Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School - Burnt Umber Background

Cornell Participating in U.N. Review of United States’ Human Rights Record to Highlight Military Sexual Assault

Ithaca, New York - Next week, a delegation of staff and students of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and Cornell Law School will travel to Geneva to engage with U.N. member states in preparation for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States. The delegation will recommend that the United States do more to prevent and prosecute sexual violence in the U.S. military. They will be joined by Stephanie Schroeder, a survivor of military sexual violence.

The UPR is a peer review system wherein all 192 member states of the U.N. can question the country under review on its human rights record and recommend necessary measures to ensure its alignment with international human rights standards. 

In preparation for the review in May, the Avon Global Center and Cornell's School Global Gender Justice Clinic partnered with Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) to submit a report highlighting how the United States' failure to respond adequately to sexual violence in the U.S. military violated service members' rights under international law.

Sexual violence in the United States military is perpetrated at alarming rates, with one in three service women experiencing sexual assault. Yet, "the U.S. military justice system systematically fails to impartially prosecute cases of sexual violence against its service members . . . [and] service members are barred from seeking civil or constitutional remedies in federal courts against the military for its failure to adequately prevent and address the sexual violence they experienced," the report argues.

Under the current military system, commanding officers have broad discretion to determine whether to prosecute a claim of sexual violence. The report argues that commanders' prosecutorial discretion "presents systemic barriers to survivors' ability to achieve impartial and meaningful redress." 

"While Congress and the Department of Defense have taken important steps to reform the military's response to sexual violence, these measures do not go far enough," said Professor Liz Brundige, who directs the Avon Global Center, and the Global Gender Justice Clinic. "The United States has a responsibility to fix the systemic problems that led to the devastating human rights abuses experienced by the petitioners. This includes removing decision-making powers from the chain of command and opening the doors of the federal courts to service members whose rights are violated by the military."

Last November Schroeder traveled to Geneva with the Center and Clinic to participate in the United Nations Committee Against Torture's review of the United States' compliance with the Convention Against Torture. The Committee ultimately concluded that the United States must take further measures to ensure the prevention and prosecution of sexual violence in the U.S. military.

Schroeder explained that the results were vindicating, stating that "perhaps the U.S. government has cut Military Sexual Trauma survivors off from any meaningful redress stateside, but redress can be won before the U.N." Together, Schroeder and her Center and Clinic partners hope the UPR process will bring further validation and redress for victims of sexual violence in the U.S. military.

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For media interviews, please contact Robin Wagge at (212) 843-8006, or rwagge@rubenstein.com. 

To read the shadow report, please click here.