The Catholic Thing
United States — Human Rights Abuser? Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 18 May 2012

A few years ago the Obama Administration put the United States before something called the Universal Periodic Review, a U. N. process that looks closely at a government’s adherence to U. N. human rights treaties, even those not ratified by the government under review.

The Administration went on a national grievance tour, meeting with various groups who have what they consider to be human rights complaints against the United States. They included American Indians, Blacks, women, and likely many others, some of whom may have legitimate complaints – but, I dare say, none would rise to the level of international human rights abuses.

There is a case to be made that the United States should never have submitted itself to this review. We have ratified very few of the treaties under review. And the review process has been taken over by largely anonymous ideologues of the far left. George Bush never submitted us to this review. One hopes future conservative presidents never will either. 

Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society had the great idea of getting various conservative groups to meet with the State Department folks hosting the grievance tour. After all, the Administration was only meeting with their tribal constituencies.

Not all conservative groups were happy with the meeting. They believe, and arguably so, that conservatives should not recognize the U. N. human rights regime. Because of issues of national sovereignty and the fact that the United Nations and its attendant busy bodies have become so overreaching and corrupt, we should not encourage them in any way.

Even so, many groups attended. The libertarian Cato Institute was there, Heritage Foundation, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (my outfit) and others.  Fairly quickly, the meeting turned into an American lovefest.

There were congratulations all around that we adhere to the right to vote, the right of assembly, freedom of the press, the right of political self-determination, freedom of religion, and the whole panoply of civil and political rights.

We did not talk about “economic rights” because we have not signed that treaty and, as a country, are generally suspicious of them. They were a stick used by the Soviets because they were so bad in all the other categories.

Things were so chummy and pro-American in the room that you got the feeling even the career State Department people were pleased to be talking to folks who were not running down America, something they no doubt heard at all their other stops along the way.

And then the pro-lifers spoke. Pro-lifers are always the skunk at the human rights garden party. We pointed out that the United States allows 1.2 million abortions of human beings every single year. You could see the good conservatives in the room wince. And you knew they were thinking, “yes, but, we are so good on all these other things that we all agree on!”

Hearing that the United States may be a human rights abuser is hard even for social conservatives dedicated to the pro-life cause. One of the long-time pro-life heroes in America was not able to see this. Keep in mind, this woman has gone to jail for the pro-life cause. She still defended against this accusation, “But these abortions are not carried out by the government.” 

True enough, but what has happened in America is that the government has withdrawn legal protection for a whole class of human beings and protects the “right” of others to kill them. Not only that, the government protects the killers. The government says, “we won’t kill them, but we will legally and even physically protect you while you kill them.”

Because of the sheer number of abortions (50 million in forty years) a question arises. Can the United States be among the worst human rights abusers in the world, among the worst in history? This is hard for American patriots to ponder, even those who are also pro-life.

A very good human rights conference is going on in Norway this week called the Oslo Freedom Forum. There is likely a lot of backslapping about how great we are in the West and how awful the thug states are. No doubt the thug states are awful and we should salute those who fight back.

But should we be so quick to salute ourselves for our human rights heroism when we allow such rampant human rights abuses in our own liberal countries including Norway, the host of the Oslo Freedom Forum? Norway, after all, is one of the most aggressive proponents of an international right to abortion in the world. They are also quite willing to withhold development aid from poor countries that do not bend to their wishes.

Mainstream human rights activists are enormously uncomfortable with the pro-life issue. For them, it seems stinky, smelly, controversial, and divisive. It gets one disinvited. It gets one ostracized. It gets one marginalized.

But isn’t this what defending human rights is all about? The real issue for human rights activists is not that being pro-life is all these nasty things. It’s that many, perhaps most, mainstream human rights defenders are in favor of the human rights abuse that is abortion. And this is a profound scandal.

Looked at with the clearest of eyes – eyes not averted from unpleasant facts – because of abortion, is it possible that the western democracies are worse human rights abusers than the usual human rights targets, worse than Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and all the rest?

Raising this question is not meant to give aid and comfort to human rights abusers in those countries. It is to point a questioning finger at us and at human rights activists who ignore this ugly fact.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (18)Add Comment
written by Mark Millward, May 18, 2012
Austin, you are surely correct in everything you say. Sadly, for those of us who live in the UK and other western states with nationalised health services, our Governments are doing the killing! Personal convenience is the most powerful god known to too much of mankind and too many bow down before it with closed hearts and minds. The stark contradiction of a wanted baby compared with an unwanted, aborted baby should surely be sufficient for most to see reason? But no, there are no depths to which humanity will not stoop when it is blind to original sin!
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written by Mark, May 18, 2012
From Canada I can say our government(and thus each and every taxpayer) is paying for the abortions.

