Strategic Litigation Quarterly Newsletter: Pursuing gender justice through international law

Here at the Strategic Litigation Project, our team aims to inject fresh thinking into how governments and practitioners can use legal tools to advance human rights and accountability.

To that end, in recent months the SLP team has continued and built upon efforts to codify the crime of gender apartheid in international law, including by advocating for its inclusion in the United Nations Sixth Committee’s draft crimes against humanity treaty. In partnership with Afghan and Iranian women’s rights defenders and the Global Justice Center, we issued a joint letter and legal brief on the issue, in addition to publishing an explainer in the Atlantic Council’s New Atlanticist and highlighting the campaign in our recent report about existing international pathways toward accountability.

We greatly appreciate your support as we’ve continued to grow our team, scope of work, and ability to effectively seize upon new opportunities. If you wish to support our work further, we hope you will follow our newly-launched X (formerly known as Twitter) and Instagram accounts under the handle @SLPJustice, or donate directly to help fund our projects.

As always, we are dedicated to responding to the evolving needs of human rights defenders, practitioners, and affected communities. If you have ideas for additional lines of work or thoughts on our initiatives, we welcome your feedback.

Kind regards,

International Courts Report

In October, the SLP published its latest report, which aims to provide an overview of and recommendations relating to international options that can be used to pursue accountability for human rights violations committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).


Oct 5, 2023

International avenues to hold the Islamic Republic of Iran accountable for human rights violations

By Lisandra Novo, Celeste Kmiotek, Elise Baker, Gissou Nia

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s discriminatory domestic legal framework and brutal suppression of dissent have left Iranians looking for international responses to their plight. This report aims to provide an overview of and recommendations relating to international avenues for accountability for atrocity crimes and human-rights violations committed in Iran.

Human Rights International Norms

The different avenues covered in the report were selected by considering the treaties that have been ratified by Iran, international courts that do or could have jurisdiction over the IRI or relating to violations that take place in Iran, different mechanisms available in which the IRI participates under the United Nations and other international organizations, and mechanisms designed specifically to address issues in Iran. The report ends by looking to the future and highlighting current developments in international law that, if successful, could provide new avenues for accountability.

End gender apartheid campaign

In October, the United Nations (UN) Sixth Committee met to debate its draft treaty on crimes against humanity. Ahead of the meeting, the SLP, in partnership with the Global Justice Center, issued a joint letter and legal brief urging the international community to codify the crime of gender apartheid in the crimes against humanity treaty.

The letter and legal brief were endorsed by dozens of prominent jurists, scholars, and civil society representatives, including Afghan women’s rights defender Shaharzad Akbar and Nobel laureates Shirin EbadiMalala YousafzaiNadia Murad, and (this year’s honoreeNarges Mohammadi. Also included among the endorsements: South African jurists Justice Richard Goldstone and Navi Pillay, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Irish President Mary Robinson, former International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou BensoudaBaroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws KC, renowned global feminist Gloria Steinem, and more.

On December 5, our co-signatory Malala Yousafzai delivered the twenty-first annual Nelson Mandela lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa. In her speech, she called on governments “in every country” to “stand with Afghan girls and women” and codify the crime of gender apartheid in the UN crimes against humanity treaty.

Want to learn more about gender apartheid?

SLP Director Gissou Nia published a Q&A with the Atlantic Council’s New Atlanticist to explain the letter and brief, how they define gender apartheid, why it should be enshrined as a crime under international law, and how it would be prosecuted.

New Atlanticist

Oct 5, 2023

Gender apartheid is a horror. Now the United Nations can make it a crime against humanity. 

By Gissou Nia

The international community has an opportunity to codify the crime of gender apartheid in the United Nations’ crimes against humanity treaty. Learn more about gender apartheid from the Atlantic Council’s Gissou Nia.

Afghanistan Education

More recently, Gissou—along with SLP Deputy Director Nushin Sarkarati, Senior Legal and Policy Advisor Alyssa Yamamoto, and incoming team members Sareta Ashraph and Akila Radhakrishnanwrote for Just Security about the campaign, parallels between South Africa and Afghanistan, and how apartheid differs from other international crimes.

Featured event

In September, SLP Nonresident Senior Fellow Rayhan Asat hosted an event on the margins of the UN General Assembly. The panel, “From holding the line to a robust international response to the atrocities against the Uyghurs,” aimed to reflect upon and examine international action after the UN’s Uyghur report, which was released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights last year.

