As Friday marks United Nations Human Rights Day 2021, the former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom argues the push by progressives to make abortion an international human right is “part of the reason the human rights project globally is in decline.”
Former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who served as the Trump State Department’s top international religious freedom official, spoke with The Christian Post this week about the state of human rights globally as the world honors the day in 1948 when the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
He addressed a variety of human rights issues — spanning from the upcoming Beijing Olympics to the religious persecution in places like Nigeria and Europe. He also spoke on abortion, a practice many liberals consider a human right and many conservatives believe to be an atrocity.
This year has seen intense debate nationally around the issue as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month in a case many believe could alter legal precedent on abortion in the U.S. As conservative states have passed laws that test the limit of Supreme Court precedent, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in September to establish a federal right to abortion.
“I think it’s wrong and I think it’s part of the reason the human rights project globally is in decline,” Brownback said.
In September, United Nations human rights experts spoke out against a Texas law passed earlier this year to ban abortion in most cases once a heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks, saying it will violate “women’s fundamental human rights” and could have a “devastating” impact on marginalized communities.
Brownback contends that “we’re not taking care of the foundation of human rights, with things like religious freedom and freedom of assembly and freedom of speech” and “instead we add human rights that people don’t agree are a human right.”
“Declaring abortion is a human right; it’s not a human right,” the former U.S. senator said. “Ask the child that’s being aborted if that’s a human right.”
Brownback described the push to classify abortion as a human right as “one of the big problems with the overall human rights project.”
No ‘global agreement on abortion’
He lamented that “things have been added or tried to be added to it that aren’t human rights.”
“Meanwhile, we don’t care of the foundations and the … basic human rights issues that we need, where there’s global agreement,” he said.
“There’s global agreement that you’re entitled to do with your own soul what you choose to and that government’s role is to protect that right. There’s not global agreement on abortion as a human right.”
On Friday, the National Right to Life Committee sent a letter to U.N. officials expressing profound disagreement with their assessment that the U.S. is violating international law because of the implementation of laws restricting abortion access in several states.
In the letter to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and U.N. Human Rights Council President Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, NRLC President Carol Tobias lambasted the idea that the passage of the six-week abortion ban in Texas and the 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi violated “the United States’ obligations under the human rights treaties it has signed and ratified” as “absolutely false.”
“No United Nations treaty can plausibly be interpreted to require the legality of elective abortion,” she wrote. “No right to abortion has ever been established in international law.”
In the letter, Tobias quoted from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The covenant states: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
She asserted that the document undermines the claim that international laws and treaties mandate “unlimited abortion.”
Noting that “human rights belong to everyone,” Tobias contends that they also belong to unborn children.
“Human embryos and fetuses are living members of the species Homo sapiens at the earliest stages of their lives,” she wrote. “They are human beings like us.”
“If all human beings have human rights, then unborn human beings have human rights,” Tobias added. “If everyone matters, they matter too.”
Religious freedom is a ‘core foundational right’
In addition to abortion, Brownback spoke with CP about other developments in the Western world that he sees as troubling.
He described the prosecution faced by an Evangelical Lutheran bishop and member of Parliament in Finland for publishing a booklet promoting traditional teachings about gender and sexuality as “troubling.”
“You may not agree with people’s views on something, but if they hold to a traditional set of moral values that are based on their … reading of their sacred text, we should honor that and we should find ways to accommodate people’s religious freedom as this core foundational right,” he said. “It’s the key to a pluralistic society.”
Brownback warned that “when the West puts limitations on religious freedom, it exacerbates … the religious persecution in places around the world that aren’t as interested in religious freedom.”
He said the U.S. is “the standard the world holds to,” emphasizing that “if we limit it, they say ‘Why can’t we?’”
Brownback praised the Biden administration’s recently announced diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics over China’s human rights violations. But he maintained that he doesn’t think it’s enough.
He called for an “advertiser’s boycott of the Olympics,” where “the Western advertisers pull their money out from advertising these Olympics if the Chinese won’t announce a date that they’re going to close the … Uyghur concentration camps down.”
The Chinese government has been accused of imprisoning over 1 million Uighur and other ethnic Muslims in Western China in concentration camps. They are said to be brainwashed to be more culturally Han Chinese and trained not to question the Chinese Communist Party. Some Uighurs have been subject to forced labor. The U.S. government declared China’s actions a “genocide” earlier this year.
Brownback believes that Western advertisers “shouldn’t be lining the pockets of a … government that’s conducting a genocide.”
He expressed gratitude that the World Tennis Association pulled their tennis tournaments from China.
“That cost them money and yet they were standing up for one of their own that was sexually abused, and they took a strong stance,” he said. “And I hope many of the rest of us can learn from that, that that’s the way to respond to the bully that’s an abuser.”
“I was really proud of them doing that, standing up,” he continued. “I hope the [National Basketball Association] would do something like that.”
Brownback repeatedly brought up the threat posed by China throughout the interview, labeling the nation “front and center on my view screen for religious persecution because of their reach.”
“They’re inventing the future of oppression,” he stressed, referring to China’s surveillance technology. He predicted that “the high tech systems that they’re deploying now, we’re going to see in a lot of other places around the world.”
Brownback condemned the removal of Nigeria from the U.S. State Department’s list of countries of particular concern, reserved for the worst countries that tolerate or engage in the violation of religious freedom.
Nigeria was placed on the list in 2020 as human rights groups and advocates sounded alarms about the violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt that has led to the killings of thousands of people from predominantly Christian farming communities. Although some activists have claimed that violence against Nigerian Christians has “genocidal” implications, the Nigerian government has refuted claims that a religious “genocide” is taking place, calling it part of decades-old farmer-herder conflicts.
Brownback said the State Department’s recent removal of Nigeria from the list was the “wrong move.”
He alleged that “the bureaucracy won” because it does not want the violence in Nigeria “to be seen as associated with religion in any way, shape or form.”
“There is a religious component to it, and we need to call it out,” Brownback said.
Addressing one of the major stories of the year, the U.S. military pullout of Afghanistan and the resulting takeover by the Taliban, Brownback told CP that “we need to get the religious minorities out of Afghanistan and we need third countries to … take them on a permanent basis.”
He called on the U.S., Brazil, Mexico, Hungary and other countries to “take these religious minorities.”
In addition to Christians, he pointed to certain Muslim groups as religious minorities in danger due to the Taliban’s resurgence.
“I think really right now, we need to really try to get them out of harm’s way and permanently relocated somewhere else,” he explained. “There will be a genocide of religious minorities otherwise.”
Brownback also offered his thoughts on the exponential increase in arrests of political dissidents in Cuba this year.
“I’m not surprised. And often when a more liberal administration comes in, regimes around the world will step up their abuses of their own people,” he argued. “They … don’t think the U.S. will necessarily respond strongly. … It’s better if the U.S. has strong responses and not just diplomatic.”
The former ambassador spoke in favor of “real action” involving “real money and taking real security actions too.” He said that those kinds of moves are necessary because “they keep the world a safer place.”
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org