up me to a new world with new opportunities (…) I decided to resume my education and move forward in my career path. Fast forward four years, I am now a Senior field officer at an INGO, a diploma holder on my way to obtain a bachelor’s degree and an expert community trainer being called to train state officials and local policy makers. Joining the Master Trainer group changed my life. It gave me purpose and direction. And it gives me great pleasure to do the same for so many others in my community through the project.”
We conducted 10 capacity building trainings on advocacy and the law. This included trainings at legal and para-professionals and sessions for police officers of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Morals Protection Bureau of Hbeish police station in Beirut.
The five sessions for police officers were designed based on the results of a capacity needs assessment and focused on the rights of the detained. They were part of a series of technical trainings aimed at improving the capacity of actors in the justice system to tackle discrimination and inequality and ensure the rights of targeted communities, including LGBTQI+, are respected.
As a result of the training, police officers questioned their views about their roles as law enforcement actors, and applied their newly acquired knowledge to their day-to-day work with
detainees. They also demonstrated their capacity to work with lawyers on legal issues specific to the vulnerable communities they serve.
In August 2021, LAW held the final retreat for the eight paralegals and four project coordinators working on its transitional justice and WPS project. The training examined transitional justice truth-seeking mechanisms and looked at a comparative study of these mechanisms in other countries. It also included sessions on wellbeing with a psychologist, an update on the current domestic legislation and the content on the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). The training will allow LAW’s partners to support victims before transitional justice mechanisms when they have been set up and to contribute to the establishment and running of the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.
Bangladesh (Rohingya Crisis)
In May 2021, LAW delivered a seminar on the ongoing international justice proceedings related to the Rohingya to 28 humanitarian actors working in Cox’s Bazar. The seminar covered the proceedings at the ICJ, the ICC investigation and the work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar. These trainings are critical in ensuring humanitarian actors have an understanding of justice efforts and are able to address questions or misconceptions raised by their beneficiaries. LAW plans further engagement with the humanitarian response in 2022.
We also conducted a new piece of research on SGBV against Rohingya men and hijra and the barriers survivors face in accessing essential medical, psychosocial and legal services in Cox’s Bazar. The research found that male and hijra survivors have experienced very high levels of SGBV but their needs are largely unmet. A large majority of them do not have access to appropriate medical and psychosocial services, either because they are not available or do not cater for their specific needs, or because they worry about families, stigma, costs and accessibility. Survivors’ barriers to accessing services are also exacerbated by movement restrictions imposed by the authorities in the camps, and over the past two years, COVID-19 related measures such as lockdowns and the deteriorating security. The research findings will be used to inform LAW’s programmatic activities with service providers in the camps to increase survivors’ access to the support and assistance they need.
LAW’s Financials and Donors
For the 2021, the estimated budget is USD 4.025.000.
We would like to thank all of our donors for their support which continues to make our work possible.