C-Fam Hosts International Students for Edmund Burke Fellowship

By Rebecca Oas, Ph.D. | January 8, 2015

NEW YORK, January 9 (C-Fam) Ten graduate students convened at C-Fam’s headquarters in New York for a weeklong course on international law, the UN, and the state of life and family issues in a global context. Students engaged in lively discussions with diplomats, professors, and other experts to formulate ideas for their own future work.

This year’s Edmund Burke fellows came from the United States, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Peru, and Romania. A Belarusian delegate said she felt at home with such an international group – it was “just like the UN.”

The fellowship was named for British statesman Edmund Burke. Professor Jeremy Rabkin began the conference with a discussion of Burke’s relevance to modern politics, noting that he favored a cautious, case-based approach to the enactment and interpretation of law, as opposed to the radical, sweeping changes that occurred in France during Burke’s life.

Rabkin warned against a concept of human rights that creates a lengthy list of items, anything from freedom of speech to paid vacations, placing them on equal footing and insisting that all are essential. “It’s impractical,” he said, “and we wouldn’t like it if it were practical.”

The creation of “boutique rights” can lead to backsliding on basic rights, warned Joseph Rees. The former U.S. Ambassador to East Timor pointed out the failure to prioritize fundamental rights like the right to life and freedom of religion over economic and social rights can lead to political tradeoffs.

It’s also difficult to address human rights violations without a clear violator. When someone is tortured, you can identify the torturer, Rees said. “But hunger, lack of work – who’s the violator? Who’s the duty bearer?”

Students learned of the latest scheme by legal activists to co-opt humanitarian law to make abortion a right for women raped in wartime. C-Fam’s research director Susan Yoshihara presented her recent work deciphering the shaky legal foundation for this claim, and the lack of a demand for abortion by these victimized women. While the UN and coalitions of governments have taken up the problem of sexual violence in conflict in recent years, the plight of “war babies” has been almost completely ignored by organizations like UNICEF, the UN agency focusing on international children’s welfare.

A former U.S. State Department official spoke candidly about internal challenges to ensure a government is faithful on life and family issues. It depends greatly on the people entrusted with working on them. “Personnel is policy,” he said, and if a person’s individual opinion on an issue is not bolstered by a genuine conviction to act on it, “the urgent crowds out the important.”

Diplomats who are actively working on social issues at the UN met with the fellows. Several hosted the students in their countries’ missions to the UN.

Most of the fellows are studying law, and are united by a passion to use their training to defend human life and the family internationally. Throughout the week, students began individual work on policy briefs on challenging issues, like surrogacy and caring for orphans, which will be expanded into larger research papers. Selected papers will be published as part of C-Fam’s Young Scholars Series.