Center for Reproductive Rights Sponsors Workshop on Violence Against Women in Situations of Armed Conflict during Beijing +5 Regional Conference.
During the recent armed conflict in Kosovo, sexual violence against women was used as a tactic of war, and women's sexual and reproductive rights were among the first rights to be violated. News stories described young women rounded up by Serbian soldiers for collective rapes. A mother was reportedly beaten to death when she tried to rescue her daughters. These were not rare or isolated occurrences. Sexual violence during war has historically been taken for granted. It is only recently, following the wars in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, that sexual violence during armed conflict has been viewed as a war crime and a violation of women's human rights.
This issue was of primary concern for the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) when it met in January to reaffirm its commitment to the goals adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The ECE meeting was one of five regional conferences held in preparation for the five-year review of governments' performance in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which will take place during the United Nations General Assembly Special Session in June. For their part, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the International Women's Health Coalition sponsored a workshop addressing women's sexual and reproductive rights in situations of armed conflict.
Panelists who attended the workshop shared experiences from the recent conflicts in Eastern Europe. Valentina Leskaj of the Albanian Family Planning Association, an organization that assisted Kosovo refugees, reported on the many women who experienced rape, witnessed atrocities or were forced to give birth in refugee settings. Martina Belic from the Croatian organization B.a.B.E. (Be Active, Be Emancip-ated) described an escalation in domestic violence and in the trafficking of women. Compounding these factors was decreased government funding for contraception, abortion and health education.
Panelists suggested that women's reproductive health and rights could be improved with greater mental and physical health services and stronger social support during wartime. They also recommended that peacekeeping personnel and others pay closer attention to who is perpetrating the violence against women so that prosecutions can take place after the conflict has ended. International relief workers should also work to build the capacity of local health personnel so that women's health needs can be met throughout the transition to peace.
There is a saying that no good deed goes unpunished. That is certainly true in the case of Giulia Tamayo, a human rights lawyer who was attacked and robbed after uncovering a pattern of abuse in Peru's public health facilities. But in this instance, she also reaped a notable reward. In January, Amnesty International announced that Tamayo is one of the two winners of the annual Ginetta Sagan Fund Award, given in recognition of the recipients' "outstanding achievement, often in the face of personal danger, to help women and children who are victims of violence."
In 1996, Tamayo was commissioned by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partner organization, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM), to pursue reports of mistreatment of low-income women and girls by health care providers in Peru. Tamayo's fact-finding mission took her into five regions of the country -- from the urban streets of Lima to the rural Andean and Amazon regions. Over fifty women recounted incidents of rape, sexual molestation, physical abuse and verbal harassment by health care workers. Their testimonies were compiled by the Center for Reproductive Rights and CLADEM into a published report and the award-winning video, Silence and Complicity, which was shown at The Hague and other international venues to pressure the Peruvian government into addressing the grievances.
One of the victims, Marina Machaca, testified that she was raped by a doctor during a routine health exam. The Center for Reproductive Rights and CLADEM brought her case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last year and negotiated a settlement in which the Peruvian government offered Machaca reparations and rehabilitation. The officials also indicated that the government intends to adopt new policies in the country's public health care system to counter further abuse and discrimination. The parties expect to sign a final agreement shortly.
Tamayo's leading role in pressing for health care services free of abuse, as well as her recent investigations and published reports of a government-backed program involving involuntary sterilization in Peru, has often put her under immense political pressure. Not only government officials, but some reproductive health organizations and other groups have wanted her to back down. In March 1998, Tamayo was assaulted in the doorway of her home. She was physically struck and her documents were taken. Later that year, her home was burglarized. The vandals stole her documents, passport and computer, but left cash, jewelry and other valuables behind.
Amnesty International joined in a campaign to end the threatening attacks. Last fall, the Center for Reproductive Rights nominated Tamayo for the prestigious Ginetta Sagan Fund Award. The award carries a prize of $10,000 to further Tamayo's reproductive and human rights work in Peru, a country where abortion is highly restricted and rates of maternal mortality and unintended pregnancy are very high.
When contacted at her home in Lima, the 41-year-old lawyer responded that she was overwhelmed and inspired by the recognition. "But it is not only about me," says Tamayo. "The award is important because it brings more international awareness to the problems facing women here. We're not a country that is governed by rule of law, but by authoritarianism. There is a lot of fear and people think they will be protected if they keep silent. The award allows us to talk more about the rights we want."
This year's other Ginetta Sagan recipient was Hina Jilani, a Pakistani human rights lawyer whose work supporting women's right to divorce and to marry husbands of their own choosing has led to murder attempts on her life. The awards will be presented by Julianne Traylor, Chair of the Amnesty Board, during the annual general meeting of Amnesty International, held on Saturday March 11th in Providence, Rhode Island.
The book Silence and Complicity can be ordered from our website or by calling
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ANTI-CHOICE EXTREMISTS SMEAR ABORTION PROVIDERS IN NEW CAMPAIGN TO SWAY PUBLIC OPINION
Baby Parts Marketing. The title is shocking. The accusations offensive. But read below the surface of this newly published booklet and you'll encounter a web of deception. Baby Parts Marketing is the latest media ploy by Life Dynamics Inc., a notorious anti-choice group that uses sensational and duplicitous tactics to rouse public opinion against abortion. In this case, the publication's inflammatory and unsubstantiated allegations that abortion providers are participating in a lucrative trade in aborted fetal body parts - and predicated on the now-discredited testimony of a "spy" named "Kelly" - appears to have impacted legislatures nationwide.
