European & International News

President Obama urged to end US violation of the rights of rape survivors in armed conflict

[Global Justice Centre, New York, 25 August 2011] To coincide with the anniversary of the U.S. signing the Geneva Conventions, the Global Justice Center launched the global
“August 12th”campaign to urge President Obama to immediately lift the “no abortion” restriction attached to all U.S.
humanitarian aid for medical care given to girls and women raped and impregnated in armed conflict.

Thousands of girls and women raped and impregnated in armed
conflict face additional suffering by being routinely denied abortions in humanitarian medical settings. The
Geneva Conventions mandate “comprehensive” and “non-discriminatory” medical care to the wounded
and sick during armed conflict and United Nations treaty bodies and courts characterize deliberate denial of
abortion to impregnated rape victims as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Yet, the United States
(the “U.S.”) attaches a “no abortion” prohibition to all U.S. humanitarian aid, including for war rape victims
whose rights are guaranteed under the laws of war. Therefore, the Global Justice Center (the “GJC”)
coordinated a consortium of over 3,000 leading legal, human rights, public health and humanitarian
organizations and experts from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Africa, and Latin & South America to urge
President Obama to immediately lift the “no abortion” restriction attached to all U.S. humanitarian aid. To
view the GJC’s letter to the President go to:

GJC President, Janet Benshoof, applauding the outpouring of support for the rights of rape survivors,
“This U.S. policy is horrifying and illegal and has resulted, however unintentionally, in such inhumane
actions as forcing continued pregnancy on thirteen year old girls raped by the military. We strongly
believe that President Obama is firmly committed to ensuring that the U.S. fully complies with the
Geneva Conventions. To do so, President Obama must issue an executive order lifting the abortion
prohibition and take other measures to ensure that all female survivors of rape in armed conflict get the
care they need and are entitled to by international law.”

  • As the largest donor of humanitarian aid, the U.S “no abortion” policy greatly influences how
    humanitarian organizations and on-the-ground medical teams treat pregnant rape victims in conflict
  • Because donor funds are commingled, the U.S. policy prevents other donor countries that seek to
    provide full medical care (including abortions) for girls and women raped in conflict from doing so.
  • Norway confronted the U.S. on its “no abortion” policy for rape victims at the UN Human Rights
    Council in November 2010. Norway asked the U.S. to “remov[e] blanket abortion restrictions on
    humanitarian aid covering medical care given to women and girls raped and impregnated in
    situations of armed conflict.” On March 18, 2011, the U.S. stated in response to Norway that it
    could not remove the prohibition due to “currently applicable restrictions.”

President Obama can issue an executive order lifting these abortion restrictions. Current U.S. policy,
formalized by a USAID regulation promulgated by the Bush Administration in June 2008, requires that a
“base clause” prohibiting both abortion speech and payment for abortion services be inserted in all foreign
aid appropriations for any purpose. This “no abortion” clause, inserted in grants and contracts with foreign
governments, humanitarian organizations, the United Nations and nonprofit groups, is far more restrictive
than statutory requirements, including the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973, which
would permit U.S. funding to be used for abortions in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of a woman
(although USAID has never done so). The Obama Administration vigorously enforces this prohibition; just
recently the U.S. threatened to pull its foreign aid to Malawi unless the country’s Health Minister, whose
salary is paid for with U.S. foreign aid, stopped speaking about a medical study on unsafe abortion.

An increasing number of prominent legal, humanitarian, public health, women’s and human rights groups
are joining this Campaign. Signatory organizations that work with victims of war rape confirm that forcing
continued pregnancies resulting from these rapes has severe physical and psychological consequences for
victims. Therefore, U.S. policy “inevitably imposes the legacy of war upon their families, communities, and
entire nations for generations to come.”

To date, letters sent to President Obama by organizations include:

  • Amnesty International USA, representing nearly 300,000 members;
  • The New York City Bar Association, representing over 23,000 members;
  • The European Women’s Lobby, an umbrella organization for 2,500 organizations in 30 European
    Solidarity for African Women’s Rights, a pan-African coalition of 39 organizations and regional
    Women’s Link Worldwide, an INGO based in Colombia, joined with 29 organizations and
    prominent individuals in Latin America and Uganda.

For a compilation of letters sent as of August 25, 2011, go to:

Organizations and experts wishing to join the Campaign can find more details on the Global Justice Center
August 12th webpage: Individuals wishing to support the Campaign can sign a
petition to President Obama at
About The Global Justice Center
The Global Justice Center ( is a New York based international human rights
NGO that works to promote justice and gender equality by creating legal precedents and legal tools to
advocate for the progressive interpretation and aggressive enforcement of international law.

Media Contact:

Natasha Roland
Communications Attaché
Global Justice Center
275 7th Avenue, Suite 1502
New York, NY10001
212.725.6530, ext. 216

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