Looking at history it is easy to see that every country that sacrificed their children got wiped out eventually. Even when Israel started to sacrifice their children they got wiped out. How can we expect anything different?
written by Manfred, May 18, 2012
Thank you for a fine piece, Mr. Ruse. For over a century and a half, Catholic groups (The Paulists were among the first) claimed that America possessed "exceptionalism" which led to: being an American was more important than being Catholic. Now America is proving beyond any doubt that it is not exceptional, and that being Catholic puts one in opposition to its government. JFK claimed to have written: Profiles in Courage. Does anyone think that book could be written now? What role models in the ecclesial, political or corporate realms could anyone suggest we emulate? Venality reigns supreme.
written by Dan Deeny, May 18, 2012
Very well done. Keep it up. Stay on this road. Don't give up.
written by Other Joe, May 18, 2012
Mr. Ellis seems to confuse his categories in a fallen world. He imagines that what is needed is an elite of non-sinners to throw the first stone and govern the rest of us. Short of the Second Coming, we must make do with imperfect (read sinful) individuals in every walk of life. Politicizing morality always brings widespread unhappiness as the historical record clearly shows. Mother Teresa ministered to the poor, the homeless and the friendless; she did not make them rich - a fact with important implications that seem beyond the imagination of those who keep their focus in the material world. What is needed is for the population at large to follow ten easy commandments, but we are all so fallen that we cannot. Thus we have wars and murder and jails and robbery and...
written by Chris in Maryland, May 18, 2012
This enormity of this issue has gigantic implications for the US. As a retired military officer - I have been pondering for some years whether the USA, regressing morally under the 'progressive' undertow, is drifting toward the point where a God-fearing man may one day judge that his country is not worthy of laying down one's life. This is a cause for grave concern of American families of God-fearing Catholics, Christians and Jews, and for the citizenry as a whole. The largest portion of officers in the U.S. military since WWII have been Catholic men. Among other things, Catholic and Christian officers have up until now provided a moral bulwark to help keep the U.S. military under moral control. It is already becoming clear that influential factions of the 'governing class' are determined to move the military to the point of saying that a man or woman who professes orthodox Christian morality may be disqualified from serving his country. Then we will have one or two things: an army of 'nationalists' such as the one built by Germany in the 20th century, or something like the Dutch Army, i.e., effectively - defenseless - in a very brutal world.
written by Naomi, May 18, 2012
TCT should be expanded somehow to other widely-read blogspots, websites,etc. Essays like this by Mr. Ruse and so many others must be shared with a larger reading public. Maybe a little sidebar advertising on, let's say, The American Spectator, Real Clear Politics,, National Catholic Register, EWTN, the Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, Touchstone, Salvi, etc. This is the time to do it...the Holy Spirit is waiting in the wings.
written by Brad Miner, May 18, 2012
Dear Naomi: An excellent point, and if TCT had unlimited funds, we'd probably advertise on the Super Bowl and not be wasting a dime! But we're getting out the word, slowly but surely. Thanks for your support. -ABM
written by Jacob, May 18, 2012
I always feel like I just got punched in the stomach when I'm confronted with this much truth all at once!
written by Achilles, May 18, 2012
You are an advocate for the Brave New World, Scotty, and you don't seem to know it.

Certainly we have terrible faults, but to subject ourselves to the order of death for correction? You are off the rails Scotty, but I am sure there are plenty of "theologians" who would be very happy with your tortured take on things.
written by Sue, May 18, 2012
There is no excuse for the US to permit abortion, and I hope the author supports abolition of abortion, rather than the weak-kneed incrementalism that we've seen the past few decades.

That being said, the UN was built on a lie (remember Alger Hiss?), and has propped up communist dictatorships dealing many times higher abortion rates than the US. This is not an accident - it follows from the atheist, materialist view of man as a material, rather than spiritual unit. Even though Stalin did make abortion illegal for a time, it was only in the service of the country's demographics, not for any compunction about the children's lives.

The difference between the communist countries and the US is that we have the Declaration of Independence - that declares all men to be created equal - and even acknowledges God to be "the Supreme Judge", at that. That is what does make us exceptional.

The problem is that the Constitution did not do a good job of securing those inalienable rights - especially with regard to the 3/5 person slavery wimpout. That is our country's original sin. Was it redeemed by the blood of 500,000 men in the Civil War? Maybe we all thought so, but then Roe v. Wade decision cast us once more into the pit of sin. What will it take to extricate ourselves this time?

