What Went Wrong with the Human Rights System?

By | August 15, 2019

The recent formation of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights is a positive sign in the United States. It shows that there is an increasing awareness that the UN human rights system has gone badly awry. Indeed, something has gone awfully wrong in international human rights discourse.

The Human Rights Committee, the oldest and most respected of the UN human rights treaty bodies, published a legal commentary this year that says women have a right to obtain an abortion based on the right to life in international law. The UN special rapporteur on the sale of children published a report last year that says commercial surrogacy can be done in ways that does not constitute the sale of children. UN officials routinely say that international law does not define the family and that every country can define the family for themselves. These are just a few of the recent distortions of the understanding of human rights within multilateral institutions.

How did we get to this point and what can governments do to reform the human rights system? This Definitions paper is intended to give a brief analytical introduction and overview of the UN human rights system and how it functions to answer that question.