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Law professor and abortion absolutist Sarah Cleveland gained large support from the UN General Assembly and the Security Council to serve a nine-year term on the International Court of Justice. This despite a large pro-life effort to keep her off.

President Biden had previously selected Cleveland to be his chief legal advisor at the U.S. Department of State, an effort that was thwarted by pro-life groups that warned Republican senators of Cleveland’s abortion extremism while she served on the UN Human Rights Committee.

On that Committee in 2018, Cleveland and her colleagues authored a controversial decision known as General Comment 36 that placed abortion as an international human right under the “right to life” clause in the treaty on International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

It should be noted that Cleveland and her colleagues do not have the authority to change hard law treaties. They did it anyway, despite there being no mention of abortion in the ICCPR.

The adoption of General Comment 36 has provided the impetus for the treaty monitoring body to pressure all countries that are party to the ICCPR to decriminalize abortion.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), on which Cleveland will now serve, is the principal judicial organ of the UN located in the Hague. The Court was established in 1945 and consists of 15 members. The Court is designed to settle legal disputes between member states, and offer advisory opinions to UN bodies.

Legal experts expect that Cleveland will use her position on the Court to promote abortion and LGBTIQ+ rights on countries with laws that outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage.

Countries nominated nine candidates for five openings to the International Court. Under UN procedures simultaneous votes took place in both the General Assembly and the Security Council. The first vote in the General Assembly was conclusive with five candidates receiving an “absolute majority” a required 97 of 193. Cleveland received the second highest vote – 135, second only to the candidate from Mexico.  In the Security Council the vote required five ballots before the vote was conclusive. No right of veto applies to elections. Votes in both chambers were secret ballots.

Despite receiving the necessary votes to the Court, one-third of UN Member States did not support Cleveland. Last month a petition contesting her signed by over 350 pro-life organizations from over 80 countries was circulated to Member States.

The petition warned that Cleveland is a “pro-abortion globalist and a judicial activist” who “believes international treaties are living instruments” and “international experts can manufacture new human rights obligations regardless of what sovereign nations decide.”

The pro-life organizations believe that the international obligations created by the jurists “would trump any decision by the U.S. Supreme Court or any national court anywhere in the world.”

The White House responded to the criticism by releasing a statement of support from President Biden in early November. “I strongly support Professor Sarah Cleveland’s candidacy to serve on the International Court of Justice…A talented scholar and practitioner of international law, Cleveland is committed to the principles that have long been at the heart of the Court: judicial independence, rigor, and humanity.”

Cleveland will officially join the Court in February 2024. Other elected members include Judge Hilary Charlesworth (Australia) who was re-elected to a second term, Bogdan-Lucian Aurescu (Romania), Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo Verduzco (Mexico) and Dire Tladi (South Africa).


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