Tuesday 29 July 2008

A tale of two judges

The European Court of Human Rights is going to decide whether Ireland's restrictive law on abortion is unfair to women. Three anonymous women claim that Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion violated their human rights because it discriminates against women, and because it subjected them to inhuman and degrading treatment by forcing them to travel to obtain an abortion. The Irish judge on the court, which sits in Strasbourg, France, has withdrawn from the case. It may be that Dr Ann Power SC has done so because she represented the Irish Catholic bishops at a parliamentary hearing on abortion. It is quite understandable that a judge might be disqualified because of previous involvement as an advocate in a related case.

Meanwhile, the United Nations general assembly has unanimously approved the secretary general's nomination of Ms Navanethem Pillay of South Africa as the UN's new human rights commissioner. The United States began by resisting her appointment and, under President Bush, America has pursued some enlightened pro-life policies such as refusing to fund agencies involved in performing abortions overseas or to finance bodies, like the UNFPA, which are involved in forced abortion and forced sterilisation in China.

According to one source, Ms Pillay was interviewed in 1994 and spoke about how the South African constitution mentions unborn children's rights. She reportedly said: "I wondered why the right to life was stated so explicitly. It is going to open up huge debates on the right of the fetus and so on. … that is the one clause [the pro-life lobby] are going to latch on to for their cause ..."

It would appear that Ms Pillay has a view on the rights of the unborn and it's not a very sympathetic one. However, the United Nations' 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child says: "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth." If Ms Pillay still has problems with unborn babies' rights, she's in no position to defend them – in accordance with a UN resolution – as human rights commissioner.