The Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been “sullied” by the addition of “supposed” new rights — notably the right to abortion — and United Nations treaty monitoring bodies were at the forefront in causing harm by “ordering” Governments to change their laws, Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute said at Headquarters today.
At a press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the United States, Mr. Ruse described the actions of those entities as an “assault on human rights, national sovereignty and international law”. He was accompanied by panellists Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America; Noelia García Ayuele of the Institute for Family Policy; Beverly Rice of United Families International; Lech Bosek of the Polish Federation of Pro-Life Groups; and Martha de Casco, a Member of Parliament from Honduras. They were in New York to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and present a petition on the rights of the unborn child.
Mr. Ruse said the petition presented today urged States to recall the original words — and understanding — of the Universal Declaration. It was organized around six points: the right to life (article 16); the right of men and women alone to marry and found a family (article 16); the concept of family as the fundamental unit of society (article 16); the entitlement of motherhood and childhood to special care and assistance (article 25); and the prior right of parents to educate their children (article 26).
He went on to say that the petition, launched 60 days ago in response to another drive calling for the recognition of abortion in United Nations documents, had gathered more than 500,000 signatures from 168 countries thus far. Some 300,000 had been added since last Friday and the goal was to have 1 million names by the convening of the next General Assembly session, at which time the petitioners would request that it take action.
Taking the floor next, Ms. De Casco said article 16 of the Declaration established that men and women had a right to marry and found a family, and thus, were entitled to protection by society and the State. As such, it was no surprise that the word family was mentioned six times throughout the Declaration. Family based on marriage was not an “accidental social construction”; marriage and family had their own inalienable rights. When the family was broken, serious individual issues arose which weakened the State as it had to provide for the family one way or another. There was a need to promote family through political, socio-economic and legal measures.
Also speaking about article 16, Ms. Rice said the Declaration’s reference to a family’s entitlement to State protection acknowledged it as the building block of any successful society. It also meant that Member States should support the family through policies that would protect it. United Families International stood with others in asserting that those principles remained valid and relevant, and that they should not be reinterpreted. The group would not be deterred from fighting to defend the Declaration and its original intent.
Ms. García Ayuele highlighted the importance of parents’ right to choose their children’s education, including in matters concerning human sexuality and religion, citing the example of Spain, where ore than 50,000 parents had objected to a proposal to introduce children’s citizenship as a school subject on the grounds that it would affect their moral education.
Speaking about the right to life, Mr. Bosek said the Polish people, Parliament and Supreme Court all recognized that phrases such as “everyone has the right to life” meant the unborn child could not be excluded from the scope of regulation. Article 2 outlined that no one, for any reason — particularly birth — could be excluded from the guarantees set forth in the Declaration, and it was important to bear that language in mind.
He said the Polish Constitutional Court provided the clear position that human life should be protected from conception, as there was no scientific proof that it began any later. Sceptics should refer to articles 1 and 2, which contained guarantees for the protection of inherent human dignity. Indeed, unconsciousness, age and birth were irrelevant to the consideration of being human. Many binding instruments referred to unborn human life, including the European Convention on [Human Rights and] Biomedicine, which protected human dignity before birth. For those reasons, the Declaration could not be reinterpreted.
Speaking about the role of mothers, Ms. Wright said they formed their children’s identities in a way that influenced every other relationship, and denigrating their role created disharmony in various ways. The Universal Declaration recognized the profound role of mothers and the innocence of childhood. Policies that would deny the noble role of motherhood or exploit the innocence of children did so at the peril of the world community. On the sixtieth anniversary, United Nations officials should recommit themselves to the simple truth that motherhood and childhood deserved special care.
To round out the panel, Mr. Ruse spoke on behalf of Carlo Casini, a Member of the European Parliament and President of the Italian pro-life movement, saying that the Universal Declaration’s adoption had been a sign of change that had ended an age of racism and violence. Sixty years on, the Declaration had not been implemented in all its parts anywhere in the world. In several countries, the law distinguished between “more” and “less” worthy lives. The petition presented today was of utmost importance, not only to stop the pressure to substitute human rights with “anti-human” projects, but also to advance ideas for improving the Declaration.
Taking questions, Mr. Ruse said the unborn child indeed had legal status in many legal systems, including that of the United States, where it could be represented in court. The Universal Declaration did not require the child’s protection from abortion, but it would allow for that kind of interpretation. Some “in the system” argued that the Declaration required the right to abortion. For example, the Committee monitoring the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights interpreted the “right to life” clause in that instrument as the right to abortion, which was wrong. Governments should interpret the Universal Declaration, among other documents, as protecting the unborn child from abortion.
Mr. Ruse responded to a question about how many United States citizens had signed the petition, by saying he did not have the data at hand but he would be able to provide it later.
Asked how concerned the panel was about the incoming United States Administration, Ms. Wright responded that she was quite concerned about President-elect Barack Obama’s “disturbing” campaign promises. Concerned Women for America was working to educate people about those promises, and educate Congress about the kind of “devastating effect” they would have on domestic and foreign policy.
Mr. Ruse added that he was concerned about the possibility of the United States ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Mr. Obama and Vice-President-elect [Joe] Biden supported. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had reinterpreted the document to include the right to abortion, and regularly asked Governments to change their laws. For example, Colombia’s High Court had changed its laws on the basis of the Committee’s statements. The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute was concerned that Mr. Obama would appoint judges and justices with a “broad” understanding of the sources they should look into when interpreting the Constitution, including those of the United Nations and European Union.
Ms. De Casco, recounting how she had come under direct pressure from State Department officials at United Nations conferences, said it was a “great worry” that United States policies affected the Organization’s programmes. Her opinions were based on her country’s Constitution, and it was morally correct to hold the same position at the United Nations. Latin Americans were very concerned about the incoming Administration’s views on life and abortion.
In response to a query about the petition, Mr. Ruse said it had been presented to several delegations this week and would be sent to the Secretary-General. Next fall, it would be sent to the General Assembly. However, attempts to reach out to the General Assembly President had been unsuccessful.
Asked about France’s pending submission to the European Union urging the decriminalization of homosexuality, Mr. Ruse said he was following the issue closely. While 40 to 50 nations had signed on, it would not be a negotiated document and would have no force except in terms of public relations.
France had gone beyond decriminalizing homosexuality and was reading sexual orientation into all human rights instruments, which would profoundly affect marriage and adoption, he warned. Hopefully there would be another declaration in the coming days that would make plain that it was for nation States to determine their positions on such “highly controversial” issues. United Nations treaty bodies were monitoring something in which they had no business being involved.
Asked about the position of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on family planning, Mr. Ruse said it was complicit in China’s one-child policy, adding that “UNFPA is very aggressive, very ideological on the issue of abortion”.
Regarding the handling of the black market consequences of outlawing abortion, Ms. Wright said abortion was dangerous, whether legal or not. Powerful changes had occurred in the pro-life movement when women had come forward to admit their regret over having had an abortion. Making it legal only gave it an appearance of legitimacy. Among the worst things for women in developing countries was telling them that they should undergo an invasive procedure that harmed those with even the best medical care. When in crisis pregnancies, women needed to be sure they did not feel as if their only choice was to have an abortion.