The event featured remarks by US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack, the European External Action Service’s Managing Director for Multilateral Affairs Belén Martinez Carbonell, and Division Head for the German Federal Foreign Office’s Directorate for Asia and the Pacific Peter Loeffelhardt. The panel was moderated by the Economist’s Gady Epstein and featured Rayhan, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard, and former Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson.

Prior to the event, the Chinese mission to the UN distributed a letter to other missions urging their staff to not attend. The letter and the event’s impressive turnout prompted coverage in the New York TimesBloombergRadio Free Asia, and the National Review.

Legal interventions

In November, SLP Nonresident Senior Fellow Nizar El Fakih submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in case 12.919, García Romero y otros v. Ecuador. This amicus aims to persuade the court to advance a more protective interpretation of the admissibility requirement to exhaust domestic remedies in general. If adopted, it may help advance a criterion that could hopefully greatly benefit the region by allowing victims to effectively seek international protection without an overly formalistic approach to the exhaustion requirement.

The court has developed different interpretations of the said admissibility requirement, and although some significant progress was made in the past, the issue remains disputed. For example, in this case, even when more than eighteen years have passed since the death of the victim, the State of Ecuador insists upon requiring the court to deny the admission of the case, arguing the alleged lack of exhaustion of the domestic remedies by the victim’s loved ones.

In the brief, Nizar argues that the exhaustion of civil claims, constitutional protection actions, and requests of recusal are not needed to fulfill the said admissibility requirement. He also argues that in cases of a criminal nature involving public action crimes, the exhaustion requirement should not be considered without balancing it with the fact that public action crimes require the state, and not the victim, to ex officio develop the internal domestic proceedings.

Read the full brief and a summary of the case here.

Growing our team

We are thrilled to bring on Sareta Ashraph as a senior legal advisor. She is a barrister specializing in international criminal law with expertise in gender-competent and intersectional analyses of the commission and impact of international crimes. Ashraph served as the director of investigations for the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) and as chief legal analyst for the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the Commission of Inquiry on Libya. 

In November, we welcomed Bahar Ghandehari as a junior policy fellow. Ghandehari is an Iranian human rights defender focused on international law, human rights, and Middle East policy. She is the founder of Middle East Matters, which focuses on media journalism and digital human rights campaigns. She is also the advocacy officer at the Syrian Emergency Task Force, where she works on policy, advocacy, and accountability efforts concerning human rights issues and atrocities in Syria. 

Akila Radhakrishnan is the SLP’s new strategic legal advisor for gender justice and the outgoing president of the Global Justice Center, where she leads its work on gender equality and human rights. Radhakrishnan has led work on abortion access in conflict, gender in genocide and crimes against humanity, and accountability for reproductive violence. She has briefed the UN Security Council, presented at the International Criminal Court, and regularly advises governments and multilateral institutions.

Featured publications


Oct 18, 2023

Humanitarian aid cannot be weaponized. Gazans are depending on it.

By Lisandra Novo

Despite urgent appeals for aid and multiple deliveries to Egypt, no outside aid appears to have made it into Gaza.

Civil Society Conflict


Sep 21, 2023

The House passed the MAHSA Act. Now what?

By Celeste Kmiotek, Lisandra Novo, Gissou Nia

The MAHSA Act—which focuses on targeted sanctions—will have to be approved by the Senate and signed by the president to become law.

Human Rights Iran


Oct 16, 2023

Hamas’s actions are war crimes. Israel should not respond with further war crimes.

By Elise Baker

There are clear indications that both Hamas and the IDF have violated international humanitarian law, and some of their attacks constitute grave violations.

Human Rights Israel

New Atlanticist

Nov 30, 2023

Putin has been accused of starving civilians as a warfare tactic. Will the ICC agree?

By Alana Mitias, Celeste Kmiotek

New evidence about Russia’s actions in Ukraine offers the ICC an opportunity to prosecute starvation as a war crime or crime against humanity affecting Ukrainians and other global victims.

Conflict Human Rights


Oct 31, 2023

Israel claims it is no longer occupying the Gaza Strip. What does international law say?

By Celeste Kmiotek

The laws of occupation codify a basic principle of humanity: those with effective control over a population have obligations to protect it.

Israel Middle East

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Image: Afghan women hold banners and placards during a rally to protest against what the protesters say is Taliban restrictions on women, in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 28, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Khara