Earlier this week Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud made a public vow to “modernize” Saudi Arabia signalling key reforms could be on the agenda in the Kingdom.
Since the Crown Prince was appointed as official heir to the throne in June 2017 he has launched a slick PR campaign to improve the country’s image on the world stage.
Just weeks ago the authorities announced that women in the country will finally be granted the right to drive a car. While this is undoubtedly a step forward for Saudi Arabian women, and a testament to the women’s rights activists who campaigned for the right for many years, it is extremely overdue and does not make up for the fact that they face widespread discrimination in other walks of life.
Commentators have hailed the Crown Prince’s promises of reform as signs that change is on the horizon for Saudi Arabia. But it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture: Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s worst abusers when it comes to human rights. The months since the Crown Prince’s appointment, have seen no improvements, instead, its already dire rights record has continued to deteriorate.
Here are five crucial things Saudi Arabia’s authorities urgently need to do to prove they are truly committed to reform:
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has killed and injured thousands of civilians during the Yemen conflict in recent years – many of them children. According to the UN Secretary General’s annual Children and Armed Conflict report 683 children were killed or injured by the Saudi-Arabia led coalition in 2016. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has also used cluster munitions – lethal explosive weapons which are inherently indiscriminate and are widely banned under international law because of the horrific injuries they can cause to civilians.
Published on Amnesty International on October 27, 2017.
A report released on October 23, 2017, by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments has found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais, Human Rights Watch said today. The French report comes almost exactly one year after authorities demolished the large migrant camp there, known colloquially as the “Jungle.”
The investigation and report were requested by the Interior Ministry in response to a July report by Human Rights Watch on police abuses against migrants in and around the city. The results of the French investigation are consistent with Human Rights Watch’s principal findings – that police routinely used chemical sprays on migrants, including children, while they were sleeping and in other circumstances in which they posed no threat, and regularly sprayed or confiscated sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, apparently to press them to leave the area.
“The investigation requested by the Interior Ministry confirms that police in Calais used excessive force and otherwise abuse migrants, including children,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Local and national authorities should put an end to these practices, discipline officers who abuse their power, and carry out the investigators’ recommendations.”
The French ombudsman’s office (Defenseur des Droits) and many of the aid groups operating in and around Calais, including L’Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees, have published similar reports of police abuse following the closure of the sprawling migrant camp one year ago this week.
Most of the abuses described to investigators were attributed to the French riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS). Among other findings, the French investigation noted that police forces do not regularly comply with the requirement that they wear badges with identifying numbers. As a result, members of the police force who commit abuses cannot be easily identified.
The investigators recommended, among other steps, that police forces ensure that officers are aware of the general rules for the use of aerosol sprays and receive specific instructions about methods authorized in specific operations. The investigators said that police should wear visible identification at all times, and use cameras during operations and identity checks. Human Rights Watch has long advocated requiring police to issue a record of identity checks, commonly called a stop form, as proof of a procedure and to enable accountability in case of abuse.
The investigators said that police forces should enter into dialogue with aid groups. They also said that improving migrants’ access to food, water, and other basic needs would reduce tension in Calais, and with it the need for police intervention.
Until July, local authorities attempted to prevent food distribution by aid groups and refused to provide migrants with access to drinking water and showers, saying that doing so would attract more migrants. The lack of basic services contributed to “a state of physical and mental exhaustion” and “inhuman living conditions” among migrants in and around Calais, the French ombudsman observed in June.
One question the investigators addressed at length is whether the hand-held aerosols used by police forces in Calais contain pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum, OC) or teargas (the popular name for aerosols that usually include the chemical agent 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS), concluding that police employed teargas.
At the same time that Interior Minister Gérard Collomb announced the investigation that resulted in this week’s report, a ministry news release reacted to the Human Rights Watch report with the statement that police used teargas rather than pepper spray, as Human Rights Watch had reported. In fact, the effects of CS spray are more severe, and its long-term effects possibly more harmful, than those of OC pepper spray.
“Protracted debate on whether police forces use OC or CS aerosols misses the point,” Jeannerod said. “The real concern is the routine and indiscriminate way police use these sprays, amounting to excessive force.”
During the investigations, three investigation departments – the inspectorates for the National Police, the Gendarmerie National, and the French State (Inspection Générale de la Police Nationale, Inspection Générale de la Gendarmerie Nationale, and the Inspection Générale de l’Administration) – conducted 93 interviews with representatives of aid groups, police and other authorities, and migrants, as well as Human Rights Watch researchers.