Three Republican congressmen, Tom Tancredo (CO), Joseph Pitts (PA) and Chris Smith (NJ), gained House approval on November 9 for a resolution to hold upcoming hearings "with respect to private companies involved in the trafficking of baby body parts for profit." And a legislative trend to attempt to quash medical research using fetal tissue is gaining momentum in state legislatures. Legislators in six states: Missouri, Washington, Oklahoma, Virginia, Mississippi and Nebraska have already introduced bans on fetal tissue research this term. Nebraska state Senator John Hilbert has also introduced a separate bill requiring medical school programs to report all research done on humans, including fetuses, to the state legislature.
If this legislation passes, researchers and the millions of Americans suffering from life-threatening diseases will experience the worst fallout. Fetal tissue has been used for more than half a century by researchers in the United States and abroad, and is widely acknowledged as an important research tool. It has aided advances in the use of amniocentesis and in the treatment of Alzheimer's, Huntington's disease, AIDS, strokes and spinal cord injuries, and has been a vital component in scientific advances for the treatment of other diseases, such as rubella and polio. Ironically, the Missouri legislature will find itself, during this term, simultaneously considering a ban on fetal tissue and a bill mandating Hepatitis A vaccines for restaurant and school cafeteria workers in response to recent outbreaks. Fetal tissue is a key ingredient in that vaccine.
But the issue of using fetal tissue and embryos for medical purposes has long been held hostage to politics. Last fall, the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing Parkinsons' patients and abortion providers, won its challenge to a 1975 Arizona law that prohibited medical research using fetal tissue or fluids resulting from an induced abortion. This victory is especially important in Arizona, where an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 residents are currently afflicted with Parkinson's disease and a number of medical studies indicate that fetal tissue transplants are, for some, their best hope for improvement.
Congressional actions have also strictly limited federal funding for research involving tissue from aborted fetuses. In 1988, a moratorium was placed on fetal tissue research that was lifted five years later by Clinton in one of his first official acts as President. Current federal law permits the donation of aborted fetal tissue for federal research, but places strict limits on the process of tissue donation. For instance:
a) a woman can only be approached about donating tissue after she has made her decision to undergo an abortion, and with full disclosure of any physician's interest in the tissue;
b) the abortion procedure cannot be altered with regard to timing, method or procedure for the purposes of obtaining tissue;
c) the donation must be made without any restriction regarding the identity of the recipients of the tissue, nor is the woman informed of the identity of any such individuals;
d) no "valuable consideration" is allowed for the receipt or transfer of any human fetal tissue, although companies involved in the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control or storage of human fetal tissue are allowed to receive reasonable payments for their services.
Despite these legislative safeguards, Life Dynamics Inc. garnered media attention last year when it accused abortion providers and tissue acquisition companies of coercing women into having abortions in order to profit from the sale of aborted fetal tissue. LDI produced videotaped testimony from an alleged industry "spy," and circulated copies of the tape to the media and legislators.
"Kelly" appears on the video in the guise of a woman - she is adorned with a wig, her voice is altered and she speaks with her back to the camera. On tape, she makes a number of accusations, chief among them that, while working as a lab technician for fetal acquisition companies, she observed live, full-viability fetuses killed and overheard some women who were about to undergo abortions say they "wanted to change their minds," but were instead sedated in a "Nyquil nap," making it difficult to protest. That testimony has since been severely debunked.
First of all, it turns out that "Kelly" is a man - Lawrence Dean Alberty, Jr. - who has, in fact, since 1993, worked for several fetal tissue acquisition companies. In a January 20, 2000 sworn deposition, Alberty now states that he doesn't know if the videotape is "reliable or correct." He says, "Life Dynamics may have changed some of my answers" and "substituted another person in my place during portions of the videotape as it has been circulated."
Alberty admits he is "familiar with the state and federal laws that limit the ability to charge fees for tissue procurement," and says, "I have no personal knowledge of any instance in which an employer of mine charged any fees or received compensation for retrieving fetal tissue in violation of any of these laws." If there have been any instances of overcharging, those people should be held accountable under the terms and conditions of the NIH Revitalization Act which prohibits "valuable consideration" of fetal tissue.
Alberty also states that he knows of no instances where a doctor performed any particular type of abortion procedure solely for the purposes of obtaining fetal tissue, and says that in the only instance where he believed an aborted fetus might have been viable, he has no knowledge whether the abortion was performed to save the life or health of the woman. In the sole instance where he thinks he observed a woman change her mind midway during an abortion procedure, he has no knowledge of whether she changed her mind after the point at which the procedure could not be reversed for medical or other reasons.
Finally, Alberty concludes his sworn statement with an affirmation of his belief in women's right to choose abortion, stating, "I believe a woman should have the right to donate fetal tissue for medical research."
-Ann Farmer, with reporting by Jen Taylor
Laws Governing Transfer or Sale of Fetal Tissue
- The National Organ Transplant Act, which was amended by Congress in 1988 to include fetal organs and tissues, prohibits the sale of fetal tissue for "valuable consideration" if the transfer affects interstate commerce, but permits "the reasonable payments associated with the removal, transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control and storage of a human organ."
- The NIH Revitalization Act lays out specific requirements to obtain the informed consent of the woman donor, the researcher, and the donee in federally funded research projects. This act also includes a penalty for violating the "valuable consideration" requirement: a fine of at least twice the amount of the "consideration" received and possible imprisonment of up to ten years.
- The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act has been adopted in various forms by all 50 states and the District of Columbia and is the principal means by which states regulate the acquisition and use of human organs and tissues. Specific requirements are set forth in state law.
For more information on the history and activities of radical right legal organizations order
the Center for Reproductive Rights publication, Tipping the Scales:
The Christian Right's Legal Crusade Against Choice by calling 212-514-5534 ext 204.