The battle for life and family is being waged on two planes, the international level and domestic society. In order to defend the rights of life and family, we need a proper understanding of the legal principles, mechanisms and tactics on both planes. This article is divided into two parts; an overview of international human rights law and local level advocacy strategies.
International Human Rights Law
In order to understand how the international bodies promote advocacies and influence other countries, we need to understand the sources of international law. The sources of international law are bilateral and multilateral treaties, customary law, decisions of international tribunals and opinions of highly qualified publicists. Human rights advocates have used all of these at one point in time or another.
I’m sure we have all heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a document passed by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 which recognizes the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. This is a declaration, not a treaty. This means that States are not legally obligated to implementing this declaration. However, they may be legally bound to uphold human rights because these rights now comprises customary law.
Customary law exists when certain principles and actions are consistently practiced by many States over a substantial period of time. Since human rights are universally recognized by practically all the countries in the world, universal human rights may be considered part of international law.
These universal human rights are further codified in the International Convention for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Convention for Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These multilateral treaties have been ratified by most countries in the world. Since they are ratified, States are bound to implement them. This includes the Philippines, which has ratified both.
Since then, there are various human rights conventions (multilateral treaties) which have advocated for certain vulnerable sectors in the world. The most relevant Conventions to our cause are the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC). These have been used to promote reproductive rights, gender equality etc.
When a State ratifies these Conventions, they hold themselves obligated to implementing them in the territory. They are bound to implement these rights through their executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The only time they are exempted from implementing these Conventions is if they have made reservations to certain provisions upon signing the treaty. International law prohibits States from making reservations which violate the main purpose of the treaty. They also prohibited them from using their internal laws, like Civil Code, Constitution etc., as their rationale for violating the Convention. However, these treaty rules are often broken.
State parties to these Conventions are mandated to submit periodic reports of their human rights compliance every few years. These reports are reviewed by a Committee of experts. These experts are periodically elected by the other members States. The Committee gives concluding observations to State parties. These observations delineate whether the State parties have sufficiently complied with their human rights obligations. They do this by interpreting the Conventions and how they should be implemented.
It is easy to see how these human rights mechanisms can be co-opted to promote liberal agenda. They can claim that the right to health includes contraception and abortion. They can claim that domestic laws violate non-discrimination because they do not support same-sex marriage. They can also claim that teaching traditional gender roles in schools also violates non-discrimination. In fact, they have already done this through CEDAW and CRC.
The question is, what is the weight of their concluding observations? Are they binding on State parties? Can the Committees obligate the Philippines to change their laws based on their treaty obligations?
This was the question raised in my class last Friday. Strictly speaking, these Committees cannot obligate the Philippines. Their concluding observations are mere interpretations of the Conventions. They do not form part of the Convention per say.
However, it may be argued that the Philippines is obligated because the Convention contains provisions regulating the relationship between the Committee and the Philippines. Since the Philippines is obligated to the Convention, and the Convention requires the Philippines to accept the recommendations of the Committee, the Committee’s observations bind the Philippines.
Apart from these human rights conventions, LGBT activists have also lobbied for their rights through the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In 2008, the UN Human Rights Council issued Resolution 1719 which discussed non-discrimination of LGBTs. The votes were somewhat divided. 10 countries voted against the resolution. 3 countries abstained. 41 countries supported the resolution.
They issued another resolution in 2014. In this case, the votes were more in favour of LGBT rights. The Philippines was one of those who voted in favour of this resolution. Resolution 2732 expressed, “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.” “Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.” Granted, there may be valid concerns of violence against LGBT in some countries. However, this is may be also used to pressures countries to legislate same-sex marriage, legalize transgender status etc.
Over time the decisions of international tribunals have supported same-sex marriage. In 1998, the ICCPR Committee ruled that a lesbian couple from New Zealand did not have the right to marriage. However, more recent cases have turned the tide. The ICCPR Committee ruled in favour of the right to same-sex marriage in 2003.
Remember that treaties, conventions and decisions of international tribunals are sources of international law. That means that the Philippines could be held accountable for violating international law if they do not legislate and enforce these liberal agenda. Boon or bane, our history of compliance with these Conventions have not been outstanding. And in the end, the UN does not have the authority to force the Philippines to change its laws. Ultimately, international law is merely influential. Although these are part of international law, they cannot force us to comply the way a government exacts obedience from its citizens. They can exert a lot of pressure though. As seen in the passage of the Reproductive Health Law though, ideological colonization continues to threaten us.
I hope that this article helps us understand what we are up against on the international plane. God Bless!