UN Bodies and the Natural Law

Posted on | March 16, 2012 by Stefano Gennarini, J.D. |

This week the Human Rights Committee, charged with monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights began its 104th session. It affords us an opportunity to reflect on the working methods of the committee, and how UN Bodies are undermining both the natural law and positive law when they promote so called rights to abortion and LGBT rights.

The Committee’s working methods seem inspired by those of the Spanish Inquisition.

The members of the Committee are “experts” in human rights, and are predominantly academics that have never held a position in government. Their questions to reporting countries reflect a very rigid ideology of what civil and political rights should be, and too often exhibit a lack of understanding, and even willful ignorance, of countries and their cultures.

When the ICCPR, CEDAW, and other treaties were signed almost half a century ago, they set up bodies that monitor the implementation of these respective treatises. Their mandate in the treaties is very limited. The committees ignore their actual mandate to dialogue with States on their practices affecting civil and political rights, and are determined to act ultra vires by imposing their own interpretation of international instruments as authoritative. These interpretations manufacture rights to abortion and LGBT rights. This has been going on for so long that few countries complain about it.

The proceedings of the Human Rights Committee now in session are characterized by pedantry, paternalism, disregard of sovereignty, and outright disrespect to the delegates of UN member states. The states that bear the brunt of this disrespect are smaller states that are struggling to have a functioning government in the first place. Providing the panoply of rights contemplated by the lofty experts on the Committee is simply impossible even for countries with tried and tested political systems.

The Human Right Committee, like other treaty bodies, has had to resort to expansive interpretations of the treaties that created them, in order to speak of the right to abortion and LGBT rights. I would argue the promotion of these so called rights by UN Bodies contradicts not only the natural law, but the positive law on which these bodies depend.

Modern legal systems, and modern understandings of international law, are based on positive law doctrines. UN treaty bodies are creatures of positive law, since their very existence is bound to the text of the treaty whose implementation they are charged with monitoring. In fact, the committees and their experts have told countries that natural law and moral norms be they from cultural, historical and religious institutions and practices are harmful to human rights, on the basis of the text of those treaties.

It is ironic that their interpretations of international treaties are so expansive as to presuppose a higher unwritten law that is not enshrined in the text of the treaties.

For example the notion of the right to abortion stems from an economically expressed reference to the right to health contained in the ICESCR. It would be impossible to fabricate a right to abortion without presupposing a higher norm of gender equality and individual autonomy that requires women to be able to manipulate nature to destroy innocent human life.

Similarly, the ICCPRR contains the notion of the right to privacy and the right to be free from discrimination. Some higher law recognizing a right to unbridled sexual freedom is necessary to encompass special rights on the basis of a person’s sexual preference.

Unfortunately, this higher unwritten law they envisage is certainly not the natural law as defined classically by Aquinas.

For Aquinas the natural law is simply the use of reason rightly ordered. It implies not only the prudent use of the human faculty of reason, but of a right ordering of moral norms that can only exist when reason acknowledges the creator of the universe. For Aquinas, unjust laws result not only when the created order is wrongly understood, but especially when the gaze of reason is turned inwards, away from the creator, and towards the created goods. This is precisely what happens with abortion and LGBT rights. These so called rights are the result of the exaltation of the absolute right to autonomy with regards one’s own person to the point of ignoring innocent life in the womb of a mother, and the failure to recognize the obvious limitations of human nature.

The present session of the Human Rights Committee has seen the Dominican Republic and Turkmenistan respond to requests by the Committee to liberalize their abortion laws and de-criminalize homosexual behavior respectively.

The Dominican Republic told the commission its legislature was working on its abortion laws. This is a white lie. The Dominican Republic is not likely to liberalize its abortion laws anytime soon. It has one of the most stringent abortion laws in the world, and there are no signs this will change. The DR delegates were simply getting the Committee off their back. It is common for small countries that feel overpowered by the dominant ideology to pay lip service to abortion rights even when their own laws outlaw the killing of unborn children.

Turkmenistan, an ex Soviet country, whose government operates through a mixture of Islamic and Communist practices, was appearing before the Committee for the first time. Despite the newness to the process the experts were uncompromising, and drilled the Turkmen delegation. When asked about why it had not de-criminalized homosexuality the delegation simply replied that no international obligation to do so existed.

Well done to both!



Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.


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