[Brussels, 1 August 2011] The EWL President, Brigitte Triems, has today sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take action on the routine denial of
abortions for girls and women impregnated by rape in armed conflicts, as a result of the current US ‘no abortion’ policy which is attached to all humanitarian aid, including aid to countries in conflict.
The text of the letter, which also been sent to relevant EU Commissioners as well as Margot Wallström, the UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, is copied below.
Your Excellency President Obama,
As the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union, promoting women’s
rights and equality, we urge you to take action on a matter of utmost urgency: the routine denial of
abortions for girls and women impregnated by rape in armed conflicts.
The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the
European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men. EWL
membership extends to organisations in all 27 EU member states and three of the candidate countries, as
well as to 20 European-wide bodies, representing a total of more than 2500 organisations. Working with its
members at national and European level, the EWL’s objectives are to lobby for the realisation of gender
equality and to monitor all European policies, in order to ensure the integration of a gender perspective in
all areas and to ensure the respect for gender equality and women’s human rights.
The current US ‘no abortion’ policy, attached to all humanitarian aid, including aid to countries in conflict,
contains no enumerated exception for rape or for situations where the pregnancy threatens life. Given the
broad reach and influence of US foreign aid, this policy is a major reason for the omission of abortion from
medical services in humanitarian settings. For the reasons detailed below, we urge that you issue an
Executive Order lifting the abortion prohibitions imposed on humanitarian aid for victims of rape in armed
conflict, and, by doing so, reaffirm the role of the US as a standard bearer for the laws of war.
The ongoing and systemic use of rape as a weapon of war is a gross violation of international humanitarian
law, threatening global peace and security. The United States has taken a leadership role in addressing
these international crimes, including by proposing Security Council Resolution 1820 which acknowledges
that ‘rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a
constitutive act with respect to genocide.’
Rape and forced pregnancy are part of horrific violent attacks in armed conflicts intended to kill and
mutilate girls and women. Those who survive such brutal rapes suffer from life-long physical, psychological
and social consequences. These injuries are compounded for those girls and women victims who become
pregnant from such rapes.
All victims of armed conflict are entitled to receive complete, appropriate and non-discriminatory medical
care under international humanitarian law. The deliberate omission of abortion from medical services
provided for victims of war not only violates international law, it prolongs victims’ injuries by forcing on
them continued pregnancy and childbearing. Their only alternatives are to commit suicide or resort to life-threatening clandestine abortions.
Norway, during the Universal Periodic Review of the US at the Human Rights Council, recommended that
the US lift the abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for victims of rape in armed conflict. The US response citing ‘currently applicable restrictions’ as the reason the US cannot adopt Norway’s
recommendation, confirms that lifting these restrictions is within the discretion of the Executive Branch.
The right to abortion for victims of war rape arises directly from their status as ‘protected persons,’
including as the ‘wounded and sick,’ under the Geneva Conventions. States in armed conflict have the
primary obligation to provide non-discriminatory medical care to the wounded and sick under common
Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocols I and II and customary international law. Abortion
services and counseling constitute medically appropriate treatment for survivors of rape who have been
impregnated. In addition, rape in situations of armed conflict has been recognised as a method of torture,
and the denial of abortion to women who become pregnant as a result of being raped has also been
considered to constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The US abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid undermine the rights of victims of rape in armed conflict
to non-discriminatory medical care including abortions. They also violate US obligations under common
Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions to ‘respect’ and ‘ensure respect’ for the Geneva Conventions in all
circumstances. This obligation requires the US to ensure its own compliance with the requirements of the
Geneva Conventions, and, in addition, to take affirmative action with respect to states that are perpetrating
or supporting violations. Rather than advocating for non-discriminatory medical care for rape victims, the
US attaches its abortion prohibitions on aid to the 22 countries currently deemed to be in armed conflict.
While our organisation traditionally focuses on the European region, we are deeply concerned by this policy
as it also affects European humanitarian aid once funds are pooled with US funds. The current restrictions
are not only violating International Humanitarian Law but contradict the European Humanitarian Aid policy.
We respect your dedication to combating human rights abuses internationally and to ensuring US
compliance with international law. We urge you to issue an Executive Order explicitly lifting the restrictions
on abortion services for victims of war, thereby ensuring that US humanitarian aid relieves, and not
perpetuates, human suffering.
Ms Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict
Ms Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Ms Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
Ms Kristalina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis
Mr. Andris Piebalgs, EU Commissioner for Development
Mr. John Dalli, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy
The US ’no abortion’ policy is also the subject of the August 12 Campaign, which has been launched by the Global Justice Centre to mark the 62nd Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions by urging President Obama to issue an executive order lifting U.S. abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict.
The campaign encourages key organisations and individuals around the world to send letters to President Obama, asking that he lift the abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid for girls and women raped in armed conflict via an Executive Order.
More information about this campaign can be found at: http://www.globaljusticecenter.net/news-events/news/2011/August12th.html