Friday, October 31, 2014

Cornell Law School clinic weighs in on U.S. efforts to stem sexual crime in the armed forces

The Cornell Daily Sun reports on a worthwhile initiative by two clinics at Cornell Law School:
The United Nations Committee Against Torture will review the United States’ compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture from November 11 to 13. Cornell Law School’s Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and Global Gender Justice Clinic, with support from relevant organizations advocating on behalf of military sexual assault survivors, have submitted a shadow report to the Committee, outlining U.S. shortcomings in protecting service members’ fundamental rights and suggesting reforms. In particular, decisions about how sexual assault complaints are resolved should be taken out of the chain of command, so that commanders do not control whether or not these crimes are prosecuted. The U.S. military is made up of outstanding American women and men who have devoted their lives to serving our country. The government should ensure that their noble and critically important work is not tarnished by the scourge of sexual violence.
The article also observes:
All citizens would like to think that if they reported a crime that was committed against them, it would be investigated promptly, thoroughly and unbiasedly. However, when service members experience sexual violence in the military, the Manual for Courts-Martial* gives the accused’s commander the power to determine whether the case will be investigated and prosecuted. But what if the commander perpetrated the abuse? Or the commander simply does not want prosecution of a sex abuse case to damage the reputation of the unit? Because commanders might have close working or personal relationships with the accused, their partiality compromises the military’s ability to afford meaningful redress.
Additionally, because of U.S. Supreme Court precedent in cases like Cioca v. Rumsfeld, survivors of military sexual assault cannot access federal courts for redress. So if a commander decides not to investigate or prosecute a service member’s case, the survivor cannot appeal the decision. If all civilian citizens can seek justice in federal courts, then shouldn’t the people who are protecting our freedom have that same right?
* Actually the commander's power to decide who shall be prosecuted for what comes from the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is an Act of Congress. [Footnote supplied.]

The U.S. military justice system's structural noncompliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights will come before the UN Human Rights Council during the separate Universal Periodic Review next Spring. Click here for a post about the shadow report documenting the noncompliance.

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