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United States — Human Rights Abuser?

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

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (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.