Posted on | May 14, 2012 by Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. |
Julian Ku over at Opinio Juris posted today on the intertwined relationship between UN human rights bodies and activist US law professors. He picks up on Walter Olson’s piece in the Daily Caller. The cases focus on the abuse of monitoring bodies and special rapporteur positions to promote special rights in the case of indigenous peoples. This is the same relationship Doug Sylva and I investigated in Rights by Stealth. Ku’s comments bear repeating:
I think Olson is on to something here. First, he is undoubtedly right that various UN human rights bodies have become a court of last resort for advocates who have failed in domestic U.S. proceedings. (See, e.g., the NAACP’s failed effort to block voter ID laws). Second, he is also right that U.S. law professors, and indeed other law professors, often have a deeply intertwined relationship with UN Bodies, like the UN Human Rights Commission, that appoint them to various positions. I’m not sure there is anything nefarious about this, but I think he is right that the standards for recognizing particular legal claims are different, and much more generous, in an international forum than in a domestic one. And that the aura of international objectivity that some might accord to a UN probe is largely undeserved.
In other words (and as I have argued elsewhere) the UN is the place activists go when they can’t pass their agenda in domestic venues. Hence, the stealth. But the question Ku raises of whether there is anything “nefarious” may be beside the point. Even if the means are well-intentioned, the result is to undermine the very system of rights these professors purport to promote.
The stealth approach undermines the democratic process, advantages some groups over others that might be just as deserving but are weaker and therefore in need of protection, and, as in the case of abortion, promotes harmful social practices.
That is not to say that much good cannot come from the UN human rights system. At its best it can indeed promote redress and sometimes remedy for wrongs done the weak and disadvantaged which governments would not otherwise accord. But at its worst, the effect of the intertwined relationship which surreptitiously advantages some (and by definition disadvantages others) is what used to be called scandal, that is, something that destroys faith. This because it can erode trust in institutions, in the people behind the institutions, and most importantly in the inherent goodness that conveys human rights in the first place. One can at least be grateful for whatever good continues to emerge from such a system left unreformed. Yet, this gratitude is all the more reason to seek reform.