‘Human rights’ versus democracy

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties held a conference on Monday to mark progress, if that is the correct word, since Ireland appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee last year. One of the members of that committee is Irishman, Professor Michael O’Flaherty.

Professor O’Flaherty, now based in Nottingham, made a rather novel proposal at the conference, namely that when a country signs up to an international human rights treaty, that treaty should be automatically incorporated into domestic law. Frankly, this is one of the most undemocratic proposals to come down the track in a long while. 

The law of the land should be decided either by the legislature, or directly by the people in the form of a constitutional referendum. What Professor O’Flaherty proposes is that national law across a growing range of areas be decided by international legal experts such as himself who are unelected and unaccountable. 

Experts such as Professor O’Flaherty talk about ‘human rights’ as though the area is uncontroversial and debate about what is and is not a human right is a settled issue. That is far from the case, of course, as the debate over the family for one should make clear. 

But perhaps Professor O’Flaherty believes that decisions as to what are and are not human rights should rest in the hands of those who hold to a particular view of human rights, namely the predominant liberal/left/secular view that human rights can be boiled down to one right, the right to equality. This view of rights, they appear to believe, should then be imposed from the top down through international law via national governments operating over the heads of their electorates. 

At least we know now what they have in mind for us.