Friday, February 13, 2015
Today, on this day of love, valentines, sweets, flowers, and hearts (and do not forget the executions), let’s pause and examine the human rights of love. Is there a human right to love? What’s love got to do, got to do with it – the “it” being human rights?
On the face of it, love actually has very little to do with human rights. In fact, there is only one specific reference to love in any of the core international human rights treaties. The preamble to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognizes that “the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.” This same phrase can also be found in the preamble to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
Yet, just last week, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently spoke about the need for love and kindness in a human rights response to major atrocities like the holocaust. Navi Pillay, the former High Commissioner, spoke out about LGBTI rights in a loving relationship, and the late Robert F. Drinan, S.J., said that “human rights is another word, if you will, for love” (25 Ohio N.U.L. Rev. 321, 328).
So, let’s dig a little deeper, beyond the face of human rights treaties, and see what we can find related to love. First, there is a very clear human right to family and a right to protection from interference with family life. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), CRC, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families (ICRMW), American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights all recognize the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society. In addition, all but the African Charter recognize the duty of the State to protect the family unit from unlawful interference in the context of the right to privacy. The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) both provide protections for the family from discrimination. In addition, there are clear international standards that require families be detained together, and family visits to prisoners, when it is in the best interest of the children.
The right to marriage, at least between men and women, is also clear. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for the right to marriage: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” The ICCPR, IESCR, ICRMW, ACHR, CERD, CEDAW, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the European Convention on Human Rights also include the right to marry. We may be getting closer to the crystallization of the right to marriage for all at the international level, including same-sex marriages, but we are not there yet. On today of all days, that is heart breaking in too many ways to count.
Moreover, human rights law helps to respect, protect, and fulfill other rights that set you up for love. There are all sorts of different types of love. Yes, there is familial love and romantic love, but also love of pets, love of work, love of god, love of books and movies, love of food, love of peace, compassionate love, and more. Some of these types of love are protected under human rights law, such as the right to religion and the right to education and information. For example, the right to food, the right to adequate housing, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to assembly are all interdependent and interconnected with a right to love. If you do not have food, shelter, or your health, it sure makes it difficult to go about getting some good lovin’.
In the end, it seems that love is a central part of human rights and human rights protect love. So, why is love so absent in human rights Law? Perhaps the right to love is too ethereal or emotional for the law. Perhaps there is no right to be loved, but a right to love. Perhaps love is earned and deserved, and should not be recognized as a matter of right. Louis Henkin defined human rights as “claims asserted and recognized ‘as of right,’ not claims upon love, or grace, or charity: one does not have to earn or deserve them” (The Rights of Man Today, 1978).
Today, let’s agree that we may have taken our right to love for granted, but remember that in the end love conquers all.