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April 16, 2018 (C-Fam) – “Sexual and reproductive health and rights are integral to the dignity of women and girls,” said Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore at a gathering of UN experts and bureaucrats in Geneva last month.

Gilmore invited some thirty international experts of two UN human rights treaty monitoring committees to “confront” the UN General Assembly and “defy” UN member states which have repeatedly refused to recognize an international right to abortion.

“This is not a time for optimism. This is not a time for hope. This is a time for courage,” Gilmore said. Egging on the experts, she said that the limitations that member states had placed on their power and resources were a “pernicious intentional effort to counter your authority, to minimize the reach of your responsibilities, and dilute the authority with which you speak.”

The remarks came as Gilmore, the second highest ranking UN human rights official, kicked off the first-ever joint meeting of the UN committees that review the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, considered foundational UN human rights treaties.

Gilmore reminded experts of the “supreme value of the human person” as the animating principle behind the human rights project.

Later, during Easter week, the Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the civil rights treaty, continued its review of a legal commentary that declares both a right to abortion and a right to die to be part of the right to life.

Citing comments on the draft commentary from Amnesty International and abortion groups, the experts agreed to find ways around, and to limit, the right to conscientious objection of medical providers and strengthen language on access abortion.

The committee members did not cite any of the comments of the United States, Poland, Egypt, Japan, and dozens of other states and pro-life groups insisting that abortion can in no way be considered a human right.

The discussion of the paragraphs on abortion and euthanasia began with congratulatory remarks for the Israeli law professor who is the main drafter of the commentary, and whose birthday was last week. In October he laughed off opposition to an international right to abortion.

“The gift I would want is having these paragraphs adopted as soon as possible,” he joked once again. And he turned to the subject of euthanasia with the same levity.

“Luckily paragraph ten does not deal with any controversial issue, only suicide and euthanasia,” he said.

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After discussing the paragraph briefly, the experts stopped short of saying the treaty included a “right to die,” as in earlier drafts. They said it would be politically “safer” not to take that route. But they said the treaty did indeed permit euthanasia as an exercise of personal autonomy.

The Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights also says women have a right to sexual and reproductive health under international law, including abortion. They insist this human right has evolved from UN treaties even though neither of the treaties' they monitor mentions such obligations.

The UN staff Gilmore oversees prepares the opinions of both committees. Gilmore became an international abortion celebrity after flipping Amnesty International from being neutral on abortion to advocating for abortion as a human right. She was hired by the UN human rights office in 2016 after several years at the UN Population Fund.

Published with permission from C-Fam.