As for the Islamic countries you name - I believe they proceed from an assumption of Sharia law, a structure that proves equally noxious and totalitarian as Communism. In fact, there has been a fair amount of collaboration between Islamists and Communists, so I don't think those countries are good standards to compare to.

Rather than comparing ourselves to other countries, maybe we should compare ourselves to the ideal held up by the Declaration of Independence - and make sure we live up to it.
written by Scotty Ellis, May 18, 2012
Other Joe:

"Mr. Ellis seems to confuse his categories in a fallen world. He imagines that what is needed is an elite of non-sinners to throw the first stone and govern the rest of us."

I'm confused how you came to this conclusion. I would like a consistent and well-thought ethic, and I am simply pointing out that there is something wrong with approving of something like torture while condemning abortion.

"Politicizing morality always brings widespread unhappiness as the historical record clearly shows."

How on earth can you have law without a coherent morality?


"You are an advocate for the Brave New World, Scotty, and you don't seem to know it."

I do think that wanting to outlaw torture and the death penalty and for the government to mitigate the effects of poverty to the best of its ability is a far cry from Huxley's dystopian future. There are more subtle shades of thought and philosophy that exist between the party lines - wherever an interest in honesty and truth supersedes group-thought and our loyalty to our social labels. I do hope in the future you will judge me more upon what I say than these warrant-less accusations.

"Certainly we have terrible faults, but to subject ourselves to the order of death for correction?"

I don't understand. If we have faults, wouldn't it be nice to have someone else point them out to us? Or, rather, isn't this a case where we KNOW the faults, but have, as a nation, stood by and done relatively nothing? If the U.N. is lying, if the U.S. has not committed atrocities and violated human rights, I could understand the article's outrage. But since we HAVE committed these crimes, why should we be upset that an international organization is investigating them? Or are you denying that we have violated human rights?
written by Other Joe, May 19, 2012
Dear Mr. Ellis. Jesus has provided with you with a consistent and well thought ethic. I recommend his words to you. You will find nothing there about approving of torture, liking war, and an interesting take on stoning. One cannot be a Christian and be for torture. One may, alas, be a sinner and be similar to the straw man you describe and be for death in all of its forms. One may proclaim oneself a Christian, and even visit a Catholic website to spread mischief.
written by Scotty Ellis, May 19, 2012
Other Joe:

"Jesus has provided with you with a consistent and well thought ethic."

There are numerous problems with this approach, not the least being the multiplicity of interpretations inside and outside the Scriptures of Jesus' ethic. One way of looking at today's polarized debates is as a continued argument over the correct interpretation of the importance and meaning of Christ (it is to be noted that much of today's moral debates are not commented upon by Christ, and so we are left with various extrapolations and interpretations).

"You will find nothing there about approving of torture, liking war, and an interesting take on stoning."

I agree, of course! But, unfortunately, no U.S. party seems interested in reflecting this broad ethic: on on hand, there is a party interested in stopping abortion and euthanasia, but less interested in stopping torture, war, and capital punishment; on the other, a party interested in the latter, but not the former.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of Christians who support torture and the death penalty (observe the majority of Christian history for details).
written by Achilles, May 19, 2012
Scotty, if we use your set of categories, it is clear that you are committing a human rights violation by torturing logic here on a website whose patrons and participants are seekers and respecters of Truth, the kind you discover, not the kind you invent. I for one feel tortured every time you put forward your subjective sentimental views masquerading as "philosophy" if only because you mentioned here that you are teaching RCIA and perhaps contributing to warping the minds of future Catholics. What if the RCIA participants are unable to see how incredibly horrific are your assumptions? May God have mercy on us all.

Finally, Scotty, asking the UN human rights council to give us advice on morality is like my wife and I asking for parenting advice from an incestuous pedophile.

Dear Other Joe, I don’t know why I write anything at all to Scotty, you are so much more charitable and intelligent in your responses. Keep up the good fight brother. Achilles
written by Austin Ruse, May 19, 2012
And, of course, the Church allows for the death penalty.
written by Other Joe, May 20, 2012
Yes, the death penalty is only a terror for those who have no belief in the transcendental. One of the many, many ironies of the materialist way of thought is that life deemed not worth living should be taken with no trial, no defense, no appeal and no testimony. It hardly matters whether the victim is old and tired or has a genetic difference in the womb. Yet a Charles Manson (or insert your favorite villain) must be preserved because...because that is a life worth living? That is quality of life? How much better to receive the last rights, make a good confession and have a "death with dignity". The good thief went straight to paradise. On the other hand, if one does not believe in paradise there is a bit of a problem. One might even use the word "atrocity", but it would still be a gross overstatement.

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