Human Rights Policy and Nonprofit Organizational Development

Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Policy Blog: Decriminalization of abortion is coming down the pipeline in Spain

In Policy Blog on March 30, 2009 at 1:16 pm

The Spanish Parliament is considering legislation that would decriminalize abortion, bringing Spain into line with the vast majority of European countries.  In Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Macedonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the Ukraine all permit abortion on demand up to the 12th week of gestation. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Sweden all have even longer terms for abortion upon request. 

The liberalization of Spanish law would also answer the call of the Council of Europe‘s Parliamentary Assembly  to “decriminalize abortion within reasonable gestational limits” in its recent Resolution on Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, passed by a large majority in April 2008.

The legislation is still being drafted by the Ministry of Equality, but will likely pass given broad support by left-leaning parties in the Parliament.  Recommendations on the bill’s content have been submitted by a panel of experts as well as by a legislative sub-commission on the issue.  Both called for a holistic law which addresses contraception, sexual and reproductive health, and specifically the needs of adolescents.

Of course, the Catholic church is fighting back.  You would think the Pope would take a break after the scandal over the church’s involvement in Brazil, but its assault on women’s rights knows no bounds.

Here’s a great editorial on the law from El Pais.


Radio AFEM works to de-stigmatize rape in the Congo

In Policy Blog on March 24, 2009 at 3:36 am

Tonight I attended a fabulous panel, hosted by Women’s eNews, on the use of radio as a medium to destigmatize rape survivors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In Eastern regions of the country rape has been widely used as a weapon of war by armed groups and the army in conflicts over mineral resources.


The star panelist was Chouchou Namegabe, the founder of South Kivu Women’s Media Association (AFEM). She spoke powerfully about the experience of meeting rape survivors, and of learning with her colleagues to bring out their stories. She also spoke about the stigma associated with rape in Congo, and how the testimonials and reports AFEM broadcasts into the region’s rural areas have begun to de-stigmatize survivors of sexual violence.

Here’s a great article on AFEM by Women’s eNews reporter Dominique Soguel, who moderated the panel.

Maternal Mortality

In Policy Blog on March 19, 2009 at 10:24 pm

In 2005 the global community lost an estimated 536,000 women to maternal death.  From a Millennium Development Goals Fact Sheet published by The Center for Reproductive Rights:

“There is no single cause of death and disability for men between the ages of 15 and 44 that approaches the magnitude of maternal death and disability.”

Maternal mortality is the single largest cause of death for women of reproductive age the world over, and 70,000 women die every year because of complications from unsafe, clandestine abortions.  Those specifically are wholly unnecessary deaths.  Abortion in an appropriate clinical setting is twice as safe as a penicillin injection.

Center for Constitutional Rights to challenge US before IACHR

In Policy Blog on March 19, 2009 at 4:10 pm

The Center for Constitutional Rights and the World Organization for Human Rights USA will go before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Friday (March 20, 2009) to demand that U.S. officials be held accountable for violations of international law, including torture and war crimes.

According to the CCR release,  they will argue that the Commission should:

  •  Issue official recommendations to the United States to engage in criminal investigations and prosecutions for torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment;
  • Reform laws that prevent the victims of U.S. policies from learning the truth about these abuses; and
  • Make reparations to victims of human rights abuses committed by the U.S. government.

I think it is extremely important that the US be held accountable at the international level.  There is the obvious reason of the inherent value of upholding and promoting human rights, but beyond that I think that the US must be held to the same standards to which we hold other, less powerful countries.  The US, as a major international power, should be a shining example of respect for human dignity, not the sneaky, hypocritical player we are today on the international stage.

UN Special Rapporteur on HR and Counter-Terrorism Watching US

In Policy Blog on March 12, 2009 at 3:45 pm

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism was appointed in April 2005 for a preliminary term of three years.  Rapporteur Martin Scheinin has been especially strong in statements on the use of intelligence.  I think it’s worth noting that gender was a specific part of the Special Procedure’s mandate, given the ongoing Gender Equity Architecture Reform (GEAR) process in which civil society is currently engaged.

The news is that on Tuesday the Rapporteur announced a global investigation into secret detention to the UN Human Rights Council, and promised not to ease scrutiny on the US.  We can only hope that the in this new phase of internationalism under the Obama administration, the US will take UN recommendations seriously.

Mexican Supreme Court official decision on abortion law released

In Policy Blog on March 11, 2009 at 9:18 pm

The Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (Mexico’s Supreme Court) has released its final decision in the form of a case file (click here for pdf), compiled by Justice Aguirre Anguiano and reviewed by the other justices.  The decriminalization of abortion in Mexico City was challenged by the Ombudsman of the National Human Rights Commission and by the National Attorney General.  One of the Attorney General’s claims had to do with the Legislature’s standing to change health code.  The Ombudsman claimed that the law violated the constitutional right to life, and the right to life under international human rights agreements.  

The constitutional right to life under the Mexican constitution was one of the most important lynchpins in the arguments of most of the justices who found in favor of the law’s constitutionality.  Several justices explicitly recognized the right to life in the Mexican constitution, but clarified that there was nothing in the constitution to prioritize it above any other constitutional goods or rights.

International commitments were also mentioned in several of the justices’ findings.  This in itself is significant, as it adds legitimacy to international law within the national constitutional framework (as the Supreme Court is considered a constitutional court).