Amnesty abandons values of Seán MacBride

Amnesty International is manipulating the right not to be tortured in order to invent a ‘right’ to end a tiny human being’s life

Keep on saying something long enough and it becomes the truth? Is that how human rights now operate? The Irish arm of Amnesty International says that there is a human right to abortion, and "UN treaty bodies are very clear that women and girls do have this right".

This conceals a reality that some of their colleagues in the wider Amnesty International family are willing to acknowledge, despite being pro-choice.

Christina Zampas, a senior legal adviser to Amnesty in London, and Jaime Todd- Gher, who works for Amnesty in San Diego, wrote an article in Human Rights Law Review in 2008, when they were both with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

They pointed out that the “African Women’s Protocol is the only legally binding human rights instrument that explicitly addresses abortion as a human right . . . however, the Protocol’s reach is limited to the African region and its efficacy has yet to be tested.”


(This protocol has zero binding force in Ireland, and its status is not even clear in the African countries that have ratified it.)

Zampas and Todd-Gher said they regret it, but they are intellectually honest enough to admit that there is no explicit right to abortion in any other legally binding human rights instrument.

However, as pro-choice advocates, they immediately began to explain that there are other ways to advance the right to terminate the lives of the next generation.

They were honest, however. The UN's treaty monitoring bodies, or compliance committees, are the UN treaty bodies referred to by the head of Amnesty in Ireland, Colm O'Gorman, in a recent letter to The Irish Times .

Legally binding

Zampas and Todd-Gher said that “although Committees are not judicial bodies and their Concluding Observations are not legally binding, the increasingly comprehensive quality of the Concluding Observations on the subject of reproductive rights has enormous potential to influence national laws and policies.”

Let’s repeat that. “Committees are not judicial bodies, and their Concluding Observations are not legally binding.”

The usefulness of these Committees, stuffed with people who share ’s Amnesty’s worldview, lies in pressuring nations to adopt an abortion regime.

However, Zampas and Todd-Gher also wrote that other rights “can be used by advocates to promote women’s right to abortion on request”.

The rights they enumerate are similar to Amnesty International Ireland’ s list: “Women have a right to access healthcare, to privacy and to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. They should not be denied information about their medical needs, nor be discriminated against because of their gender.”

As Rev Patrick Burke, Church of Ireland rector of Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny put it so eloquently in a reply to O'Gorman's letter, the fact that abortion advocates have to go to such creative lengths shows their utter failure to produce any piece "of international law to support their agenda".

All of this effort, all of this spin, simply to deny the right to life to one category of human beings.

Peace prize winner

Amnesty International Ireland is based in Seán MacBride House in Dublin. MacBride was an Amnesty co-founder, held high-ranking positions both at the UN and Council of Europe, and remains the only person to receive both the Nobel and Lenin peace prizes. He was central to the framing and acceptance of the European Convention on Human Rights.

MacBride, who died in 1988, voted yes to the Eighth Amendment, and wrote an influential newspaper article two days before the referendum.

In the article, he said he was not an enthusiast for the amendment because there was “very little likelihood that our Courts would have, in any way, weakened the existing legal ban on abortion”.

He thought energy would have been better focused on the dire unemployment crisis, or trying to help single mothers.

So why vote yes? Because he feared that “at some future date, or in years to come, the rejection of the Amendment could be construed as an indication that the majority of people favour some weakening of the legal prohibition which at present applies to abortion”.

MacBride believed medical practitioners had a responsibility to protect the right to life “both of the mother and the unborn child”. Yes, the right to life of the unborn child, the right that Amnesty International now believes does not exist.

As MacBride presciently stated: “moral values and even life have lost their meaning and are no longer respected”. He believed that had led to an escalation of violence and brutality in the world.

Amnesty, on the other hand, attaches the word “brutal” to the anti-abortion laws that Seán MacBride could not envisage any court wishing to undermine. MacBride recognised the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child.

Amnesty used to work for the freedom of prisoners of conscience, to end torture, oppose the death penalty and work for fair trials for all. Today, it is manipulating the right not to be tortured in order to invent a “right” to end a tiny human being’s life.

Perhaps they should also change the name of Seán MacBride House, because I believe he would be truly horrified and ashamed.