UN Human Rights Experts Mess with Texas Pro-Life Law

By | September 9, 2021

UN human rights experts Reem Alsalem and Melissa Upreti

WASHINGTON, D.C. September 10 (C-Fam) Two UN human rights experts have inserted themselves into the debate around the recently-enacted law in Texas that prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

They claimed in the British newspaper The Guardian that Texas, and the U.S. Supreme Court which refused to block the law, have violated international human rights law, despite the fact that no international human right to abortion exists.

Melissa Upreti, a Nepalese human rights lawyer and chairman of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, said the law “has not only taken Texas backward, but in the eyes of the international community, it has taken the entire country backward.”

The UN’s independent monitor on violence against women, Reem Alsalem, accused the Supreme Court of choosing to “trample on the protection of women’s reproductive rights.”

Both Upreti and Alsalem are independent experts in the UN’s human rights division working with support from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  Their opinions carry no legal weight, but as UN human rights experts, they are influential, and the reports of “mandate holders” are frequently cited throughout UN agencies.

For decades special mandate holders and experts in the UN human rights system, especially the bodies that monitor compliance with human rights treaties, have urged countries to liberalize their abortion laws.  These recommendations, also nonbinding, are also commonly quoted in publications by other UN entities, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund.

This is not the first time UN experts have expressed their opinions about abortion laws in the U.S.  A spokeswoman for the OHCHR voiced concern about state-level abortion restrictions in the U.S., and a group of experts issued a statement condemning some U.S. states for designating abortion as “nonessential” during the early COVID-19 pandemic.

Upreti herself testified before the New York City Council Committee on Women in 2018 in favor of the state’s “Reproductive Health Act,” which decriminalized abortion, removed restrictions, and expanded abortion rights.

“In the last few years, a number of human rights mechanisms have moved to requiring decriminalization including as an immediate obligation,” Upreti testified.  “There is no doubt that women’s access to safe abortion is critical to their ability to realize many other fundamental human rights.”

While the opinion of experts like Upreti and Alsalem may be sought by newspapers like The Guardian or their testimonies solicited by local or national governments with regard to specific legislation, they have no power to impose obligations on any level of government. No binding international human rights treaty—either ratified or unratified by the U.S.—creates any right to abortion, and nor does any nonbinding global consensus.

A recent report from the European Centre for Law and Justice revealed the close links between many UN human rights experts and pro-abortion groups and their powerful funders.  Upreti had previously worked for the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights, and has links to OpenDemocracy which is similarly hostile to pro-life groups.

Nevertheless, there is little accountability for the independent experts working under the auspices of the UN human rights system, and their pronouncements and recommendations continue to embolden the UN’s agencies to join them in exceeding their mandates.