Human rights are fundamental principles that make life worth living. Human rights are universal; hence they are applied internationally. Lack of access to proper healthcare, maternal mortality, insufficient family planning services, and gender-based violence are issues that fuel the violations of human reproductive rights globally. On average, 280 000 maternal deaths occur annually, most of the cases preventable (Kismodi et al., 2017). Most deaths occur in developing nations where access to healthcare is insufficient and cultural notions foster traditional deliveries. Ninety-eight percent of the total casualties occur in South Asia and Africa. Lack of quality healthcare explains why infant mortality and reproductive health complications are prevalent in developing nations (Mandy & Nyirenda, 2018). Major lacunae in healthcare, including contraceptive services in developing countries, also contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Lack of family planning services also skyrockets abortions. Over 68 000 women die annually due to unsafe abortion. On average, 40 million abortions are carried out annually. In the international arena, they lack universality in the consensus about reproductive health, especially abortion. Some states advocate for safe abortions, while others criminalize abortion as an act of ending an innocent life (Gewirth, 2019). The internal community has underscored those maternal deaths and insufficient reproductive health are a big challenge to human rights and social justice concerns.
The Human Rights Council formed in 2011 came up with a human-rights-based approach to reinforce policies and programs geared towards preventing maternal deaths and promoting access to reproductive health internationally. It fights against barriers that prevent both men and women from accessing reproductive healthcare and family planning services. Such barriers are described as a violation of human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Declaration forms a basis for universal adherence to all aspects of human rights, including the right to life, education, movement, marriage, among others (Voss, 2018). It is important to note that human rights are interrelated. A right to life can also mean access to quality reproductive healthcare.
The declaration discourages harmful practices that sabotage reproductive rights and engineer gender-based violence. Its keen interest is in harmful cultural practices, for example, forced marriages and female genital mutilation. The United Nations understand how lawlessness can occur during international conflicts (McBeth et al., 2020). Conflicts pave the way for individuals to engage in inhuman activities like rape, killings, kidnappings, and unlawful detention. The United Nations and other International Human Rights watchdogs protect international communities from such atrocities (Carpenter, 2020). Improving reproductive health transcends the right to better healthcare and life. It demands sustainable and equitable development, attaining the Millennium Development Goals, and a fight to reduce poverty. The paper looks at reproductive justice from the lenses of international law.
Human rights declaration
In 1948, The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed and adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration was adopted due to the heinous acts that side-stepped the typical conscience of humanity in World War 2 (Pramendorfer, 2020). The document written in over 360 languages enshrined all person’s freedoms and rights inalienably and equally entitled to. Its central pillars are peace, justice, and freedom. The declaration became a parameter and center for reference in terms of what is right or wrong with an open intention of designing a decent and just future. It became a powerful tool to fight affronts, impunity, and oppression hence preserving human dignity. The most appealing words written in the document state that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Lacatus, 2019, p.23). The international community is called upon to uphold the constituents of the declaration as a way of preserving a positive international law.
Members of the United Nations understood that every nation and region has varied ideological fissures that can undermine people’s human dignity and coexistence from different walks of life. The declaration has been instrumental on the international stage since its proclamation. During the 1960s, the statement denounced racial discrimination that had gained roots in South Africa and Zimbabwe. They applied article 13, which guarantees freedom of movement, and article 4, which condemns slavery.
The declaration is credited for serving as a springboard with a wealth of 30 elements on which other rights related to its 30 features were structured in the international human rights law. One of them is the ICESCR (The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) of 1966. The buttered side of the declaration rests in the fact that many countries have heavily borrowed from it to design their human rights laws in their constitutions (Ross, 2020). The elements in the document have gained a legal status that abides by the norms of international law. The paper touches nearly all fundamental components of human life, ranging from life, education, marriage, slavery, and property ownership.
They include rights about freedom from expression, the right to seek asylum, and freedom from torture. It also has political and civil rights, for instance, the right to privacy, liberty, and life. Another segment entails socio-cultural rights like proper housing, health, and social security. Article one of the document states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Carpenter, 2020, p.45). The first article stresses brotherhood, while the second one denounces discrimination. The third article, which is the most cited, revolves around the right to personal security, liberty, and life. Article 27 touches on the right to enjoy the community’s cultural life (Smit, 2020). The document still serves as a basis for domestic and international standards and laws. Many international organizations like Amnesty International use the declaration as to their benchmark and a guiding star that inspires their visions and missions.
Is human rights an act of international law?
Human rights are an act of international law. The United Nations approach to human rights is an example of how human rights take a global outlook (McBeth et al., 2017). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights tools have policies, programs, and technical tools that enhance human rights globally. Despite varied scopes of human rights at national levels, all national human rights institutions borrow heavily from the human rights articles as reflected in international law documents. International bodies also monitor human rights in individual nations to ensure adherence to human rights at national levels.
