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Richard B.
Democrat CT

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  • Condemning the Ongoing Sexual Violence Against Women and Children from Yezidi, Christian, Shabak, Turkmen, and Other Religious Communities By Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Militants

    by Senator Richard Blumenthal

    Posted on 2015-12-16

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    BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I am here to support the bipartisan efforts and goals of my colleagues in S. Res. 310, which condemns the ongoing sexual violence perpetrated by ISIL against women and children from Yezidi and other religious communities.

    The horrific and despicable actions of ISIL against women and girls who were kidnapped, enslaved, tortured, raped, and impregnated in conflict-affected regions there and others around the world are one of the horrors of terrorism. This resolution addresses it, but it could and should have gone much further. In fact, it lacks the recognition of the full range of support that Yezidi survivors of sexual violence desperately need. That is the reason that I offered two amendments to improve this important resolution, to urge the President to exercise his existing authority. No new author is necessary for him to provide and support age-appropriate, comprehensive post-violence care, including the provision of treatment to prevent HIV infection, trauma and surgical care, mental health services, social and legal support, and a full range of medically necessary reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, safe abortion care, and maternal health services.

    When the horrors that ISIL inflicts on the Yezidis came to light in the New York Times report entitled ``ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape,'' including systematic rape of women and children in ISIL-held territory, I demanded that our great Nation take action. I refer my colleagues' attention to that article.

    We cannot allow for the continued use of rape as a tool of warfare to destabilize and disrupt communities, to [[Page S8731]] exert control over women and girls, and in the case of the Yezidis, to impregnate them purposefully and relentlessly. Survivors should not be forced to carry pregnancies to full term simply because access to reproductive health care is not available following their vicious assault.

    We cannot stand idly by while witnessing such violations of human rights and dignity. The United States must work to increase access to reproductive health care for the vulnerable populations, particularly safe abortion services, and most especially for the Yezidi girls and women who were purposefully impregnated as a tool of terrorism by ISIL.

    I have called on the administration multiple times to confront this horror. In September, I wrote a letter with five of my Democratic colleagues to Secretary Kerry, calling on the State Department to declare Iraqi religious minorities, including the Yezidis, as protected priority groups so they could seek refugee assistance within Iraq's border.

    In October, I wrote a letter with 27 of my Democratic colleagues, calling on the President to take action to properly implement existing law. Existing law includes the Helms amendment. Tomorrow is the 42nd anniversary of the Helms amendment. For its entire existence, the Helms amendment has been incorrectly interpreted, and it continues to serve as a critical obstacle in our foreign aid efforts to provide for safe abortions in the case of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

    Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the letter and the response of the administration dated December 7, 2015, be printed in the Record.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC, October 22, 2015.

    President Barack Obama, The White House, Washington, DC.

    Dear Mr. President: We write to express our deep concern for the reproductive health of women and girls who are kidnapped, enslaved, tortured, raped, and impregnated in conflict-affected zones worldwide. Rape is increasingly used as a tool of warfare to destabilize communities, exert control over women and girls, and in some cases purposely impregnate them, as executed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria and Iraq. Survivors are forced to carry pregnancies to full term because access to reproductive healthcare is not available following their assault. We cannot be bystanders to such gross violations of the human dignity of these women and girls. If the U.S. does not work to increase access to reproductive healthcare for vulnerable populations, particularly safe abortion services, there will be negative, long-term consequences. As such, we implore you to take the following actions to confront this crisis.

    We request you take action to correct the overly constrained implementation of the Helms Amendment which serves as a critical barrier to safe abortion, particularly impacting women and girls fleeing conflict. Although the Helms Amendment prevents U.S. foreign aid from being used to perform abortions for family planning purposes, for over 40 years it has been incorrectly interpreted to prevent the use of foreign aid to fund safe abortions even in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. These three cases clearly fall outside the restrictions enacted by the Helms Amendment. As such, we urge you to issue guidance to the relevant agencies, allowing them to support safe abortion services in at least the limited circumstances of rape, incest, or life endangerment, including for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

    Subsequently, we urge you to exercise your existing authority to ensure U.S. foreign aid does not stand in the way of women and girls fleeing conflict who seek abortion services. The Helms Amendment restricts U.S. foreign aid from being used to pay for abortion even in countries where abortion is permissible by local law. For instance, although abortion remains illegal in Syria and Iraq, regional countries which receive U.S. foreign assistance--Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt--have welcomed millions of refugees and have varying legal exceptions or allowances for abortions related to rape, incest, or life endangerment, which are undermined by limitations imposed by this policy.

    Finally, we applaud commitments made by this Administration to address these issues, including those made last year at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and those in the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (NAP). We request that you further strengthen actions taken under the NAP implementation plan. A high-level objective of the NAP is ensuring women's access to relief and recovery in a manner that recognizes the unique needs of women and girls in conflict-affected zones and the need to provide humanitarian services. As expressly noted in the NAP, women's access to relief and recovery can be addressed by ``support[ing] access to reproductive health in emergencies and humanitarian settings.'' As such, we encourage increased attention to this matter and request a report of the Administration's comprehensive review and update to the NAP, scheduled to be released this year. We also ask that the Administration provide an assessment of how the relevant agencies are fulfilling their respective duties to provide access to the full range of reproductive healthcare.

    We look forward to working with you to ensure these actions are implemented. As the world's largest aid donor, the U.S. can and should endeavor to provide the reproductive healthcare that is desperately needed by some of the world's most vulnerable populations.

    Sincerely, Richard Blumenthal; Jeanne Shaheen; Kirsten E. Gillibrand; Barbara Boxer; Michael F. Bennet; Claire McCaskill; Mazie K. Hirono; Patty Murray; Edward J. Markey; Patrick J. Leahy; Al Franken; Sherrod Brown; Christopher A. Coons; Brian Schatz; Cory A. Booker; Elizabeth Warren; Maria Cantwell; Charles E. Schumer; Tammy Baldwin; Barbara A. Mikulski; Christopher Murphy; Richard J. Durbin; Ron Wyden; Bernard Sanders; Dianne Feinstein; Debbie Stabenow; Gary C. Peters; Amy Klobuchar.

    ____ U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, December 7, 2015.

    Hon. Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.

    Dear Senator Blumenthal: Thank you for your letter of October 22 to President Obama regarding your concern about access to reproductive health care in conflict settings. We have been asked to respond on the President's behalf.

    The Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development take this issue very seriously. The Helms Amendment has prohibited since 1973 the use of U.S. foreign assistance to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions. We review our policies on an ongoing basis to ensure maximum effectiveness in improving health outcomes, including for those who are highly vulnerable to sexual violence because of conflict or other crises.

    Through our policies and investments, we continue to demonstrate our commitment to rights and protection of women and girls worldwide. We do so by working with the international community, including the UN Population Fund, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other development and humanitarian organizations. We work together to: respond to the challenges of increasing access to reproductive health services in crisis settings; strengthen global coordination to prevent sexual violence; promote justice and accountability; and provide health care, including sexual and reproductive health services.

    The U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security outlines the United States' commitment to the protection and participation of women in a broad range of efforts to resolve conflict and sustain peace. The Department of State and other agencies are reviewing the NAP under the auspices of the National Security Council. This interagency review reflects our commitment to accountable implementation and rigorous learning of best practices. Upon completion of the review later this year, the Department would be pleased to brief you and your staff on relevant findings.

    Your letter provides valuable input on these important issues. We welcome any additional input you or your staff may have, and look forward to continued dialogue.

    Sincerely, Julia Frifield, Assistant Secretary, Legislative Affairs.

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