“These recommendations are a step in the right direction,” Jeannerod said. “It’s particularly important for national and local authorities to recognize the urgency of addressing the humanitarian situation migrants face.”
Published on HRW on October 24, 2017.
International Rescue Committee aid workers on the ground in Myanmar and Bangladesh are scaling up our response to the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crisis. Here's a look at the Rohingya refugee crisis by the numbers:
600,000+ Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar since August.
300,000 more Rohingya are expected to flee to Bangladesh in the coming weeks.
The total number of refugees in Bangladesh could soon top 1 million.
It's the fastest mass exodus IRC aid workers have seen since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
95% of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh do not have access to clean water, and more than three quarters lack food.
120,000 Rohingya remain trapped in Myanmar, cut off from essential services and dependent on aid to survive.
The United Nations emergency response plan is only one-quarter funded by donor countries, leaving a shortfall of $328 million.
What's happeningRohingya Muslim refugees arriving in Bangladesh tell of the horrors they endured as their families were attacked and their villages burned in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine. “The levels of trauma that we are seeing here are severe," said Sanna Johnson, the IRC's Asia regional director. "We have spoken to women who have seen their children slaughtered before their eyes."
With aid agencies overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis amid humanitarian funding shortfalls, people are living in increasingly dire conditions in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. An IRC assessment released on Oct 23 found that their greatest needs are health care, food, protection for women and children, shelter and sanitation.
“In a crisis of such unprecedented scale, we need the full weight of the international community to save lives in Bangladesh and Myanmar, and take concerted action in what is undoubtedly the most urgent refugee crisis in the world," said Johnson.
How the IRC helpsThe IRC and our partners are launching an emergency response in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh focused on essential health assistance, treatment of malnutrition, protection of vulnerable children, and a range of specialized services for women and girls.
In Myanmar, the IRC is gradually resuming critical health and protection programs in Rakhine State, serving both Muslim camps and Rakhine villages—but humanitarian access remains restricted for humanitarian groups and thousands remain out of reach of lifesaving aid.
Published on IRC on October 23, 2017.
On Monday 16 October 2017 the Council adopted the EU Annual Report on Human Rights And Democracy in the World in 2016.
2016 was a challenging year for human rights and democracy, with a shrinking space for civil society and complex humanitarian and political crises emerging. In this context, the European Union showed leadership and remained strongly committed to promote and protect human rights and democracy across the world.
This report gives a broad picture of the EU's human rights efforts towards third countries in 2016, and encompasses two parts: The first part is thematic, and pays particular attention to the human rights approach to conflicts and crises, main human rights challenges and human rights throughout EU external policies. The second part is geographical and covers EU actions in third countries, thus mapping in detail the human rights situation across the globe.
By Nellie Peyton
African political leaders, activists, and local chiefs joined forces on Monday to commit to ending child marriage in West and Central Africa, the region with the highest child marriage rate in the world.
More than a third of girls in the region are married under the age of 18, with the rate over 50 percent in six countries and up to 76 percent in Niger.
Driven by factors including poverty, insecurity and religious tradition, marrying off girls once they reach puberty or even before is a deeply engrained social custom in much of West and Central Africa.
The practice hampers global efforts to reduce poverty and population growth and has negative impacts on women’s and children’s health, educational achievements, and earnings, the World Bank has said.
The conference in Senegal’s capital Dakar, which included government, civil society, and religious representatives from 27 countries, was the first gathering of its kind to address child marriage in the region.
“What we need to end child marriage is a movement,” Francoise Moudouthe of advocacy group Girls Not Brides told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We hope this will be solidified in the region with this meeting.”
World leaders have pledged to end child marriage by 2030 under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, but at current rates it will take over 100 years to end it in West and Central Africa, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) said on Monday.
Although the rate of child marriage has declined from 50 to 39 percent across the region since 1990, population growth means that the number of child brides is still increasing, said Andrew Brooks, UNICEF’s regional head of child protection.
“I think the fact that they came is a sign that they’re ready to do something,” said Brooks of the local and national leaders present.
Other activists said they hoped the meeting would result in concrete national action plans and would pressure countries to enact and enforce laws against child marriage.
“We have heard your heartfelt cry,” said Senegal’s prime minister, Mohammed Dionne, to campaigners, who chanted “No to child marriage” as he took the stage.
