Rights By Stealth: The Role of UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies in the Campaign for an International Right to Abortion

By Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. and Douglas A. Sylva, Ph.D. | July 18, 2007

In the mid-1990s, a group of UN officials and nongovernmental organizations gathered to formulate a strategy to promote a controversial international social policy agenda by reinterpreting existing human rights treaties to give them new meanings. At the heart of this strategy was a four step process to use the six UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies and an interlocking network of UN agencies, UN officials, and NGOs to create an international right to abortion. In the decade that followed, UN member nations have allowed the strategy to develop to an extensive degree, despite the fact that it undermines their own laws. This study examines the reasons why the process has been able to advance, and analyzes the way the strategy has undermined the treaty monitoring system and challenged the credibility of the international human rights regime.

Co-author Douglas Sylva received his Ph.D. in political theory from Columbia University. Co-author Susan Yoshihara received her Ph.D. in international relations from the Fletcher School at Tufts University and is president of the International Organizations Research Group (IORG) at Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM).

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