Last December, CWR interviewed Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) and editor of the Friday Fax. C FAM is a nonpartisan, non-profit research institute dedicated to reestablishing a proper understanding of international law and protecting national sovereignty and the dignity of the human person.
What sort of appointees has President Obama sent to the United Nations? Have they outlined, or hinted at major shifts in US foreign policy with respect to life and family issues?
Austin Ruse: He has appointed some doctrinaire abortion advocates, Hilary Clinton chief among them. Clinton testified before the US Congress that the United States now defines reproductive health as including abortion and that the United States intends to use its influence to spread the “right to abortion” all over the world. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, has announced that the Obama administration supports a whole host of UN treaties that have been used to promote abortion, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The thing about the administration, whoever it is [at a given moment], is that they can play to their base in dealing with the United Nations, because nobody really pays attention, especially to the social policy debate there. President [George W.] Bush was more pro-life at the UN than in any other place. Obama will be more proabortion there than in any other place. So far that has played itself out.
How does classifying abortion as part of reproductive health change the situation?
Ruse: The pro-abortion forces have tried for years to make abortion a universally recognized human right, and they have failed. So what they did instead was put these terms “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” in hundreds of UN documents, most of them non-binding, and also in a binding document, the International Treaty on Disabilities. What they’ve never been able to achieve is getting reproductive health formally recognized or defined as including abortion. The significance of the Obama administration saying that they are defining reproductive health as including abortion is that they are doing something unilaterally that they have never been able to achieve at the United Nations.
Officially the European Union has been extremely pro-abortion and has lavishly supported international population control programs. With traditionally Catholic countries such as Ireland and Malta among its member states, though, does the EU speak with one voice on this and other life issues?
Ruse: At the United Nations the EU generally, almost universally, speaks with one voice. They will come up with a common position privately, at which point that bus is being driven by such pro-abortion countries as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Malta only has a small voice in the European Union; Ireland—another small voice; Poland—a small voice. So the pro-abortion nations pretty much always get their way. There are some times, however, when the smaller nations will just say, “Well, we can’t go along with that, and we will arrive at our own position.” You saw that during the cloning debate several years ago, when France and Germany came forward with a clone-and-kill resolution, declaring that it’s okay to clone human embryos for research purposes as long as you kill them. This was eventually defeated overwhelmingly— not only defeated, but 180 countries even signed a resolution condemning embryo-destructive research. But the key to that victory was actually breaking apart the European Union. Spain started it, but other countries followed. So when the single voice of the European Union is split apart into 27 different voices, we have a greater chance of winning. But that’s rare.
On several occasions during the pontificate of the late Pope John Paul II, the Vatican found unconventional allies among Islamic nations in its efforts to defend human life at the UN. Has their pro-life support weakened in the past decade?
Ruse: It did weaken during the Bush administration [2001-2008], but primarily because of the war in Iraq. The generally pro-life nations in the Middle East and Muslim and Arab states tended to sit on their hands while anything was being promoted by the Bush administration, even pro-life language. So that was a serious problem for us [pro-life advocates]. The entrance of the Obama administration has shown an increased interest on the part of the Arab and Muslim states to promote the pro-life cause again. There is a natural tendency, as I described earlier, for the American administration to play to its base at the United Nations. This results in overreaching in the case of pro-abortion presidents, and this truly off ends traditional countries. The pro-life and pro family coalition, which includes the Arab and Muslim states, is re-forming.
Do UN delegates from any developing nations regard international population control programs as racially motivated or as a form of neo-colonialism?
Ruse: They certainly do. The African bishops recently had a synod in Rome lasting several weeks, and one of the recurrent themes in the bishops’ interventions was that there is a kind of colonialism practiced by UN agencies and radical non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are trying to import their radical ethos into the African countries. It’s harder to get governments to say that, because governments want EU money, they want UN money, they want US money, and so they tend to be hesitant to say that. But people on the ground quite openly say that.
Governments are under a tremendous amount of pressure, especially the “good guys.” We know a UN delegate from a tiny island nation who took her government’s name off the sponsorship of a resolution on maternal mortality, and she was accosted by the lobbyist from the UN Population Fund who told her that her government was going to lose money because of that.
Is “non-governmental organization” just a euphemism for “lobbying group”?
Ruse: No. An NGO is really any group of people sitt ing around a kitchen table working on an issue. Any pro-life group is an NGO; any radical feminist group is an NGO. It’s simply a broad designation for a non-profi t group working on issues, or a non-profi t service group. The Red Cross is an NGO. NGO’s are those who either “sling policy” or “sling bags of rice.”
Twenty years ago Father Paul Marx, OSB was warning Americans that the UN children’s fund was “involved in global att acks on life and family” such as abortion and sterilization programs. Would you allow your children to participate in the “Trick-or- Treat for UNICEF” campaign today?
