Magazine article The Spectator

If Amnesty Declares the 'Right to Kill', It Will Kill Itself

Magazine article The Spectator

If Amnesty Declares the 'Right to Kill', It Will Kill Itself

Article excerpt

There was never any mention of a right to kill in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. But Amnesty International is trying to persuade its members that human rights have evolved to the point that a right to kill does in fact exist.

This week Amnesty's Canadian section is holding its annual general meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and over the next few days will become the latest of the 72 branches around the world to decide whether to drop its neutral policy on abortion in favour of one that would enshrine a woman's right to choose as a universal 'sexual and reproductive right'. Amnesty's traditional neutral position was based on the charity's belief that 'there is no generally accepted right to abortion in international human rights law'.

The delegates, who represent a minority of the membership, will vote after first digesting a consultation document which tells them that to constrain any woman from having an abortion constitutes an act of violence against her. They are expected to follow the example of the New Zealand section, which approved a pro-abortion policy just weeks ago, and the British section, which last month decided by a show of hands at the University of Warwick to adopt a broad resolution which states that the 'full realisation of human rights should be understood to mean that a woman's rights to physical and mental integrity includes her right to terminate her pregnancy . . . and therefore abortion should be a legal, safe and accessible option for all women'.

The consultation period is supposed to close at the end of this month and if a majority of sections have voted for abortion, Amnesty's international executive committee will adopt and begin to implement the pro-abortion policy by the end of the year.

In the absence of a clear consensus it will wait until its international council meeting in Mexico in August 2007 before a 'comprehensive policy statement' is finally agreed.

Amnesty may then emerge as a body which fights not only for the release of prisoners of conscience, for fair trials for political prisoners and for an end to torture, ill-treatment, political killings, 'disappearances' and the death penalty; it will also campaign for a right to abortion wherever the practice is illegal. As a result, those countries which choose either to restrict or forbid abortion may find themselves confronted by one of the largest and most powerful non-governmental organisations in the world. But a pro-abortion policy will have consequences for Amnesty too.

Not least of these will be an exodus of its Christian members, the very people it relies upon for its letter-writing campaigns. It is the wide Church-based support that has made Amnesty the envy of other human rights groups. Amnesty now has a global army of 1.8 million people willing to fire indignant letters at any police state given to gouging, prodding or locking away its political opponents just because it doesn't like them. But surely these foot soldiers will not be filling the mailbags of the Maltese or Irish prime ministers because they obstinately refuse to sanction the deaths of their unborn citizens?

It must be obvious to Amnesty's leaders that the direction in which they want to go will cost them dearly in terms of membership, and it is no surprise that for all their enthusiasm to change their policy, they are, for now, somewhat reticent about their intentions, treating as confidential the outcome of their consultations. But the hour is drawing near when, through the courage of their convictions, they will proclaim, 'Fiat justitia, ruat coelum' ('Let justice be done, though the heavens fall') as they redefine human rights according to a strictly secularist doctrine which is a world away from that on which Amnesty was founded.

The change of policy will bring to the boil tensions that have simmered since 2000, when Amnesty featured prominently among groups seeking to change the consensus of the United Nations Fourth World Conference for Women, agreed in Beijing in 1995, to include the right to legal abortion. …

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