27 Apr What is a human right?
What is a human right?
What is a human right? What qualifies something as a universal, fundamental right of all humans? The answer is not as obvious as one would assume. Is it divine declaration? Natural law? Customary law? International consensus? Or is it merely political maneuvering?
The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), a US abortion-rights law firm, recently released a statement that reveals a somewhat startling answer to this question as it creates a fundamental right to government-funded abortion. The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute reports that CRR, “recently released its conclusion that the last decade of legal trends indicate that abortion is not only an international human right, but that government funding is part of that right.“ The key phrase here is legal trends.
CRR argues that legal trends support the position that funding for abortion is a right central to securing several fundamental human rights, such as equality and non-discrimination. In order to support this assertion, CRR cites two national court decisions (one in Ethiopia, one in Colombia), several non-binding UN committee statements and resolutions, and the abortion funding policies in some European and Latin American countries. According to the logic of CRR, a precedent has been set and therefore a right has been created and the U.S. must now follow suit.
If that feels wrong, it should, but that is how modern rights are made. Not by reference to some transcendent truth, not by natural low, not even by consensus. Human rights are created by the incrementalism of legal trends and the bold assertions of organization like CRR.
In order to better understand this process, here is a quick overview of international human rights law.
International Bill of Rights
Nearly all human rights law is grounded in three foundational documents””two international treaties and one UN General Assembly resolution””that comprise the “International Bill of Human Rights.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), established in 1948, is the first of these documents and the granddaddy of all human rights law. It is the first international expression of rights guaranteed to all human beings based on the recognition that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Before this declaration, the dialogue on human rights was minimal and weak at best. It was the sole responsibility of nations to define and defend the rights and freedoms of individuals. UDHR changed this and made human rights an international affair.
It was adopted December 10, 1948 by the UN General Assembly with 48 votes in favor, 0 against, and 8 abstentions. Since that time it has served as the foundation and measure of all human rights law and language.
So that we can fully understand where the dialogue of human rights originated, here is a list of the rights defined in the UDHR. (For those of you more visually inclined, click here for a lovely video from the Human Rights Action Center reviewing these rights.) The list below is long, but read it closely. Do you agree with their assertions of what constitutes a human right?
Article 1 Right to Equality
Article 2 Freedom from Discrimination
Article 3 Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security
Article 4 Freedom from Slavery
Article 5 Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment
Article 6 Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law
Article 7 Right to Equality before the Law
Article 8 Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal
Article 9 Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile
Article 10 Right to Fair Public Hearing
Article 11 Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty
Article 12 Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence
Article 13 Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country
Article 14 Right to Asylum in other Countries from Persecution
Article 15 Right to a Nationality and the Freedom to Change It
Article 16 Right to Marriage and Family
Article 17 Right to Own Property
Article 18 Freedom of Belief and Religion
Article 19 Freedom of Opinion and Information
Article 20 Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Article 21 Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections
Article 22 Right to Social Security
Article 23 Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions
Article 24 Right to Rest and Leisure
Article 25 Right to Adequate Living Standard
Article 26 Right to Education
Article 27 Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of Community
Article 28 Right to a Social Order that Articulates this Document
Article 29 Community Duties Essential to Free and Full Development
Article 30 Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the above Rights
Positive vs. Negative Rights
In 1966, the United National General Assembly expanded the UDHR with two treaties designed to resolve disagreements between UN committee members on the validity of “negative rights,” which generally require inaction and are civil or political, verses “positive rights,” which generally require action and are economic or social.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) defined and defended the negative rights: the rights of security, liberty, procedural fairness, political participation, and equality under the law. This included protection of the freedoms of movement, thought, conscience, religion, speech, association and assembly.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) took up positive rights. It defines and defends the right to work, social security, family life, adequate standard of living, health, education, and participation in cultural life. Both documents were drafted in 1966 and came in force in 1976 after a sufficient number of countries had ratified them.
Together, these three documents create the foundation of nearly all international human rights. Unfortunately, they establish these rights on the grounds of a universal recognition of human dignity and equality, without ever explicitly defining the scope or meaning of these terms. Furthermore, without an appeal to a higher law, authority or power and they are valid only by international consent. This means that as the consensual understanding of dignity and equality changes, so do the rights outlined and defended within these documents.
A recipe for mischief
It is this malleability that allows for the creation of new human rights”” such as the right to government funded abortion “”under the umbrella of the ultimate rights outlined in these documents. For example, CRR argues for the right to abortion within the framework of rights outlined in UDHR: right to life, right to liberty and security of person, right to health, right to privacy, right to equality, and right to not be subjected to torture or inhumane treatment. This and other new rights are eventually officially adopted within the meta-rights of the UDHR through a gradual progression and manipulation of two means: judicial interpretation and international documents.
Everyone is familiar with the role of judicial interpretation within their own countries. Judges essentially control what a law or constitution means in its application to the everyday lives of individuals. Unfortunately, these interpretations are not limited to the local or national sphere. In a world in which international law is gradually superseding national law (a trend many at the UN are ushering along) , the ruling of judges in other nations or international courts is as valid as the ruling of a judge in your own nation. It is under this trend that CRR can argue that the U.S. is violating international law by not recognizing a right that Ethiopia and Colombia recognize.
Three international human rights courts have also been set up to increase this advance of international law and have been actively involved in redefining the scope and nature of human rights law.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is the newest of these courts, established in 2004 to rule on the compliance of African member states to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, established in 1979, rules on human rights cases within the member states of the Organization of American States. This court recently ruled toexpand homosexual rights, ruling that a Chilean court had violated a homosexual woman’s human right to freedom from discrimination by ordering her to return her three children to her estranged husband.
The European Court of Human Rights was established under the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950 and rules on human rights cases in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. This court has been the most actively involved in redefining human rights by creating new rights and overriding others. Just last year, the Court ruled that crucifixes, a sign of Italian history and culture, in public school rooms violated a parents’ right to educate their child according to their convictions and a child’s right to religious freedom. (Ironically, neither of these rights expands to mandatory sex education or the right to wear religious symbols in public, such as a headscarf.)
In a world that is giving increasing credence to international law and precedent, these courts have inordinate power in controlling the definition of human rights. Not only do they guide the development of human rights in their own geographical area, they set legal trends that have force around the world.
International consensus language and documents
The courts are not the only means to redefining human rights. International human rights documents and other consensus documents coming from the UN frequently serve as guides to the interpretation and application of human rights law as they affect specific populations. Such documents include the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1981), and Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990).
Each of these documents is controlled by a committee that continually releases non-binding statements and documents that are also included within the human rights dialogue. These documents work to control accepted standards for understanding human rights and their application. This is why CRR can cite non-binding statements by UN committees to assert that abortion funding is a human right that the U.S. is obliged to accommodate.
As you survey the international landscape, it appears that human rights are not obvious, inalienable, or foundational. They are malleable, negotiable, and constantly-evolving. This evolution iscontrolled by those who control the courts and the language coming out of international documents and committees.
The fabrication of human rights to suit one’s agenda is altering governments and the fabric of society worldwide. An agenda-driven organization attaches its pet issue to the human rights train and it chugs along the track towards acceptance in public perception and eventually is codified in the courts and legal system. It is critical that the world resist the siren call of “human rights.”
It is also critical that well-trained pro-family, pro-life individuals are in attendance and influencing the outcomes of these international documents. United Families International dedicates large portions of its time and budget to fighting these human rights battles and we need your financial support. Please help us help you. We ignore the international creation of “human rights” at our peril.
Please donate now so that UFI can continue to fight to protect a human rights worldwide and keep you informed on the important issues.