(First published in the Malta Independent on Sunday 4/3/2018)
By Dr. Michael Asciak
Born to first generation Latvian immigrants in the USA, born, raised and
educated in the United States of America, Nils Musnieks 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 judgmental 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 fertilization. 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 organizations 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