Training the Next Generation of U.N. Pro-Life Advocates

C-Fam’s Edmund Burke Fellowship draws legal students to the United Nations for an education about international processes that impact families and human life.

Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family & Human Rights, speaks with this year's participants in C-Fam's Edmund Burke Fellowship.
Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family & Human Rights, speaks with this year's participants in C-Fam's Edmund Burke Fellowship. (photo: courtesy of C-Fam)

NEW YORK — Graduate students from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Germany and Romania gathered at the United Nations earlier this month as part of the Edmund Burke Fellowship program.

Run by the Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), the fellowship is awarded annually to 10 young scholars with demonstrated backgrounds in international law and public policy. Throughout a week of lectures and briefings by scholars, specialists and U.N. personnel, fellows examine and explore the role played by the U.N. and international law in developing policies that impact families and human life.

“The ultimate goal of the Edmund Burke Fellowship is to train a new generation of leaders for the pro-life movement internationally,” Stefano Gennarini, director of the Edmund Burke Fellowship, told the Register. “In order to do that, we want our students to develop a strong understanding of international law, policy and institutions, with a special focus on the United Nations.”

In collaboration with abortion lobbyists, U.N. agencies such as the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) have promoted contraception and abortion as “universal human rights,” thus making the U.N. a battleground for pro-life and pro-family policies. C-Fam obtained special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council last spring, after nearly 20 years of monitoring the international body, and hopes the fellowship will give these future lawyers and scholars vital practical experience.

As Gennarini observed, “In order for students to be effective advocates for life, it is essential that they understand how the United Nations functions, its power and its limits. The United Nations is the largest and most complex international organization. It is the context in which the human-rights project was born and has developed. Unfortunately, it is also the place where abortion groups are trying to manufacture an international right to abortion.”

The fellowship is named for Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797), widely regarded as the father of conservatism. Jeremy Rabkin, professor of constitutional law and international law at George Mason University School of Law, began the week with a lecture on Burke’s approach to law. Among the other participants were Joseph Rees, former U.S. ambassador to East Timor; Susan Yoshihara, C-Fam’s research director; and other diplomats, scholars and former U.S. State Department officials.


Student Experiences

The students came from diverse backgrounds and varied experience, but all shared a common interest in international law and the importance of traditional life and family issues.

Heidi Van De Berg is a doctor of law candidate at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, associate editor of the law school’s journal and vice president of its St. Thomas More Society. After spending a summer studying international human rights law in Rome, she applied for the Burke Fellowship in order to deepen her knowledge of the subject.

“I hope to work with an organization like C-Fam to defend life and protect the family,” she said. “In addition, I hope to remain current on what is happening with life and family issues in the international community, so I can discuss these issues with those I encounter during and after law school.”

Added Van De Berg, “I particularly enjoyed meeting with the delegate from Nigeria. His unapologetic defense of the family was extremely encouraging. It was also delightful to hear the good work that Malta is doing in defending life at the U.N.”

Lily Fajardo is a lawyer from Guadalajara, Mexico, who recently graduated from Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Guadalajara after a semester at the University of Melbourne in Australia, an internship at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington and an internship with the Jaime Guzman Foundation in Santiago, Chile.

Through her study in Australia and Washington and her experience as a U.N. youth delegate with the Mexican delegation, Fajardo developed an interest in family issues from a legal perspective. Her experiences came together, she said, to “direct this passion for international law and human rights towards a career, which ultimately led me to apply for this fellowship.”

As it was with other fellows, a highlight for Fajardo was meeting delegates at the United Nations.

“Having the opportunity of interacting with them in such close quarters was inspiring and educational,” she said. “Their firsthand experience defending life and family at the U.N. was truly a one-of-a-kind opportunity. We were able to understand their daily activities and the work of the U.N. in respect to human rights.”

Fajardo found the entire week to be “truly a fantastic experience, with highly practical content. As a lawyer wishing to specialize in international law, I think it is essential to not only understand the system of the United Nations, but to also learn about the nature of international law and human rights.

“In addition to this, learning about the current debates taking place at the U.N. regarding life and family is of vital importance. Through this experience, I believe my will to work in an international organization is enhanced, and I am better prepared to face challenges that relate to human-rights issues.”


The Larger Struggle

C-Fam’s president, Austin Ruse, situates the work of the fellowship in the larger struggle for the soul of international law.

“Harvard Law School, under now-Justice Elena Kagan, moved the study of international law from third-year study to first year,” he noted. “The radical left knows the importance of hijacking a proper understanding of international law, human-rights law and the laws of war. So far, conservative law schools have not answered this threat. In the same way, schools of international relations have totally adopted the false narrative of the left, with regard to treaties and treaty obligations.”

Explained Ruse, “We began the program for one reason — and that is to give students information in order to fight back in their schools and also to help change the leftist narrative to a proper understanding of these vital topics.”

Thomas L. McDonald writes about Catholicism,

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