An example is the National Human Rights Institutions tasked with protecting and promoting reproductive rights free from discrimination (Lacatus, 2019). In its recognition, reproductive rights encompass the right to quality reproductive and sexual health, the right to a plan a family (including timing and spacing), aspects that touch on sexuality, and access information about reproductive health and sexuality. The body relies on the BPA (The Beijing Platform for Action) and the APAICPD (the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development) that promote access to reproductive health and information free from coercion and discrimination (McBeth et al., 2020). The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is tasked with fighting and preventing the violation of human rights, promoting global cooperation in enhancing and protecting human rights, safeguarding respect for human rights, and coordinating activities related to human rights via the United Nations (Carpenter, 2020). The body is also mandated to strengthen and resign the human rights framework of the United Nations.
Differentiate between international law and international human rights law
Both international human rights and international laws aim to protect individuals’ dignity, health, and lives. Despite the same goals, the two differ in scope and application frameworks (Smith, 2020). International human rights law comprises a set of global policies established by custom or treaties based on which groups or individuals can claim or anticipate rights that must be protected or respected by their states. International human rights standards also encompass other non-treaty guidelines and principles.
The significant treaties include the 1948 convention against genocide, the 1965 convention against racial discrimination, the 1966 international convention on cultural, social, and economic rights, and the 2006 convention on persons with disabilities (Gewirth, 2019). It also encompasses regional players, for instance, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of 1981 that monitor human rights on the African continent. Unlike the international human rights law that focuses on international law is broad in its application. It contains agreements between states, conventions, and treaties based on customary rules considered legitimate and binding. International law is primarily applied in armed conflicts to preserve human rights and humanitarian principles.
International law vs. human rights law
Both international law and human rights law strive to achieve similar objectives. One of them is prohibiting torture and unfair practices during conflicts. International law protects the crescent and red cross emblems and the legality in the use of certain types of weapons (Wuerth, 2017). It also addresses the status of prisoners of war and combatants. On the same, human rights law also touches on elements of life. They include freedom of the press, refugee rights, and the right to assembly.
Reproductive justice vs. human rights
Reproductive justice refers to the right to control one’s gender, reproduction, sexuality, and work. Reproductive justice can only be attained when all girls and women have the complete social, economic, and political power to make healthy and informed decisions about their bodies, families, and communities in all spheres of life (Ross, 2020). The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice plan revolves around the right to have/not to have children and raise children in a conducive environment. The intersection of human rights and reproductive justice attracts a heated debate, especially on leveraging reproductive rights as human rights. The clash lacks an international affirmation because every country and region have their basis for determining reproductive rights as dictated by its cultural and religious doctrines (Voss, 2018). As a human right, reproductive justice is pegged on the legal rights to get reproductive healthcare services, for instance, birth control and abortion (in states and countries that permit abortion).
In the United States, the Supreme Court made a landmark ruling in the Roe vs. Wade case in which it granted cemented the right of a woman to decide whether to carry out abortion or not. It gave women autonomy over their bodies based on their current health status and other reasons for an abortion (Ross, 2020). Reproductive justice is essential for it to link the fundamental reproductive rights with the socio-economic and political inequalities that thwart the efforts of a woman to access services related to reproductive health. The critical elements of reproductive justice entail equal access to affordable contraceptives, comprehensive sex education, and safe abortion. Reproductive justice movements link with reproductive rights agencies to tackle various threats to reproductive health.
An excellent example is the American Women’s movement that pushes policymakers to allow women to make reproductive decisions that suit their interests. They include shooting down the Hyde Amendment and some of the laws against abortion. They have the 20-week abortion ban “that essentially penalize low-income women and women of color and prevent them from accessing safe abortion care” (Ross & Solinger, 2017). The movement offers generous support behind any policy that supports unrestricted access to reproductive healthcare and contraceptives. An excellent example is the birth control coverage contained in the Affordable Care Act. The OHCHR (The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) is tasked with protecting and promoting the enjoyment of all rights determined in the UN and International Human Rights law. The first article of the UN charter clarifies its goal that affirms the achievement of international cooperation in encouraging and enhancing respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights. Based on this overarching global vision, human rights institutions at the national level are tasked to hold their governments accountable and committed to ensuring the protection, respect, and the fulfillment of reproductive rights as part and parcel of human rights based on the International Human Rights articles and ICPD (The International Conference on Population and Development).
“[R]eproductive rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international laws and international human rights documents, and other consensus documents. These rights rest on the recognition of the basic rights of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health” (Ross & Solinger 2017, p.25).
Reproductive rights are an umbrella of specific human rights. They encompass the right to make decisions about reproduction and reproduction health without violence, force, coercion, or discrimination, as noted in documents about human rights.
Is reproductive justice somehow a result of international law?
To a more considerable extent, reproductive justice is a true reflection of international law. International law strives to ensure that states adopt best practices in their public health systems and health plans that guarantee the right to health by all individuals. It also emphasizes reproductive health for women (Ross & Solinger, 2017). No single human rights body is strictly dedicated to reproductive justice. Instead, human rights bodies, including the United Nations, protect specific components of reproductive rights. The International Conference on Population and Development Program Action defines the scope of couples’ rights. It clarifies reproductive rights as a constellation of entitlements and freedoms with an international consensus. The UN bodies monitor the execution of the treaties, including interpreting the provisions about human rights.
