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Human Rights Education

I received a copy of Textbook on International Human Rights, 5th Edition, by Rhona K. M. Smith. Before reading the book through I thought I would just check to see what it had to say about human rights for those in the womb. According to the index, abortion is only mentioned on two pages in the chapter on The Right to Life. Seems like the appropriate place, right? Even if it seems strange that a book on the subject of human rights would only have two pages that mention the biggest human rights problem on earth. (Hint. Hint.)

Turning to those two pages I expected to see a discussion of the right to life for all human beings, in particular, those human beings for whom it is most being currently denied. What did I find?

"With respect to the inception of the right to life, this is generally taken as being the time of birth. Attempts to extend it to the unborn child have not proven successful….The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights makes an oblique reference to the right of the unborn child insofar as Art 6(5) provides the sentence of death shall not be carried out on pregnant women….Only the American Convention explicitly provides for the right to life 'in general from the moment of conception' (Art 4). This may perhaps be viewed as an inevitable result for an instrument drafted and adopted by a regional organization, the majority of whose member States adhere primarily to the teachings of the Church of Rome."

The section goes on to give examples of the European Commission on Human Rights denying that the right to life applies to those in the womb, which is, unfortunately, true.

That's it! The rest of the chapter goes on the talk about the death penalty (which applies to a miniscule fraction of a percent of the people that are killed by abortion), deaths cause by security forces and genocide.

I was left shocked and horrified! An author considered an expert enough to write a textbook on human rights, and she completely avoids the most horrific human rights abuse on earth, except to implicitly deny or support it! No, the inception of the right to life is not "generally" taken to be the time of birth! Perhaps it is "generally" taken that way by the people she listens to or associates with, but, fortunately, there are a very significant number of people who recognize that human rights belong to all human beings at all stages of life. After all, the definition of human rights is rights that belong to all human being simply be virtue of the fact that they are human beings – no other qualification required! Why does she even talk about an "inception" of the right to life? They are not "incepted" – everyone has them. They can be denied, but the whole theory of human rights is that every human being has them, even if they are violated. By implying that rights need to be incepted she is subtly implying that human rights don't necessarily apply to everyone. Of course, she won't say this directly; she just expects that you won't challenge the unstated assumption behind her statements. Of course, she hopes you won't notice!

Perhaps the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does only make an "oblique" reference to the rights of the preborn child in Article 6(5), as she says, but what about Article 6(1). It states very simply and straightforwardly that "Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life". It doesn't make any exceptions for age, stage of development, of state of dependence. It says "every" human being. What is "oblique" about that?

And does "Only the American Convention [on Human Rights] explicitly provides for the right to life"? What about the Covenant on the Rights of the Child, which states quite clearly, "Because of his physical and mental immaturity, the child needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth." That seems "explicit" enough to me! Are we providing safeguards and care if we kill it? She just "forgot" to mention that one, I guess.

And finally, the statement about unborn children in the American Convention "could" be taken as an inevitable result of decisions by those that "adhere primarily to the teachings of the Church of Rome". Yes, it "could" be. It "could" also be taken as a result of decisions by those who think that killing little children is a horrible abuse of human rights. She chose not to point out that possibility!

Is Ms. Smith an idiot? Is she ignorant? Does she not know what she is talking about? No, I'm sure that is not the case. She wouldn't have gotten to where she is if she were. I suspect she is a very highly intelligent, informed and knowledgeable person and educator. So why this huge oversight or misrepresentation of reality?

Obviously Ms. Smith is pro-abortion ("pro-choice", I am sure she would rather say), and her prejudice regarding abortion is stronger than her desire to shine the truth about what is happening. She believes that people should be allowed to abort their children (apparently right up until the day of birth). She wants that "right", no matter how violent or in violation of any concept of human rights it is, and she is not going to let human rights get in the way. Indeed, she will distort the whole concept of human rights, saying that they just don't apply to people prior to a certain stage of their lives, in order to support her own interests and desires.