“The problem is how to move from vision to action,” said Dionne. “Beyond the legal framework, what we need today is collective engagement in the search for solutions.”
Published on Reuters on October 23, 2017
The United States and European Union should expand targeted sanctions on President Joseph Kabila’s family members and financial associates benefitting from unlawful activity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, seven international and Congolese human rights organizations said today. The sanctions should target those involved in serious corruption, misuse of government funds, money laundering, or fraud in order to quash peaceful dissent, improperly delay elections, or otherwise maintain Kabila’s rule beyond the constitution’s two-term limit.
The International Contact Group for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, which includes the US, the EU, and the United Nations, will meet on October 12, 2017, in The Hague to discuss Congo’s political impasse and serious humanitarian and security concerns.
“Congo’s international partners should show President Kabila that there are real consequences for his abusive rule by imposing sanctions on those family members and financial associates unlawfully benefitting from his unconstitutional power grab,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Waiting any longer will only embolden Kabila’s use of violence, repression, and theft to stay in power, and the Congolese people will continue to pay the biggest price.”
Congo is facing a growing human rights and security crisis since Kabila refused to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit in December 2016. He has retained power by delaying elections, overseeing a brutal crackdown against peaceful dissent, and letting government security forces commit serious abuses across much of the country with impunity.
Late last year, the Catholic Church mediated a power-sharing agreement that called for elections to be held by the end of 2017, in which Kabila would not participate, and for a number of measures to ease tensions, including the release of political prisoners and the return of opposition leaders in exile. But since then, the ruling coalition has defied the main tenets of the agreement, most notably by not scheduling national elections. The head of Congo’s national electoral commission (Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante, or CENI) has publicly said that elections will not be held in 2017, and has yet to set a date.
Kabila’s address to the UN General Assembly in September gave no indication that he is stepping down from office. Reports from his private meetings with various foreign officials in New York likewise did not suggest that he is preparing to give up power.
Kabila’s refusal to step down may in part be explained by the considerable fortune that he and his family have amassed since they came to power, the rights groups said. Recent reports by the Congo Research Group at New York University and Bloomberg show how Kabila and his close family members have ownership stakes in more than 80 companies whose revenues total hundreds of millions of dollars since 2003. The reports also expose how major mining, oil, energy, and telecoms deals in Congo are exclusively managed by Kabila and his closest allies, with close family members and advisors often demanding bribes from companies looking to do business in the country.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars paid by mining companies to state bodies in the past few years have “disappeared,” never making it to the national treasury, according to a report by Global Witness.
The enormous cost of the elections proposed by the government – with estimates ranging from US$800 million to US$1.8 billion, some 20 percent of Congo’s current annual budget – also appears to have created opportunities for mismanagement and possible corruption, the groups said. The so-called “Lumumba Papers” include leaked bank records from CENI’s account at Banque Gabonaise et Française Internationale (BGFI), whose chief executive officer is Kabila’s brother, and reveal unexplained financial transactions that appear to be inconsistent with the commission’s responsibility for the electoral process, according to the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (Plateforme de Protection des Lanceurs d’Alerte en Afrique, PPLAAF), which worked together with the Congolese whistleblower and former BGFI banker Jean-Jacques Lumumba. The papers show that CENI officials, for example, withdrew $7.5 million in cash over a three-month period in 2016 without giving any explanation for the transactions.
“For Congo’s government to claim it doesn’t have the cash to hold elections is cynical in the extreme, given how Kabila and his associates have gotten rich on the back of the Congolese people,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, executive director of Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID).
Since June 2016, the US and EU have imposed targeted sanctions, including travel bans and assets freezes, against 17 Congolese individuals, mostly senior security force officers and government officials. These sanctions appear to have helped change behavior and affect the calculus of some top officials. Yet the lack of meaningful political reform combined with growing insecurity shows that greater international pressure on Kabila, particularly through expanded targeted sanctions, is needed, the groups said.
The groups urged the US and EU to publicly declare which assets have already been frozen under existing sanctions, to show the consequences of these measures. Contact Group members should investigate and prosecute companies and individuals in their jurisdiction – regardless of nationality – who unlawfully participate in corruption, money laundering, or fraud in Congo.
Contact Group members should also work with regional leaders to press Kabila to step down from the presidency by the end of 2017, and to signal clearly that Kabila himself will be sanctioned if he does not do so. They should support consultations to determine the management and leadership of a brief post-Kabila transition led by individuals who cannot run for office themselves, as proposed recently by civil society leaders and Catholic Church representatives. Congo’s international and regional partners should actively monitor and support the process, including a peaceful transfer of power and the organization of fair, credible elections, the groups said.
