Human Rights Day 2011

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

That’s the first sentence of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations 63 years ago on December 10.

And yet here we are, all these decades later, still fighting tooth and nail to ensure that those 12 words apply to all women.

Coming at the end of the year, this commemoration—the last of 16 Days against Gender Violence—gives us a moment to reflect on the gains the Center for Reproductive Rights has recently made on behalf of women and their human rights as we seek to advance, defend, and restore reproductive rights worldwide:

  • The Center, with its partner organization Promsex, won justice for a girl named L.C. when a U.N. committee condemned Peru for violating her human rights by denying her a lawful abortion. It’s the first decision by a U.N. committee calling the denial of legal abortion “discrimination” and demanding that a country protect women’s health and human rights by changing its abortion laws so victims of rape and incest can get an abortion.
  • The same committee decided its first-ever maternal mortality case after the Center and its partner Advocaci presented the horrible tragedy of Alyne da Silva Pimentel in Brazil. Condemning the Brazilian government, the Committee established that governments have a human rights obligation to guarantee that all women have access to timely and appropriate maternal health services. It called for Brazil to take action to stop low-income women and women of African descent from being discriminated when trying to exercise their rights.
  • A coalition of advocates in Mississippi, including the Center, defeated an extreme “personhood” measure put before voters that would have severely compromised the human rights of women in that state. In a resounding defeat, 58 percent of voters in one of the most conservative states in the U.S. said no to an amendment to the state constitution that would not only have banned abortion, but potentially many forms of birth control, and access to in vitro fertilization.  
  • The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health delivered a groundbreaking report to the General Assembly, declaring that decriminalizing abortion and removing legal barriers to the full range of reproductive services are essential steps towards protecting the lives and well-being of women worldwide, and asserting that a woman must be able to make her own decisions to exercise her right to health.

The Center rounded out the year with the recent release, in partnership with the Open Society Foundations, of Stop Torture in Healthcare Campaign, a video affirming that many violations of reproductive rights are nothing less than torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. More and more international human rights bodies are making the explicit connection between the two, a huge development for women across the globe.

Any discussion about reproductive rights is, without question, a discussion of human rights. All of us at the Center look forward to the day when the affirmation of that fact is no longer a victory. It’s a given.