August 26, 2005
LifeNews.com Note: The Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute is a pro-life organization that actively lobbies on abortion and bioethics issues at the United Nations.
At a recent UN conference held to negotiate a treaty on the rights of the disabled, the concerns of a pro-life NGO leader were openly criticized by the conference chairman, a highly unusual move given the extreme collegiality that typically prevails at such meetings.
The exchange took place during an August 8 meeting of the Sixth Session of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities.
Patrick Buckley, a representative of the London-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, voiced concern over Article 21 in the working draft of the treaty. Article 21 says signatory nations are required to "[p]rovide persons with disabilities with the same range and standard of health and rehabilitation services as provided other citizens, including sexual and reproductive health services."
Buckley feared that the inclusion of "sexual and reproductive health services" in a legally binding treaty could be later interpreted by enforcement committees to mean that abortion is a universal right. Defenders of Article 21 say it is only intended to ensure that nations provide those with disabilities the same rights as the rest of its citizens.
Buckley said to the group of governmental negotiators, "It is crucial to remember that this Convention will be legally binding. Unless we are careful, this document could contribute to the codification of abortion and euthanasia into international law. ‘Reproductive health’, ‘reproductive health care’, ‘reproductive health services’ and ‘reproductive rights’ do not appear in any legally binding UN document. The [preamble to] the Article talks about health and rehabilitation ‘rights’ and ‘services’. This would add a new ‘right’ that could be interpreted to include abortion in a legally binding document regardless of whatever formulation of ‘reproductive health’ is used."
In an unusual rebuke Chairman Don MacKay of New Zealand called Buckley’s concerns invalid because, he said, it was not the intention of the working group to create any new human rights and this had already been codified in a report on the ad hoc committee’s fifth session.
UN observers say that it is unusual for a chairman to be so publicly critical of an NGO’s concerns and that because of the UN’s diplomatic environment chairmen do not usually editorialize on NGO interventions.
The following day the Chairman allowed Buckley to respond to the Chairman’s criticism. Buckley presented the legal opinion of D. Brian Scarnecchia, legal counsel for the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, who argued that just because the authors of Article 21 do not intend to create any new rights does not mean that the document will not be used to do so by those charged with interpreting it. He also said that the intent of the working group does not "necessarily reflect the intent of those who would later ratify this Convention."
Previous agreements by the working group, he said, were "certainly not binding legal authority on a juridical body charged with interpreting this treaty, such as national tribunals, regional tribunals, and international compliance committees and juridical institutions." After Buckley’s second intervention the Chairman rebuked him again.
This exchange demonstrates one of the key sticking points of this hard-law negotiation. UN delegates insist they are not creating any new human rights. Critics fear otherwise.