Franken Amendment Step Towards Ending Militarism's Culture of Impunity Regarding Sexual Assault, More Needed

Yesterday, by a 68-30 vote, the U.S. Senate passed Senator Al Franken's amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill (Amendment 2588) that, according to Stop Family Violence, prevents the Defense Department from using contractors that require, "mandatory employment arbitration of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault claims".

Yesterday, by a 68-30 vote, the U.S. Senate passed Senator Al Franken's amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill (Amendment 2588) that, according to Stop Family Violence, prevents the Defense Department from using contractors that require, "mandatory employment arbitration of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault claims". Franken's amendment was a response to cases such as that of Jamie Leigh Jones who was raped by fellow employees of Halliburton while serving in Iraq and then told she could not take her case to court but had to pursue her allegations through her employment contract's binding arbitration clause.

According to the Houston Chronicle, among those who opposed the bill, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said that, "the Defense Department did not want it. He said it would invalidate due process rights of employers and employees and arbitration can be better and less expensive for employees." How Sen. Sessions concludes that preventing criminal charges in human rights cases is a denial of due process is baffling, to say the least.

Unfortunately, Franken's amendment only addresses a small part of the continuing blatant disregard for women's human rights as a result of U.S. military actions. The Asia Times reported yesterday that,

A report by the Washington, DC, Project on Government Oversight recently released publicly tells of the wild naked antics of members of ArmorGroup (AG), which has a United States State Department contract to provide security for the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Hardly mentioned is the use of local bordellos by some contractors. It took a lawsuit filed on September 9 by James Gordon, a former ArmorGroup director of operations, and subsequent whistleblower, against ArmorGroup North America and associated defendants - ArmorGroup International (AGI), Wackenhut Services Inc (WSI), and various management individuals - to bring details to light. Among other things he charges that AG:

  • Allowed AGNA managers and employees to frequent brothels notorious for housing trafficked women in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and shutting down the plaintiff's efforts to investigate and put a stop to these violations.
  • Deliberately withholding documents relating to violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act allegedly committed by AGNA's program manager and other AGNA employees when responding to a document demand from US Congressman Henry Waxman on behalf of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in regard to the unanimous passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1888, violence against women is criminal, not cultural. UNSC 1888 calls for:

  • The appointment of a special representative to lead efforts to end conflict-related sexual violence against women and children.
  • The creation of a team of experts to help governments in preventing conflict-related sexual violence, strengthening civilian and military justice systems and enhancing aid to victims.
  • Reports by U.N. peacekeeping missions to the Security Council about the prevalence of sexual violence.
  • Consideration by the U.N. Security Council of patterns of sexual violence during the process of adopting or targeting sanctions.
  • The inclusion of women's protection advisers in peacekeeping operations where it is appropriate, as determined by the U.N. secretary-general.
  • The submission of annual reports by the secretary-general on the implementation of this resolution as well as more systematic reporting on conflict-related sexual violence.

While Clinton's championing of this resolution is welcome and her recognition that violence against women is criminal is entirely correct, the unfortunate reality is that there is a culture of military impunity that allows for this kind of violence throughout the world and that despite a lot of rhetoric and too many Congressional hearings and reports, the U.S. military has shown little inclination to truly end its practice within the ranks. It also needs to be pointed out that the United States is one of only a handful of nations that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which,

defines discrimination against women as "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."

The U.S. is also one of only a few nations who have not signed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 which addresses the impact of war on women and the contributions of women in conflict resolution and sustainable peace. Nor does the U.S. adher to the International Criminal Court's recognition of rape and sexual assault as war crimes.

In addition, as Ret. Col. Ann Wright pointed out in August, while Hillary Clinton's strong statements regarding the need to end the horrific and relentless violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are much needed, her plan to bring relief to these women involves using the U.S. military which is quite worrisome, given the record of the U.S. military in regard to sexual violence. According to Wright,

(T)he U.S. military's Africa Command (AFRICOM) is sending an assessment team to "determine how to best assist survivors," and provide "sensitivity training on sexual violence and legal seminars that contribute to the professionalization of the Congolese military."

If the women of the Congo should Google, "U.S. military - sexual assault and rape," I suspect they will decline the offer of assistance from the African Command. 1 in 3 women in the U.S. military are sexually assaulted or raped. Women and girls in countries with U.S. military bases are raped by U.S. military. 8,000 U.S. Marines are being "re-located" from Okinawa in great measure because of citizen activist pressure following the numerous rapes of women and girls there. Prosecution rates in rape cases in the military are abysmal- 8% versus 40% in civilian cases.

The August 10, 2009 Washington Post article "Congo's Rape Epidemic Worsens During U.S.-Backed Military Operation" begins with an alarming statement: "For the women of eastern Congo, a U.S.-backed Congolese military operation meant to save them from abusive rebels has turned an already staggering epidemic of rape has become markedly worse since the January deployment of tens of thousands of poorly trained, poorly paid Congolese soldiers, with people in front-line villages such as this one saying the soldiers are not so much hunting rebels as hunting women."

We need to also remember that when the U.S. declared war on Afghanistan and later Iraq, one of the justifications was the need to liberate the women in those countries. Unfortunately despite some gains, living conditions for women in both countries have become increasingly dire which makes Clinton's plan to utilize the military infrastructure to provide aid in the DRC very suspect As The Real News Network reports in their series, Africom or Africon, the reality is that the purpose of the U.S. military presence in Africa has nothing to do with women's human rights:

So while applauding Sen. Franken for taking much needed action to insure that companies like Halliburton are not allowed to profit while blatantly violating human rights, the reality is that much more needs to be done to end the culture of impunity that is an integral part of militarism.

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