U.S. Abortion Restrictions on Humanitarian Aid Violate Geneva Convention: Campaign Underway to Petition President Obama

By Christine Cupaiuolo — August 11, 2011

Guest post by Sarah Morison

It was not until I started working at the Global Justice Center that I learned that due to U.S. policy (not law, policy), it is almost impossible for a victim of war rape who becomes impregnated to have the option of abortion. That is because all humanitarian aid that the United States gives in areas of armed conflict to either governments or humanitarian organizations contains a blanket prohibition on any monies being used to provide abortions — or even information about abortion.

Yet under the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States has been a party for over 60 years, “wounded and sick” civilian victims of armed conflict are absolutely guaranteed the right to “comprehensive and non-discriminatory” medical care. The Global Justice Center is therefore contending that the United States is in violation of the Geneva Conventions by maintaining its current abortion restrictions on humanitarian funds in areas of armed conflict.

Our current initiative is the Geneva Project, whereby we are harnessing the power of the Geneva Conventions to tackle the horrible problem of sexual violence deliberately used as a weapon and strategy during armed conflict in many parts of the world. (For more background information, see the GJC’s legal brief, “The Right to an Abortion for Girls and Women Raped in Armed Conflict.”)

No doubt you have read about the epidemic of war rape going on in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudan, and that occurred during the genocides in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and the intransigent conflicts in Columbia. During the recent uprising in Libya, the military was given Viagra to help them carry out rapes against the women living in areas of armed conflict. Right now, ethnic women are being raped by the military in Burma.

The military strategy of raping women is intended as a way of destroying families, communities and cultures. In Rwanda, girls and women were deliberately infected with HIV. In Yugoslavia, girls and women were gang-raped (typical form of war rape), impregnated, and then deliberately detained so as to force them to give birth to a child of a different ethnic group.

International courts have classified war rape as a war crime, and also as a form of torture. For those girls and women who become impregnated, the torture often continues, both psychologically and physically. Denial of abortions in this context frequently leads to desperate measures such as suicide or dangerous self-induced abortions.

We have learned that women being treated for war rape at internationally funded clinics often beg doctors for abortions but are turned away because these clinics can’t risk losing funding. By the time they reach these clinics, the time is often well past for using emergency contraception, which must be taken within a short period of time after the rape. Sometimes several donor countries give aid to an organization providing services to rape victims, but if U.S. funds are pooled with other countries’ funds, the effect is that all such funds are restricted.

The 62nd anniversary of the Geneva Conventions is Friday, Aug. 12. An international “August 12th Campaign” is underway, and we are asking organizations and individuals from around the world to commit to writing President Obama on Aug. 12 to urge him to lift these restrictions through an executive order (the current restrictions were put in place in the waning hours of the Bush administration). Many organizations — both prominent and small — throughout the world have committed to the campaign, which is heartening.

There is also a way for individuals to endorse our campaign, by signing an online petition to the President. I am asking you to read this petition and, if you agree this policy should be changed, add your name to the list. Consider sending the link to your friends and posting your endorsement on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you all for reading this and for considering giving your support to this critical campaign.

Sarah Morison is an attorney at the Global Justice Center in New York City. The GJC advocates for the implementation of and compliance with international human rights laws and humanitarian laws (laws relating to war), especially those relating to women.

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