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From the January/February, 2010 issue of Touchstone


Rulers Without Borders by Austin Ruse

Rulers Without Borders

The Global Governance Strategy of the Transnational Progressives Marches On

by Austin Ruse

For many years, those of us in the UN pro-life and pro-family movement have focused on the documents under negotiation, and you might say we have missed the forest for the trees. We have focused on the details of negotiating dozens of individual documents but have missed the larger picture.

It is true that we have been successful in stopping abortion from becoming an international human right, and we have largely stopped the homosexual movement. As large as these issues are, there are still larger issues at the UN that we have almost missed, and these larger issues will be used to undermine the right to life and a proper understanding of marriage and family.

The larger picture is that UN radicals in alliance with radical lawyers, judges, and other advocates around the world are attempting the greatest power grab the world has even known. They seek to decide for all mankind the most intimate details of people’s lives, and they are determined to do this from their lofty and elite perches at the UN in New York, at the European Union in Brussels, and at other centers of international power.

In order to achieve this, they must remake the international system. Where once international relations meant relations between and among states, it now means international bodies interfering with the lives of individuals. Where once sovereign states determined what was best for the people within their borders, the transnational progressives seek to usurp this power from the states and from the people.

What we face is a tsunamic change in social policy and in the international system. The result of this is a monumental democratic deficit. Ask yourself, who is your representative at the United Nations? The fact that hardly anyone knows the answer points up this huge democratic deficit because it is these people at the UN who have taken it upon themselves to direct your intimate lives.

This is the big picture, and it strikes at all families all over the world, and at all countries, too—north and south, east and west, rich and poor. We are all in this fight together.

The Fight Begins

The pro-life and pro-family coalition at the UN began its work during the preparatory phase of the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development.

Our opponents began at that time to advance a “right” to abortion in UN documents. At first, they tried to get an explicit right to abortion stated in the documents. They were defeated at Cairo and at subsequent UN conferences by a coalition of Christians and Muslims that was created by Pope John Paul II.

After this great alliance defeated their radical efforts to make abortion a universal right, they began an extended effort to advance their agenda through lying and trickery. They created code words such as “reproductive health.” From the time of Cairo to this very day, they have successfully placed “reproductive health” or “reproductive rights” into countless UN documents.

The most important thing to know about this phrase is that it has never been defined by the UN General Assembly or any international treaty to include a right to abortion. Nevertheless, it is not an innocuous term.

Our sophistication on this question has grown significantly over the years, and we have come to know the radicals’ intentions in adding this phrase to non-binding UN documents. It is part of what we call the “soft law strategy.”

Soft Law Strategy

Soft law refers to efforts by international radicals to advance an idea known as “customary international law.” Customary international law is law that is not necessarily written down but that is understood over time to bind states nonetheless.

In order for customary law to emerge, three things must be present. First, there must be uniform, universal state practice. This means that all countries must practice the measure. Second, the practice must have gone on for a very long time—longer than a few years or even several decades. Third, the states must practice the measure based on their understanding that they have a legal obligation to do so. This is a very high bar, and it explains why so few items are considered as falling under customary international law. One such item is the safe passage of diplomats.

Proponents of abortion make the case that the if the phrase “reproductive health” is repeated enough times in non-binding UN documents, then a customary international law has been achieved. Let me make clear that this is false and that our opponents know it is false.

Customary international law cannot be established from non-binding documents, and neither can it be established in only fifteen years. It takes decades and even centuries. So our opponents have not been successful in any court of law or parliament with their arguments from customary international law.

So they have increasingly turned to what has become a more successful strategy, one that we call the “hard law strategy.”

Hard Law Strategy

Another thing we noticed over time is the aggressive pro-abortion nature of the deliberations of various UN committees charged with monitoring compliance with hard law human rights treaties. Most hard law treaties have committees before which participating governments’ representatives must appear periodically to report on how their nations are implementing the treaty.

Twelve years ago, we began monitoring the committee charged with supervising compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). What we noticed was that the committee was telling governments that they had to change their laws on abortion.

This committee has no authority to make governments do any such thing. The CEDAW treaty does not even mention abortion. In fact, it does not even mention “reproductive health,” that code word used to mean abortion.

Still, over the years, we have counted that the committee has directed more than ninety countries to change their laws on abortion. How can they do this and what is their purpose?

Unbeholden Committee

The CEDAW committee is made up of 22 individuals who are nominated and voted upon by states that are party to the treaty. They do not represent governments. Once they are elected, they are beholden to no one but themselves. The CEDAW 22 come mostly from left-wing groups, and many are also abortion advocates. What we have here is the specter of sovereign states having to report to individuals, most of them hard-left advocates for abortion.

Besides berating governments, these individuals—all private citizens—have taken it upon themselves to rewrite the treaty they are supposed to be monitoring.

