Commentary: The End of Human Rights?

By Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. | February 28, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 1 (C-Fam) While massive atrocities have experts lamenting a general retreat from human rights, abortion groups say they are making progress using the field to further their agenda.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he always had “bitter regret and sorrow” over the UN’s standing by during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Michael Ignatieff identified a coming “splintering” of the 1948 global consensus on human rights. Human Rights Watch president Kenneth Roth sees a reversal in rights already achieved. Roth blamed populism in China, Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and Venezuela. David Rieff said populism “shattered the human rights movement’s narrative that progress is inevitable.”

Yet listen to the conversation around social rights and one hears not of human rights demise but of springtime.

In a statement to the UN Economic and Social Council, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) indicated it has made extraordinary progress promoting abortion by using human rights law in the last twenty years.

The group does not claim to advance human rights per se. The group says it is “using international human rights law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right.” The scope of their abortion-as-human-right work around the globe was revealed in the statement the group just submitted, which was part of its quadrennial review to maintain UN accreditation. Nowhere in the report does CRR mention abortion, except by euphemism.

The group says it helped the Human Rights Committee identify a right to abortion as inherent in the “right to life,” convinced the Special Rapporteur for the Right to Health to focus on adolescent’s “right to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services,” and led the Human Rights Council to focus on abortion as maternal health care, and much more.

Seventy years ago, atrocities united world leaders to compose high-minded norms in the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and to create bureaucracies to support and enforce them.

Reluctance among powerful countries, and suspicion among small countries has stymied a human rights initiative called the Responsibility to Protect from the year 2000. Political rather than legal considerations have undercut the International Criminal Court.

But the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with its vast array of committees and special mandate holders, has found new purpose championing social issues never imagined by the 1948 framers. The office immensely expanded its reach by rebranding “humanitarianism” and development into a “rights-based” approach that relies on groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights to feed the beast.

CRR is in such demand that it opened a new office in Geneva in 2013. CRR now works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to advise the UN on several human rights resolutions, it says.

Today’s human rights framework is a lopsided creature. Regard for recognized rights like life, liberty, security of person, and freedom of belief shrivels, while enthusiasm swells for boutique rights related to sex, climate change and other social agenda.

Human Rights Watch highlighted the contradiction in its oral statement to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women this week. After a stunning condemnation of the Myanmar government with testimony from women gang raped by government soldiers, Human Rights Watch suggested the committee monitor the situation, and support survivors. Then said the women’s committee must insist the murderous regime provide full access to quality sexual and reproductive health care in its “path to justice.” No doubt the committee will comply.