The Zika Virus and Abortion Laws in Latin America

Recently, global attention has fallen on the Zika virus which has been declared a “global public health emergency” by the World Health Organization. The Zika virus is a disease that is spread mainly through infected mosquito bites, and it is very prevalent in Latin America.

In adults, the Zika virus can cause “fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis,” and it rarely requires infected adults to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, the virus can cause detrimental effects to infants born to women who were pregnant when they were bitten by the infected mosquitos. Specifically, the virus may cause microcephaly in infants (who were in utero when their mother was initially infected). Microcephaly can cause infants’ heads to be much smaller than normal and can cause infants to have underdeveloped brains. In addition, the disease may cause seizure, developmental problems, and visual and hearing problems for these infants.

In light of these dangers, public debate has ignited over several Latin American countries’ abortion laws. For example, there is a complete ban on abortion in Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Chile. In Colombia, the law allows abortions where the mother’s health is at risk and when the “fetus displays signs of severe deformity.” In Brazil, abortion is permitted in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is at risk, and when the fetus has ancephaly.

Unfortunately, all of these countries have reported cases of the Zika virus. As of recent reports, at least 100 El Salvadoran women have tested positive for the Zika virus. In Brazil, at least 3,893 infants were born with microcephaly from October 2015 until the middle of January 2016. In response to the outbreak, the governments of “Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica, and Colombia . . . recommend that women delay their pregnancies.

In addition, the dangers of the Zika virus has cause several Latin American governments, such as Brazil, to consider revising their abortion laws. In other Latin American countries, such as Colombia, women are permitted to get abortions if they have been infected with the Zika virus. However, these exceptions are not well known “in the most affected areas [, where there is less] clarity over these laws.” In these affected areas, “there is [also] a lack of information and access to [such abortion] services.”

Even with the threat of severe deformities caused by the virus, lobbyists exist on both sides of the issue in Latin America. There are many arguments both for and against abortion in the Zika virus context. For example, lobbyists against abortion argue that aborting a fetus (who may have microcephaly) is prejudice against a disabled person. Supporters for more relaxed abortion measures argue that the virus may cause very severe birth defects, and that women will still get abortions—although poorer women (compared to wealthier women) will be more likely to get abortions in life-threatening and unsanitary conditions.

Latin American countries that completely ban abortions (even in Zika virus cases) should consider revising their laws to make the virus an exception to these abortion laws. Further, countries with Zika virus exceptions should publicize the exceptions to areas that are heavily impacted by the virus. If these countries cannot make such exceptions, then those countries’ governments should provide financial assistance for the medical costs associated with caring for the infants who suffer from microcephaly.

Kelci Scirrotto is a 3L and a senior editor of the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law.

Citations to articles & documents are included in the aforementioned underlined hyperlinks.

Displaced and Misplaced: Growing Humanitarian Need for Syrian Refugees

While the hot topic involving Syrian refugees has seemed to fall out of the latest news cycle, it hasn’t changed the rising numbers of refugees knocking on Jordan’s door. The number of refugees at the border is estimated to be about 20,000 with an estimate of 4,000 more arriving in the remote desert area every month. Jordan’s hesitation stems from the fact that many refugees have fled from areas controlled by the Islamic State group and therefore need to go through strict vetting. Pressure has been felt by Jordan from international aid organizations to hurry the process along and to transport the refugees to the UN run Azraq refugee camp which could accommodate thousands of the refugees. Currently, Jordan is only allowing several dozen refugees to enter each day leaving many Syrians stuck along the Syrian-Jordanian border.

The refugee agency chief in Jordan, Andrew Harper, has stated that he is working with Jordan to provide the necessities to those refugees stuck in the desert and is working with local officials to find a way to speed up the vetting process. The agency is also preparing itself for the predicted increase of 5,000 refugees every month at the border.

U.N. agencies are trying to get pledges from countries for Syria’s humanitarian needs. The U.N. agencies are looking for $7.73 billion for Syria’s needs this year. Malala Yousafzai will be attending a conference in London looking to commit $1.4 billion this year in order to get access to education for refugee children. This conference, “Supporting Syria and the Region” aims to raise funds for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. It is estimated that about 700,000 Syrian children living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries are out of school and out of reach of educational resources. At this conference, Malala will appear with Muzoon Almellehan, the only young Syrian refugee to address world leaders at the event.