Let’s linger on that a moment. CEDAW is a hard law treaty. It is legally binding on the states that have ratified it. Sovereign states work sometimes for years to negotiate such treaties. These states generally have to take these treaties before their parliaments to gain ratification. This is a long, laborious, and largely democratic process. In the end, the hard-fought treaty binds the states legally. Yet, with this committee, there is a group of ideologically driven private citizens who have taken it upon themselves to rewrite a hard law treaty and then try to enforce their reinterpretation on the sovereign states that negotiated the treaty in the first place.

Here is specifically what the CEDAW committee has done. CEDAW is silent on abortion. It does not mention the word. It does not even mention “reproductive health.” But in something called General Recommendation 24, the CEDAW committee of private citizens has read abortion into the document and now routinely tells governments they must change their laws on abortion.

This strikes right at the heart of the democratic process. The citizens of a sovereign state are generally content to let their government represent their wishes and their best interests in international matters. They allow their government to negotiate treaties that are then binding on the state and sometimes on the citizens themselves, in the knowledge that they at least have a chance to affect the policies of their own government.

But how does a citizen have any chance to affect the processes of the CEDAW committee, a largely unknown group of private individuals answerable to no one but themselves? This is a profound democratic deficit.

Harmful Effects

What is the effect of these rulings by the CEDAW committee? Does anyone listen? Do their rulings have any effect on the law? Yes, they do. They certainly do.

In recent months, the High Court of Colombia has overturned its country’s laws outlawing abortion, in the process citing what it considered to be treaty obligations under CEDAW. Judges of the Mexican Supreme Court have determined the same thing—that there are treaty obligations under CEDAW to overturn laws against abortion.

The human rights group Amnesty International, which used to believe otherwise, now holds this same position, that CEDAW requires that abortion be legalized.

This argument is now on the march across the globe, and it does not come just with respect to the CEDAW treaty but also the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, whose “right to life” clause is now interpreted by radical lawyers as including a right to abortion.

And all of it is a lie.

Furthermore, it is not just the cause of the unborn that is threatened by these radical reinterpretations of hard law treaties. Radical homosexual groups, along with UN representatives, now interpret international treaties as including sexual orientation and gender identity as categories of nondiscrimination, just like sex, race, religion, national origin, and the other well-established categories. UN committees will soon begin directing states to mandate homosexual “marriage,” homosexual adoption, and the teaching of homosexual propaganda to little children.

One mustn’t think that these outrageous maneuvers affect only countries in the developing world. They are happening in the developed world, too. In fact, they have occurred in the United States. A few years ago, the US Supreme Court made homosexual sodomy a constitutional right. In doing so, the Court referred to so-called new international norms as well as to rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

When the US Supreme Court overturned the death penalty for anyone whose crime was committed while a juvenile, the Court cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that the US has not even ratified. Some members of the Court have pledged to continue this practice of referring to documents and treaties which the US has not ratified but which they believe contain new international norms.

This hard law strategy of the hard left is affecting and will affect every country in the world.

Global Governance

What we are talking about here is something called Global Governance. Through the use of both soft law and hard law tactics, a lattice of new norms is being forced upon individual governments and individual persons. These new norms have never been officially decided or voted upon. They are being implemented through treachery, lies, deceit, and the exercise of raw power.

These things are being perpetrated by a group of people that confidently call themselves transnational progressives. They do not believe in the democratic process. They believe in their own superiority. They believe they know better than democratically elected officials, and they certainly know better than mothers and fathers and other citizens around the world.

The big picture is that they are moving on many fronts. They are moving on the UN front through the drafting of documents, hard and soft, and then through the interpretation of these documents. They are moving through the court systems around the world and imposing legal changes based on their own reinterpretations of hard law treaties and non-binding resolutions.

The Highest Stakes

Why does this matter? A war is being waged against three sacred sovereignties: the sovereignty of the nation, the sovereignty of the Church, and the sovereignty of the family. We will each stand alone, as individuals, before the judgment seat of God, but on this earth he has provided for us certain institutions whose nearly sole purpose is to teach us his law. These mediating institutions—the nation, the Church, and the family—are really our sole teachers. If any one of them goes wrong or is undermined, we may be lost. If all of them go wrong, we will be utterly lost.

But each of them stands in the way of the radical leftist notion of the complete autonomy of the self. Therefore the leftists and their allies insist that these institutions must change, that they must become something different from what God made them to be. But in the course of so changing, they will be destroyed.

These are the stakes. They cannot get any higher.

This article was adapted and slightly abridged from a talk given at the World Congress of Families V, Amsterdam, Netherlands, August 12, 2009.

Austin Ruse writes from Washington, D.C., where he is president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute ( and the Culture of Life Foundation ( He is the editor of C-FAM?s "Friday Fax" report on life and family issues at the United Nations.

“Rulers Without Borders” first appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.

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