“We need bold action to end Congo’s seemingly endless cycles of violence, corruption, and impunity,” said Jean-Claude Katende, president of the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADHO). “International pressure on President Kabila to step down and support for a credible electoral process could finally put the Congolese people on a path toward a new system of governance, built on the rule of law, transparent and fair management of the country’s immense natural resources, and strong democratic institutions that put the interests of all Congolese at the heart of every political initiative.”
Published on HRW on October 10, 2017.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday criminalised sex between a man and his underage wife provided the woman files a complaint within a year.
The court said the exception in the rape law that allowed a man to have sex with his minor wife aged between 15 and 18 was arbitrary and violated the Constitution. It also said the Exception 2 in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code was contrary to the philosophy of other statutes and violated the bodily integrity of a girl child.
Discrepancy in laws
The rape law and the protection of children from sexual offences act (Pocso) disagreed on the age of consent.
Section 375 of the IPC says sex with a girl who is below 18 is rape but Exception 2 allowed a man to have sex with his underage wife even without her consent.
Under Pocso, the age of consent is 18 years.
The exception was also contrary to the child marriage act that puts 18 as the age of marriage for girls and 21 for boys.
Why government defended the exception
The government had defended the IPC exception in the Supreme Court, saying the provision was meant to protect the institution of marriage.
India has 23 million child brides and criminalising the “consummation of the marriages” as rape would not be appropriate, the Centre had said during a hearing in August, opposing a petition that wanted 18 to be the age of consent for all girls.
It also said child marriages were a reality in India where economic and educational development was uneven. “The institution of marriage must be protected. Otherwise, the children from such marriages will suffer,” the Centre said.
What activists say
An NGO Independent Thought, which contested the exception, told the court in August that the inconsistency had split girls below the age of 18 into two categories.
“One, those who are not married and for them, the age of sexual consent is 18. Then there are those who are married and a husband can have sexual intercourse with his wife if she is above the age of 15, irrespective of her consent,” it said during a hearing.
The petition called for uniformity in defining the age of consent. The NGO’s counsel Gaurav Agrawal said Section 375 (2) IPC was arbitrary because it discriminated against a girl child who is married off before 18. The rape law made even consensual sex between a man and a minor girl an offence. “Then why should a girl of the same age suffer,” he had said.
Accepting the argument, the court on Wednesday struck down Section 375 (2) of IPC.
Published on The Hindustan Times on October 11, 2017
By ANNE BARNARD
For the first time, six years into a war that began with Syria’s secret police accused of torturing teenagers and has escalated in brutality ever since, a member of the Syrian military has been convicted of a war crime.
The perpetrator: a low-level soldier who is now in Sweden as a refugee. The crime: violating human dignity by posing with his boot on a corpse. The sentence: eight months in a Swedish prison.
Anticlimactic? At first glance, yes, for those who want Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and other senior officials tried for far more serious crimes like using chemical weapons, bombing hospitals, and detaining and torturing tens of thousands of people.
Yet the ruling, issued last week in Sweden, is a landmark event, legal experts and human rights advocates say, the first conviction in any court of anyone from the Syrian government’s side for crimes committed in the multisided war.
It offers a glimmer of hope that courts outside Syria can hold at least some war criminals accountable on all sides of a conflict that has claimed nearly half a million lives, even now that Mr. Assad is looking more and more likely to stay in power.
As hopes fade for a political transition that could bring a full reckoning inside the country, Syrian and international advocates say there is new urgency to the search for other avenues to document and punish war crimes. In that context, they said, even this small victory is promising.
“Thank you for justice,” Rami Hamido, a lawyer who fled to Sweden from Syria and helped prosecutors build the case, said he told the judge after the ruling.
The conviction also provides a test case for how social media documentation — a voluminous portion of the available record of suspected war crimes in Syria — can and cannot be used as evidence in court.
The soldier, Mohammad Abdullah, 32, arrived three years ago in Sweden, where other Syrian refugees spotted him through his Facebook posts. They connected him to a photograph he had posted earlier, showing him standing over a pile of bloody bodies, smiling, with his boot on one corpse.
At first, the prosecutor, Henrik Attorps, charged him with killing the people shown in the picture, but the court ruled that the picture did not prove he was the killer. So Mr. Attorps brought a second case, charging Mr. Abdullah with violating the dead man’s dignity.