There is an estimated number of 13.5 million people in Syria in need of humanitarian assistance, 4.6 million are refugees, 6.6 million are displaced within Syria and half are children. Since the Syrian civil war began 320,000 people have been killed (12,000 children), and 1.5 million have been wounded or permanently disabled. Health care, education systems and the economy have collapsed. And worst of all, children have suffered the loss of loved ones, have witnessed violence, and have been recruited to serve as child soldiers. There is a lot of talk on raising funds for humanitarian needs for Syrian refugees. According to the World Vision, the greatest needs are:

  • The basics to sustain their lives: food, clothing, health assistance, shelter, and household/hygiene items
  • Reliable supply of clean water, and sanitation facilities
  • Safe environment for children to play and go to school
  • Employment options for adults
  • Winter essentials: warm clothing, shoes, bedding, heaters, and heating fuel

Overall, as can be seen in various articles concerning this issue that the Syrian civil war has caused calamity. It has bred more violence, collapsed infrastructures, displacement and caused the most vulnerable class of persons- children- to experience loss and violence, and to be recruited as child soldiers. It is clear that a resolution is needed, but for now international organizations, various countries and people like Malala Yousafzai are advocating for those without a voice.


Ginny Nunez is a 3L and a Senior Editor for the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law.

Citations to articles & documents are included in the aforementioned underlined hyperlinks.

Number of Syrian Refugees on Jordan Border Reaches 20,000, ABC News, The Associated Press, Jordan Amman, Jan. 31, 2016 (

Malala Seeks to Raise $1.4 Billion to Educate Syrian Refugees, Business Insider, Estelle Shirbon, Jan. 31, 2016 (

What You Need to Know: Crisis in Syria, Refugees, and the Impact on Children, World Vision, World Vision Staff, Jan 27, 2016 (



The Prosecution of ISIS

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”), Fatou Bensouda, has stated that her office lacks the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”).[1] Although there are an abundance of reports and potential evidence of the terrorist group’s violation of human rights, and a plethora of other crimes, unless further action is taken by the United Nations Security Council, the ICC is most likely never going to be able to open an official investigation into ISIS.

ISIS was officially created in October 2006, as a splinter group of Al Qaeda. Known for its brutal implementation of Sharia Law and their goal to create a caliphate all over the world, ISIS has committed and taken responsibility for a litany of war crimes and terroristic plots including the recent attacks in Paris. ISIS is known for killing dozens of people at a time and carrying out public executions, crucifixion and other acts.[2] These killings are filmed, produced and uploaded to the Internet and distributed through social media for the world to see.

The members of ISIS are unlikely to face prosecution from the countries in which it has taken a stronghold, namely Syria and Iraq. Therefore, there are only two ways for these terrorists to face prosecution: through international tribunals or through capture in a country in which they are wanted.

The issue with the use of international tribunals, namely the ICC, is a lack of jurisdiction. The ICC was established in Rome in 1998 by way of the Rome Statute.[3] It was created in response to the success of the ad-hoc tribunals—the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”). These two tribunals were created by the United Nations Security Council to investigate and prosecute crimes committed in these two specific geographic areas. Their successes prompted outcry for a more permanent court that would hold jurisdiction over many more countries.

The Rome Statute holds that the Court will have jurisdiction over certain prescribed crimes. These crimes include, but are not limited to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.[4] Article 4 of the Statute describes the legal status of the Court and states that the “Court may exercise its functions and powers as provided in this Statute, on the territory of any State Party and, by special agreement, on the territory of any other State.[5] Therefore, to have jurisdiction over ISIS, the countries in which ISIS has operated from—mainly Syria and Iraq—would have to be State Parties to the Rome Statute, which they are currently not. This is what the chief prosecutor explained to the press in his statement. It seems that absent a “special agreement” there is simply nothing that the prosecution can do in regards to ISIS members. The special agreement would need to be adopted by the State Parties to the Rome Statute, but unless there is a real call to action by members of the Security Council, this is unlikely to ever happen.

The ICC is within its power to exercise jurisdiction over captured ISIS members in countries which are parties to the Rome Statute. However, this is unlikely to occur because the Court looks to prosecute those who are in positions of power within organizations and have connections to, or perpetrated the crimes outlined in the Rome Statute. ISIS recruits and those operating in Europe and abroad are usually low-ranking members not worth the resources. Particularly when countries are already prosecuting and using them to gather intelligence.

It is likely that ISIS member and leaders never answer for their crimes in an international court of law unless action is taken by the Security Council to refer the crisis occurring in Syria and Iraq to the ICC and a special agreement is undertaken. However unlikely this is, ISIS will continue to be fought by the international community outside the court system.


Tom Osborne is a 3L and a senior editor of the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law.

[1] Marlise Simons, International Criminal Court Says ISIS is Out of Its Jurisdiction, NY Times (Apr. 8, 2015) available at

[2] ISIS Fast Facts, CNN Library, available at

[3] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, International Criminal Court (Jan. 16, 2002), available at

[4] Id. at 10.

[5] Id. at 2.