Nils Muižnieks and his high horse

Born to first generation Latvian immigrants in the USA, born, raised and educated in the United States of America, Nils Muiznieks obtained a Ph.D. in political science at the University of California at Berkeley (1993). Prior to that, he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in politics at Princeton University summa cum laude and obtained a Master of Arts degree in political science from the same university (1988). Prior to his appointment as Commissioner for Human Rights, he held prominent posts such as Programme Director at the Soros Foundation-Latvia, Director of the Advanced Social and Political Research Institute at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Latvia in Riga (2005-2012); Chairman of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (2010-2012); Latvian minister responsible for social integration, anti-discrimination, minority rights, and civil society development (2002-2004); and Director of the Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies (now Latvian Centre for Human Rights) (1994-2002). Member of Latvia’s First Party (Incidentally a party of the Right, 2003-2005), its co-chairman and one of its ministers in the government. His academic and political background speaks for itself as does the slip showing under his dress!

I had been a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg for seven years and among my portfolios were membership of the Human Rights Sub-Committee. I know enough from my experience there, that Nils’ sudden urge and enthusiasm to promote abortion in Malta is not one of the requirements of his political office but his own personal agenda. The office of Human Rights Commissioner is there to enforce the letter and spirit of the European Convention of Human Rights and the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECHR). Nowhere do any of these instruments of law or judgements mention or attempt to enforce abortion in any country of the Council of Europe member states or even attempt to state that abortion is a fundamental right. I believe that Nil’s remit should be to stick to the written and judgemental decisions of these august bodies rather than try and bring about new abortion rights on his initiative and own agenda.

However, just to remind him about what is written in the European Convention for Human Rights, there is a clause which mentions a right to life – not a right to adult life, nor a right to a child’s life but a right to the life of a human being. As any doctor and embryologist are able to tell him, human life scientifically starts at fertilisation. There is no particular stage of development after that which makes a human life a non-human being. There is not a single judgement of the European Court (ECHR) that purports to enforce the rule that life should only be protected after birth and that the right of a woman to choose is a prima facie right compared to the life of the unborn child. This could only be construed therefore as pushing his personal agenda.

Prima facie rights in law and ethics tend to weigh importance and consider the outcome when a number of rights pertaining to different human beings tend to clash. The court or the individual body of rational or legal judgement then weighs which is the more important right for whom. Is it the right to life of a human being at any stage of development or is it the right for a woman to choose. As opposed to American law, no European Higher Court has ever decided this in terms of a preference of the woman right to choose. Reason clearly shows us, as do social studies and Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs which puts self-actualization especially, the acceptance of facts (you cannot self-actualize if you are not there), at the pinnacle of his pyramid. What is more important at law and in ethics: the preservation of the very existence of a human being or the right of another individual on the expedient choice on what to do with this other human being due to personal issues on the quality of a particular life? It is obvious to anyone that the right to innocent human life and dignity trumps all other rights. It stands at the top of the pyramid of rights. I need to exist to have any rights at all.

Nils should know this. As the son of a Latvian medical doctor and architectural historian who needed to escape the ravages of Nazi Germany and fly as refugees to the USA, I ask him whether the purported right of the self-actualization and integrity of his immigrant parents were secondary to other people’s rights on how to treat them? There is no doubt that the right to life of innocent human beings at any stage of life is prima facie right and primary to the rights of choice of any other human being, including that of choice. It is prima facie wrong to take the life of innocent human beings be they born, unborn, senior citizens, people with disabilities or refugees!

So rectification of intention and way are called for here as his position in challenging the Maltese right to exercise subsidiarity on the proper enforcement of these Maltese and European rights is being taken to task by a Commissioner who is supposed to be enforcing those rights and the judgements of the ECHR and also respecting our subsidiarity. Since Nils seems to have lost track of his front and derriere I suggest the following. First that he desists in insulting all the Maltese people who cherish the rights and freedoms of innocent human beings and know where their priorities lie and have chosen to put their priorities first in law. Second, to desist from denigrating the principle of subsidiarity of an independent and sovereign proud people who respect their beginnings and ends and choose to respect the beginnings and ends of others. Third, to desist from interfering in the affairs of a member state of the European Union which lists the respect to human dignity as the first point in its Charter of Fundamental Rights and has a clause in its membership treaty against abortion and in favour of the rights of the unborn (and born). Fourth, to stick to the remit to which he was elected and leave personal agendas out of his job.

If I were still a Maltese member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (nothing to do with the European Union – Malta joined in 1965 after independence), of which we have four, two from both sides of the House, I would raise this issue at the quarterly Assembly meetings in Strasbourg and in the multiple committee meetings in Paris. I would kindly but firmly raise the matter that Nils is grossly out of order and point out that he is interfering in the sovereign rights of a people and nation, that it is not within his official remit to enforce abortion and that subsequently he should know where to withdraw, get off his high horse and show us his derriere! Otherwise the government should do this through the proper channels (if it wants to – seriously), as can do other organisations represented on the CoE such as the Church! Men and women should be made of sterner stuff.

Dr Asciak is Senior Lecturer II in the Institute of Applied Science at MCAST

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