New York, NY - Wednesday, June 19, 2019 - A coalition of human rights organizations, led by MADRE, Outright Action International and CUNY Law School, have announced a historic victory for the power of international law to extend protection to all victims of atrocities. Their campaign to ensure international legal protections for the rights of women and LGBTIQ people has won a crucial endorsement from the International Law Commission (ILC), the body charged with drafting a new treaty on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity.
Nineteen out of 33 governments participating in the final cycle of the treaty drafting process issued public endorsements, declaring that the rights of women and LGBTIQ people are protected under international criminal law and that the pending treaty must reflect this principle. In response to this effort, the ILC removed an outdated definition of gender in the draft crimes against humanity treaty.
“International law is clear: You cannot persecute someone because of their gender including when it is based on sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics,” said Lisa Davis, Senior Legal Advisor at MADRE and Associate Law Professor at CUNY Law School. “Removing an outdated definition of gender reflects that.”
This win comes amid a growing backlash to rights protections for women and LGBTIQ people -- part of a global conservative effort to restrict sexual and reproductive health, rights and education; to ban the right to abortion; to oppose acceptance of LGBTIQ people; and to impose a definition of gender based on biology. Where reforms have expanded gender protections, right-wing forces have tried to undermine those wins by framing them as attacks on the family or on so-called traditional values.
“For years, we’ve seen this growing surge of coordinated attacks on the rights of women and queer people,” said Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director. “These attacks were the bellwether of the ascendant and coordinated global right-wing we face today, that targets women and LGBTIQ people as a deliberate strategy of social and political control. More than ever, we must unite as women’s and LGBTIQ movements. By winning new legal language that supports an inclusive understanding of gender, we’ve shown that we can hold the line together against right-wing backlash and push forward towards futures where people of all gender identities and sexual orientations are protected from rights violations.”
Last year, after the ILC opened the draft treaty for final comments, MADRE, Outright Action International and CUNY School of Law launched a campaign to mobilize submissions from governments and civil society organizations. Nearly 600 organizations and academics representing over 100 countries signed an open letter to the ILC. Twenty-four UN Special Rapporteurs and other experts also signed onto a submission in support of this position.
“There is a dearth of jurisprudence on the rights of LGBTIQ people under international criminal law. This means that when LGBTIQ people are targeted in times of war and conflict, we lack the tools to hold perpetrators accountable and deliver justice to survivors,” said Jessica Stern, Executive Director of Outright Action International. “What we do now could determine how we protect LGBTIQ people for generations to come.”
This draft treaty on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity will be discussed by the United Nations General Assembly in the fall and, once ratified, would cover mass crimes carried out as part of a systematic or widespread attack on civilians, including murder, rape and forced disappearance.