“There is an international duty to act on these crimes,” Mr. Attorps said in a telephone interview. “Sweden should not be a safe haven for war criminals.”
The decision came just months after a setback for similar prosecution efforts in Spain. In July, a court there threw out a case that accused senior Syrian officials of war crimes in the death of a man whose sister spotted his corpse among photos of torture victims after a defector smuggled the images out of Syrian government prisons. A Spanish court had claimed jurisdiction in the case because the man’s sister was a Spanish citizen, but a higher panel rejected that argument.
Prosecutors in Sweden and Germany have made more progress using the same legal principle, called universal jurisdiction. It holds that national courts can have jurisdiction over certain war crimes that take place outside their territory.
Swedish investigators are pursuing cases against an additional 13 people suspected of war crimes committed in Syria, and the German authorities are investigating 17 people suspected of crimes in Syria and Iraq, according to a Human Rights Watch reportreleased on Tuesday.
While Sweden focuses on cases that have a Swedish connection — a suspect, victim or witness in Sweden — Germany allows cases based on pure universal jurisdiction, with no national link required.
Both countries have convicted several fighters from the Islamic State and Syrian rebel groups, which advocates say is a step toward accountability. But without efforts to prosecute those on the government side, it risks giving the impression that the European authorities are concerned only with suspected Islamic State members who could pose a terrorist threat, which could discourage potential witnesses.
That such small steps are counted as victories is an indication of the difficulty of prosecution. Russia, the Syrian government’s most powerful backer, has used its United Nations Security Council veto to block attempts by the United States and its allies to refer Syrian war crimes suspects to the International Criminal Court.
And there are challenges even in the countries making the most efforts, Human Rights Watch reported. The group called for Sweden to expand its prosecution staff and conduct more outreach in Arabic to let refugees know they can file complaints, and noted that in Germany the authorities are struggling to sift through thousands of tips.
Both countries are also carrying out broader investigations intended to document suspected crimes by Syria’s military and prison systems, information that is not linked to specific cases but could provide context in some future, higher-level prosecution.
As for the individual cases, Salma Kahale, a Syrian activist who works with families of torture and detention victims, said, “For now, I see this as mainly symbolic, a continuation of our cry in the wilderness.”
Haid Haid, a Syrian analyst and author of a recent report on transitional justice efforts for the German research institute Heinrich Böll Stiftung, said advocates must readjust their goals and expectations given the political climate.
The main value of the narrow, low-level cases in Europe, he said, is “the message it sends to both victims and their families and to regime officials that war criminals will not be able to get away with what they did, at least in Europe.”
He said the prosecutions could also serve a political purpose. They could make it more difficult, he said, for Western countries to normalize relations with the Syrian government without at least trying to impose conditions such as releasing detainees and providing information on detainees who have disappeared.
But at the same time, he said, it is important for the prosecutions themselves to avoid politicization that could harm their credibility.
Published on The NY Times on October 3, 2017.
By Hilary O. Shelton and Lauren-Brooke Eisen
The early 1990s were a turbulent time for many cities and towns in America. The national violent crime rate had been steadily ticking up, increasing 40% from 1984 to 1992, as the murder rate climbed 20% between 1984 and 1993, disproportionately impacting communities of color. Congress reacted by passing the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, better known as the “1994 Crime Bill,” which restructured federal grant funding. It inspired states to build more prisons.
The number of people behind bars increased by almost 50% between then and now, from 1.5 million to 2.2 million people. African Americans bared the brunt of that tremendous growth, making up 13% of the U.S. population but 37% of the nation’s prisoners. Meanwhile, crime rates are down. Budgets are tight. Prisons are overcrowded with inmates who are serving time for non-violent crimes. And we are beholden to an often-unjust justice system built on policies past, which highlights and exacerbates racial inequality in America’s criminal justice system. In short, we are paying dearly to waste human lives.
But a new bill introduced Wednesday by Rep. Tony Cárdenas of California aims to reverse that decades-long trend. The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act, which Senators Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal introduced this summer in the Senate, sends federal funds to states that reduce crime and incarceration together. It is the only solution proposed on Capitol Hill that would help reign in state prison populations (where 87% of the country’s prison population is housed), while reducing vast racial disparities in the system and ensuring hard-earned public safety gains over the past quarter-century are not lost. Senator Blumenthal said on Wednesday, “the federal government can encourage more enlightened and effective action” at the state level with this bill.
