Nations Speak Out for Life and the Family in UN Human Rights Mechanism
WASHINGTON, DC, December 8 (C-Fam) For decades, powerful bureaucrats and wealthy donor countries have used the UN human rights system to push a controversial abortion and “sexual rights” agenda on traditional countries. Those countries are fighting back, using a relatively new UN human rights mechanism to encourage like-minded countries to resist.
In November, Kenya urged two other African nations to hold fast to their pro-life laws during a session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Kenya recommended that Benin “resist calls to further liberalize abortion, and instead implement laws aimed at protecting the right to life of the unborn and recognize that life starts at conception.” In a similar recommendation, Kenya added a request that Zambia should “affirm that there is no international right to abortion.”
The UPR is a human rights mechanism in which each of the 193 UN member states is evaluated on its human rights record and offered recommendations by other countries. Now in its third cycle, the UPR has seen more than 50,000 recommendations pass between countries, where the nation under review has the opportunity to “accept” or “note” each recommendation. A relatively small but outspoken group of countries has recommended that countries liberalize their abortion laws or include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as a class of non-discrimination.
As a UN observer state, the Holy See does not receive recommendations from member states as part of the UPR, but can issue recommendations to others. In the first two UPR cycles, the Holy See urged several countries to protect life from conception, and to defend the natural family and marriage between one man and one woman.
Egypt has been an outspoken in defense of family rights within the UPR, issuing several recommendations urging countries to defend the family as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society”—language from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the foundational UN documents. Bangladesh, Russia, Belarus, and Uzbekistan have also given similar recommendations.
While recommendations in the UPR are not binding, the UPR system wields more credibility than other UN human rights platforms because it is designed for nations to speak directly to other sovereign nations. Because of this, the UPR provides a broad picture of the state of human rights as understood by the world’s governments—including areas that are hotly contested—as well as areas where consensus is universal or nearly so.
Expert committees that monitor compliance with human rights treaties have drawn criticism for promoting an interpretation of human rights that is supported by only a minority of UN members. The oldest of these treaty bodies, the Human Rights Committee, which monitors the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reviewed 19 countries in 2017. The committee pressured 12 of them to liberalize abortion and all of them on sexual orientation and gender identity, though neither of the issues is mentioned in the treaty.
By contrast, the protection of human life and the family are explicitly enumerated in UN human rights treaties and therefore have strong legal support. Despite this, the UDHR definition of the family has become controversial in recent years as expert bodies take an increasingly activist stance against the consensus of member states. Interventions like those of Kenya and Egypt within the UPR appear to be a reassertion of that consensus by national governments.