Ruse: We wrote a prett y substantial white paper about a decade ago on UNICEF and its participation in promoting a right to abortion. UNICEF has substantially changed over the years from an agency concerned primarily with child survival to one now concerned overwhelmingly with the rights of women, including the “right to abortion.” UNICEF has directly intervened against governments, in Latin America for instance, that wanted to initiate pro-life laws—most recently, Nicaragua. UNICEF absolutely denies this, up and down. They also have their name on disgusting, perverted “sex-education” programs. They really have an indefensible position.
The Holy See withdrew its annual contribution to UNICEF 11 years ago because of the agency’s promotion of abortion. Faithful Catholics should not let their children collect for UNICEF, nor should people contribute to UNICEF until it gets its house in order.
Tell us about the UN Petition for the Unborn Child that was sponsored in 2009 by C-FAM.
Ruse: Last year was the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and there were pro-abortion groups that were circulating petitions calling for a universal recognition of a right to abortion. We determined that we needed to have a counter-petition asking governments to interpret the Universal Declaration as protecting the unborn child from abortion and also giving special protection to families (which is what the Universal Declaration says and does). In about two months we collected 487,000 signatures from all over the world, which we presented to ambassadors in the UN. We held a UN press conference, and a lot of press came. We recently re-launched the campaign, and we’re up to about 650,000 signatures now. Our goal is to get a million signatures and, when we do, to take those million signatures to the UN. A couple of years ago the UN General Assembly responded to a petition— a million names calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. We’re going to match that, but in this case for the unborn child and the family.
How did radical feminism—an unmistakably Western European phenomenon— manage to make such inroads in the United Nations? What have the feminists been doing since the Beijing Conference on Women in 1994?
Ruse: They determined that a lot of what they wanted to do at the national level was just too radical. The Equal Rights Amendment, for instance, was defeated here [in the United States]. Things [i.e., setbacks] like that were happening all over the world. They determined that they would probably get a hearing at the United Nations. So what they did was form a whole bunch of NGOs. They applied for jobs. The UN just created a billion-dollar agency specifically to promote women’s rights. So they made a determination, (a) that they would get a friendly hearing, which they did, and (b) that they would be able to use the United Nations to encourage, convince, force, and coerce governments into changing their laws with regard to women’s rights, including abortion.
The legal theory that goes along with this is called “customary international law.” Their theory goes: if something is repeated enough times in UN documents, it becomes customary international law, which binds states. Properly understood, customary international law refers to universal and uniform state practice—meaning, of all the governments— which is long-standing, and not just in the 15 years since [the conferences at] Cairo and Beijing. The new theory of customary international law is a lie; the old theory of customary international law is alive and well, with regard to the safe passage of diplomats and things like that. But there is a very serious danger that this new radical theory is gaining traction around the world. That’s what the feminists’ aim is.
Can this happen in the United States? The answer is: yes, it already has. Going along with this idea of customary international law is the establishment of new international norms. And how do you create new international norms except through UN documents, binding and non-binding, through judicial court rulings, through law review articles, and so on and so forth? Our own Supreme Court, when they made homosexual sodomy a constitutional right in Lawrence v. Texas, cited rulings o the European Court of Human Rights. When this Supreme Court struck dow the juvenile death penalty, they cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is a document from the UN that the US has never ratified. They also cited a portion of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is one of the implementing documents of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: it’s a foundational human rights document. They actually cited a part of that document on the death penalty that the US Senate had formally rejected. At least some members of the [US] Supreme Court have made it abundantly clear that they intend to do this more and more.
Now this question came up during the [confirmation] hearings for [Supreme Court Justices] Roberts and Alito, and both of them rejected the theory. I guarantee that when Roe v. Wade is eventually reheard, the CEDAW treaty will be cited. If Roe is upheld, the majority of the court upholding Roe will cite CEDAW as a treaty obligation. Or, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will be cited by the minority in its dissent. CEDAW will be mentioned when Roe is heard again.
Please describe the work of C-FAM’s interns at the UN.
Ruse: We have a program called the Edmund Burke Fellowship, which is open to undergraduates and law students, where we train them in all of the things that I have been describing: UN lobbying, UN documents, customary international law, international law. We also bring them to the United Nations and direct them to lobby UN delegates directly during key negotiations. We generally focus on the Commission on the Status of Women, which is a meeting that is held every March for two weeks. We bring the students in, after having trained them. We put them on teams of three and give each team five delegations to go make friends with. In the course of a two-week negotiation there will come a time when these students will have an effect on the negotiations. The Edmund Burke Fellowship is the heart of our internship program.
C-FAM sent a delegation to Berlin in September to attend the UN’s “International Conference on Population and Development +15 Global NGO Forum.” Were you able to get a hearing at that event for the pro-life, pro-family message?
Ruse: No, we were excluded from the meeting. Our people were not allowed in. We were there, but they would not let us in. The UN is a rigged game. Whenever they get the chance, they will keep pro-lifers out, because they want the world to think that there are no dissenting voices to what they want to do, even though there are lots of dissenting voices. Those who control the power at the United Nations do the very best that they can to keep us out. Sometimes they do; most of the times they don’t. But they always try.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!