For decades, through both the 1994 Crime Bill and other programs, the federal government has sent out grants to states and cities on autopilot to fight the “war on drugs” and to aid other anti-crime, public-safety initiatives. States and cities often seek these additional “bonus” dollars and are willing to modify policy to get them. It’s one reason why almost all the funds ultimately allocated by Congress from the 1994 bill were used by states to build more prisons and lengthen prison sentences.
This new measure is designed to redirect that flow of funding — to upend that incentive. It would authorize $20 billion in incentive funds over 10 years to states that cut their prison population by 7% every three years and keep crime near record lows, or even lower. This can be done either by creating a new grant — or by directing current funds — to support state activities proven to reduce crime and incarceration at once. Lately, some states are already on a path to do this; the bill will encourage and could speed up further progress, promising federal dollars for successful and reform-oriented changes in policy.
But federal sentencing reform alone will not eliminate mass incarceration. The federal government must work with states to drastically cut the number of prisoners behind bars. Under this new act, states would be free to choose their best path to achieving these common goals, building on local expertise rather than just a federal mandate. If fully applied, this would result in a 20% reduction in the prison population nationwide in a decade, a result of local expertise at the state level. Certainly, Republicans and Democrats should be able to get on board with a program that improves public safety while reducing our expensive and inefficient incarceration system.
Not only is this possible, it’s played out across the country. In the last 10 years, 27 states have reduced incarceration and crime together. It’s a politically and geographically diverse group. They include states in the Northeast (New York and New Jersey), the West (California and Colorado) and the South (Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas). Texas alone has closed eight prisons in just six years, while crime rates remain at historic lows. Similarly, under Governor Andrew Cuomo and due to a reduction in the state’s prison population, New York has closed 13 state prisons.
To be sure, local and state reform is key to making a dent in America’s prison population. But this bill would set a tone from the top and directly help states continue already successful efforts. It would dramatically reduce prison populations, lessen the justice system’s disproportionate impact on communities of color and maintain hard-won declines in crime over the last 20 years. Passing this bill would send a message from the federal government that our society is capable of responding to crime in a way that is not only effective, but also humane.
Published on TIME on October 4, 2017
(...) the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 36, an unconstitutional nationwide ban on abortion at 20 weeks, prohibiting safe and legal abortion without regard for the health of the woman. This ban not only violates longstanding Supreme Court precedent established in Roe v. Wade, and reaffirmed just last year in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, but it contains only the narrowest exceptions for survivors of rape or incest and prohibits doctors from providing care at the risk of federal criminal penalties (including five years in prison).
Said Maya Rupert, Senior Policy Director at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Anti-abortion leaders in Congress didn’t miss a beat in their crusade to compromise women’s health and safety. One week after the Senate attempted yet again to gut women’s health care and repeal the Affordable Care Act, the House has wasted no time in advancing a bill to ban abortion with arbitrary limits. This bill strips women of their autonomy while showing extreme disregard for their lived experiences and the unique circumstances they may face during a pregnancy.
“Time and again, the Supreme Court has affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to abortion prior to viability. No gestational ban has ever survived this judicial scrutiny. The Senate should refuse to consider this harmful and blatantly unconstitutional bill.”
H.R. 36 is an unconstitutional ban on virtually all abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, regardless of whether the pregnancy would harm the woman’s health or the fetus has severe abnormalities that would make survival unlikely or impossible. The bill threatens doctors with fines and a harsh penalty of up to five years in prison and imposes additional hurdles that interfere with the patient-provider relationship and further delay care.
The legislation passed today includes a medically unnecessary, mandatory 48-hour waiting period for rape survivors by requiring adult patients to obtain medical care or counseling from a state-licensed counselor or victims’ rights advocate for their assault at least two days prior to receiving abortion services. Minors who have become pregnant after rape or incest are likewise required to report the crime to law enforcement or child protective services before receiving an abortion.
An earlier version of H.R. 36 passed the House in 2015, and was blocked in the Senate that same year.
Bans like H.R. 36 have been challenged in court and do not pass constitutional muster. The Supreme Court last year refused to review North Dakota’s ban on abortion as early as 6 weeks of pregnancy and Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy had been struck down by lower courts. In 2014, the nation’s highest court refused to review Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy after it had been declared unconstitutional, and every federal court that has reached a decision on a pre-viability ban has blocked the rule from taking effect.
Published on The Center for Reproductive Rights on October 3, 2017.