Reproductive rights through a human rights-based approach
A human-rights-based approach, or HRBA, refers to an analytical and conceptual framework incorporating human rights principles, standards, and norms into all development work. From the human-rights perspective, like other civil and political rights, reproductive rights are considered fundamental rights everyone needs to enjoy (Tanira et al., 2019). Several international bodies approach reproductive rights using the human-rights approach. An example is The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that ensures justice and reproductive healthcare.
The European Court of Human Rights has dealt with many cases on reproductive rights. They include efforts to incorporate the right to respect parenting decisions. Members of the United Nations made a consensus on various articles that cemented reproductive rights as human rights (Ma et al., 2020). Notable documents in this line are the ICPD that was written in 1994. The UN assembly later endorsed the document. Other related documents are the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the United Nation’s World Summit Outcome of 2005. The Beijing platform advocated for equal treatment and access by men and women in healthcare, education, and the promotion of reproductive education and health in women. Both the Beijing and the ICPD platforms underpinned education as the most vital protection and promotion of reproductive rights.
The UN development goals about maternal health have specific targets about maternal health. They include reducing the maternal death ratio by 75 percent, achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2030, combating malaria and HIV/AIDS, and other diseases, among other conditions (Voss, 2018). The United Nations has a statement that cements the components of the human rights-based approach that foster cooperation and development. It includes the fundamental human rights elaborated in the UN Declaration, including their standards and application. The principles that form a foundation for a Human Rights-Based Approach include non-discrimination and equality, inter-relatedness and interdependence, indivisibility, inalienability, and universality of human rights, accountability, and inclusivity. HRBA is vital to the international community for it adds functional perspectives to development practice. Examples include providing an enhanced platform for social and political mobilization.
This is because programming goals as founded on internationally agreed principles and domestic and global legal frameworks that underscore the accountability of the involved duty bearers. The Human Rights-Based Approach offers an analytical perspective to understand the complications involved in the developmental processes, including the fundamental causes (Mieir & Gostin, 2018). Regarding reproductive and sexual health, HRBA helps structure more multisectoral responses that overlap vertical programming remedies, for instance, in family planning and maternal health.
The Human Rights-Based Approach focuses on the excluded and the marginalized individuals in the society whose human rights are largely denied. They include street families, immigrants, and minority groups like Africans in the White majority populations. The approach escalates awareness about human rights and helps the most marginalized participate in the developmental phases. HRBA empowers individuals to exercise their human rights hence promoting the rule of law. This reduces impunity and opens doors for accountability and increased access to reproductive justice, as it at the same time weakens structures that engineer inequality.
Most importantly, the Human Rights approach helps lower the risk of violence by detecting conflicts and offering a legitimate channel of obligations and entitlements to address conflicts (Mieir & Gostin, 2018). In the World Summit Outcome of 2005, members committed themselves to integrating human rights in their policies. Since then, more NGOs and states have adopted the HRBA approach in budgeting and planning their internal practices and procedures.
Quid Pro Quo:
International Law vs. Reproductive Justice
International law has formed a perfect springboard that has helped promote reproductive justice in areas that achieving reproductive justice could have been a nightmare. The international law elements about human rights, especially health, education, and equality, have enabled communities to address reproductive concerns, primarily as they affect women of color, poor women in less developed nations, and exceptional groups like lesbians and homosexuals (Ross, 2020). Currently, national reproductive justice movements link and solicit support from international laws and bodies that support autonomy and the language of individual choice. This has enabled minority groups like African Americans to access quality healthcare, unlike before. In the 1800s, women carried out unsafe abortions and even endured forced breeding during slavery. African Americans and Latino women had forced tubal ligation as a requirement for receiving specific services and other benefits. Some were even used as medical laboratories for medical experimentation (Gewirth, 2019). An excellent example is when Puerto Rican women were used for contraceptive pill experimentation. International law on human rights discouraged such inhuman practices and recommended compensation for the victims.
Reproductive health is a subject that has faced many barriers due to varied cultural and social factors in societies. During the 1800s, women had limited rights about their bodies and sexuality. They could be forced to breed and also have children against their will. Lack of access to quality reproductive healthcare led to many avoidable maternal deaths, especially in developing nations. Lack of quality healthcare explains why infant mortality and reproductive health complications are prevalent in developing countries. The United Nations Human Rights Declaration formed a basis for universal adherence to all aspects of human rights, including the right to life, education, movement, marriage, among others.
It is important to note that human rights are interrelated. A request to life can also mean access to quality reproductive healthcare. The declaration discourages harmful practices that sabotage reproductive rights and engineer gender-based violence. The doctrine became a powerful tool to fight affronts, impunity, and oppression hence preserving human dignity”. Being part of international law, the international community is called upon to uphold the constituents of the declaration as a way of maintaining a positive international law. Reproductive justice has a universal acceptance, and application is enforced by national, regional, and international instruments.
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