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September 22, 2017

Human rights and our national sovereignty

A monthly column by the Emmanuel Community: 46 Rosalino Street, Woodbrook.Tel:628-1064; emmancommtt@gmail.com

As we commemorate the 41st anniversary of our country becoming a republic, we reflect on the notion of sovereignty and on how we are coerced into surrendering that sovereignty to other powers.

When the United Nations was formed, one of the purposes was “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…”  Paragraph 7 of Article 2 of the Charter indicates as one of the principles by which the organisation acts that “nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter;…”  The only exception to this was where action might be deemed necessary “to maintain or restore international peace and security”.

Concerns about national sovereignty gave rise in December 1965 to the Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty.  This declaration recognised in the preamble the General Assembly’s conviction, in the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, that “all peoples have an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory…”

Nevertheless, the sovereignty of nations is increasingly under threat, particularly in the area of human rights. An example of this is on the issue of abortion.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares in Article 3 that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child confirmed the 1959 Declaration that “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”.

It should be noted that the General Assembly is the only organ with the authority to develop new international human rights, and that any agency that calls on UN Member States to recognise rights to which they have not agreed by consensus is acting beyond its mandate. Yet UN agencies, special rapporteurs and treaty monitoring bodies continue to attempt to convince nations that there exists a universal right to abortion.

As was pointed out by Family Watch International in a 2013 Policy Brief, Threats to National Sovereignty: UN Entities Overstepping Their Mandates, UN Member States should always safeguard their right of sovereignty by ensuring that all commitments under negotiation are made subject to that right, as well as to religious and ethical values and any other ‘universally recognised’ human right.”

We in Trinidad and Tobago would do well to be vigilant in this regard.  It would certainly be ironical if, in the name of progress and development, we were to accept norms that run counter to our values as a people, and find ourselves having merely exchanged one form of domination (by colonial powers) for another (by international bodies).