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2019 Global Citizenship Review
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Global Citizenship
Pro Bono

Absent consent

Lawyers in several of our offices are working on behalf of victimized women and girls

Redefining rape in France

The Istanbul Convention, adopted in 2011, includes a progressive definition of consent regarding sexual violence, including rape, that focuses on how consent must be given: “voluntarily, as the result of the person’s free will.” While France ratified the Convention, under French law it must still be proved that the alleged perpetrator used violence, coercion, threat or surprise to be classified as rape.

Women’s rights organizations Association européenne contre les Violences faites aux Femmes au Travail (AVFT) and La Fondation des Femmes are advocating to change this law. To assist these groups, three associates from our Brussels and London offices, supervised by Brussels partner and Global Pro Bono Practice Leader Jacquelyn MacLennan, analyzed the Istanbul Convention on the issue of consent and how it applies to rape, and how this concept has been implemented in Belgium and Iceland—two countries that have ratified the Convention—in comparison with France. The report includes an analysis of Belgian and Icelandic rape case law, in particular how Belgian and Icelandic courts and magistrates have referred to the Istanbul Convention when interpreting rape law and defining consent. 

 

Does the US Congress have the authority to criminalize female genital mutilation?

On behalf of the AHA Foundation, a nonprofit working to protect women from honor violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, New York partner Gregory Starner and associates Samuel Hershey, Ariel Oseasohn and Mark Franke submitted an amicus brief in support of the case of United States v. Jumana Nagarwala et al. Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was charged in 2017 with performing female genital mutilation (FGM) on nine girls at a Detroit clinic—the first-ever federal prosecution for FGM. Our brief supports the US Congress’s right to criminalize the practice, highlighting that FGM frequently involves interstate trafficking, is inherently commercial and is a form of enslavement that offends core values enshrined in US-ratified treaties.

 

A team of 14 in Hong Kong is assisting four suspected trafficking victims

Our Hong Kong office recently set up a new pro bono committee in response to a growing desire among our people to engage with local programs seeking to make a direct and measurable impact on individuals in the community. Fourteen partners, associates, trainees and business services staff currently sit on the committee, whose mandate is to identify, evaluate and staff opportunities to work on Hong Kong–originated projects, and develop partnerships with local stakeholders.

The committee decided to increase the office’s involvement in combating human trafficking and migrant labor exploitation—long a substantive problem in Hong Kong. Historically, Hong Kong has attracted a significant number of migrant workers seeking employment as foreign domestic helpers; approximately 370,000 such individuals reside in Hong Kong. A sizable number of these individuals—mainly women—risk exposure to forced labor or human trafficking. Often they are liable for the cost of being brought to Hong Kong by an employment agency, including paying or repaying their travel expenses and agency fees. Many of them have fallen victim to unscrupulous lending practices used by the employment agencies or the shadow banking system: In some instances, their wages have been deducted or deliberately withheld to meet payment requirements. Some have been told that they have no rest days in order to repay their loans. Others have had their personal documents confiscated as collateral for their loans or for good behavior. These workers find themselves trapped in abusive domestic situations with no meaningful freedom of movement or outside communication, poor food and housing and other cruel treatment. Tragically, many of these workers have also been discouraged from seeking legal redress for fear of losing employment, or otherwise being subject to prosecution or deportation by the authorities. These situations are usually compounded by the fact that many such workers are not aware of their legal rights and remedies.

Our people were therefore enthusiastic to take on a case involving four female domestic workers from Kenya who are suspected victims of human trafficking. The workers have had their wages and documents withheld, and their right to work in Hong Kong has been potentially threatened; they wish to take action against their employers and their employment agencies. The committee recruited 14 lawyers in our Hong Kong office, split across four teams, to staff the case, with overall supervision provided by partner Simon Collins. The team has also been working closely with local barristers and Christian Action, the referral organization, on the engagement.

Significant legal obstacles lie ahead. However, our lawyers have been supporting and advising the workers through the long and potentially fraught pathway to justice. Our lawyers have accompanied the workers to police interviews, prepared and reviewed witness statements and issued supporting documentation to various government agencies. At the same time, our lawyers are working with the barristers to build and identify a convincing case; the hope is to ultimately persuade the government of Hong Kong to prosecute the offending parties.

Image: // The Mobile Mini Circus for Children has performed and run
workshops for more than 2.7 million children in 25 Afghan provinces
since 2002. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2016
© Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos

 

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