If Ms. Smith truly cared about human rights there would have been a discussion of the fact that we are killing thousands of preborn children every day, including right here in the U.S. and other "advanced" or "developed" countries. (And given the scope of the problem, far greater than any other human rights issue on earth, she would have devoted far more than two pages to it.) If she wished to provide a human rights-based argument in favor of why that practice should continue, she could attempt to do so, but only after providing us with the facts of what is happening. This means she would need to point out that, in spite of international conventions to the contrary, such as the Covenant on the Rights of the Child, we are every day dismembering human bodies by ripping off legs and arms, crushing skulls, suctioning out brains, stopping beating hearts, poisoning and burning to death, or otherwise brutally killing little human beings in their early stages of development. She would provide medical and scientific information about those being killed, so that we could see their humanity. She would include pictures of developing children at all the different stages at which they are being aborted, including pictures of those that have been aborted. This would provide us with the actual facts we need to understand the reality of the situation. Then we would be able to make a clear judgment of what is going on and judge how human rights apply to the situation based on the facts of what is actually happening.

Unfortunately, this is not the way it is. Instead, what passes for "education" is a hollow cover-up of the facts of what is happening. This is not education. It is propaganda.


Similar to Ms. Smith's textbook, the textbook, International Human Rights Law by Daniel Moeckli, Sangeeta Shah, and Sandesh Sivakumaran (editors), is insidious in its abrogation of the human rights of those living in the womb. The index doesn't even contain the entry "abortion", a clear indication that you are not to think of abortion as a human rights abuse. The main place it talks about the matter, though, is in a section titled "Who Has Human Rights" (author, Sarah Joseph):

Do human rights extend to the unborn? The American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), in Article 4(1), is the only human rights treaty that explicitly contemplates life beginning from conception rather than birth, and thus seems to confer human rights on unborn children. The European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission of Human Rights have found that a foetus is not a person protected by the right to life, and, in any case, its rights would not automatically override the rights and interests of its mother.

Note first, that, like Ms. Smith, the author is correct in stating that the American Convention is the only treaty that specifically names the "point of conception" as the point at which a person first has human rights, but, like Ms. Smith, this author also completely ignores the "before as well as after birth" statement from the Covenant on the Rights of the Child. Although she doesn't directly lie to you, the author is clearly leaving you with the belief that, outside of the one document she mentions, no other document states that the preborn have rights. Deception does not always require a direct lie; sometimes it can be accomplished with a selective use of the truth.

Note the insidiousness of the phrase "from conception rather than birth". If that absurdity and insidiousness is not obvious, just consider if the phrase were turned around: "…the only human rights treaty that contemplates life beginning from birth rather than conception". In the same way that this phrasing assumes that if birth is not the correct point of the beginning of life, then it just automatically falls back on conception, no further discussion required, even so the author's phrasing just assumes that if the contention that life begins at conception fails, then the point has to be at birth. Of course, any contention that life actually begins at birth is utterly ridiculous. The fetus does not, of course, suddenly "come alive" at the point of birth. It has been living and growing for nine months up to that point. The author, however, will not give you the fair option to consider that fact. No. If the contention in the American Convention fails (as the author clearly considers it to) then you are just supposed to automatically accept the author's assumption that life begins at birth.

Also note the insidiousness of positing the idea that the developing human's "rights would not automatically override the rights and interests of its mother". (Note the author's use of the word "mother"; if she is a mother then she must have a child.) Why does she talk of one person's rights "overriding" another's? We are talking about human rights, aren't we? That is, rights that belong to all human beings regardless of any condition. No one proposes (to my knowledge) killing mothers on behalf of their children. That would certainly be overriding one person's rights with another's. We are simply saying that both mother and child deserve the same rights equally, and in particular the right to life, and that, indeed, no person's rights should override the other's. The author clearly wants you to think, however, that standing up for the rights of preborn humans involves "overriding" the rights of women.

In the chapter on Women's Rights the author (Dianne Otto), states:

…it is recognized that the right to life ... may be violated if women have no option but to resort to backyard abortions of if they are living in extreme poverty….

The absurdity of using the right to life to justify killing makes those of us who oppose abortion shake our heads in disbelief, but it is with increasing frequency that right to life is used exactly for that purpose! Unfortunately, the students who study this textbook will probably not, in general, think critically enough to see this absurdity. Most undoubtedly will just accept that the right to life is violated by not allowing abortions.

Once again, what passes for human rights education in our colleges and universities is really just cleverly disguised propaganda, at least when it comes to dealing with those humans who are still living inside their mothers' bodies.



"Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person." -Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Article 3

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