homeless encampment
A homeless encampment sits on a street in Downtown Los Angeles, California, USA.
A homeless encampment sits on a street in Downtown Los Angeles, California, USA.

UN-Sponsored Report Would Destroy Communities by Gutting Criminal Law

Originally published at The Epoch Times

If you like the chaos and criminality unleashed in some of our greatest cities by progressive district attorneys refusing to enforce the criminal law, you will love the “reforms” a new UN-sponsored report advocates for the entire world.

The “8 March Principles,” (pdf) as they are called, are a woke nightmare. Drafted by the International Commission of Jurists in conjunction with two UN agencies—the proposals would decriminalize socially dissipating activities such as prostitution, homeless squatter encampments, public defecation, and hard drug use. Not only that, but statutory rape laws would be hobbled, adult incest would have to be allowed, and all abortion—even at the end of gestation—would become sacrosanct.

​The Principles aren’t aimed at protecting society. Rather, they seek to ensure that decadence isn’t stigmatized. The report makes that intention clear in the introduction: “While retribution, deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation are generally considered to be its main purposes, criminal law may also perform an expressive function, through public condemnation of certain conduct seen as deserving reprobation and punishment.”

​We can’t have that! People should be able to behave any way they want, no matter how personally destructive or socially harmful. Otherwise, the law could “embody and codify unequal power relations that, in turn, are often the legacy of colonial, xenophobic, racist, sexist, classist, ableist, cultural, religious, social, political, economic and other power dynamics.”

And that also means as little jail time as possible for those crimes that would remain on the books—even violent offences. The Principles declare, “Custodial sentences may only be imposed as a measure of last resort.” If you want to see how well that approach works, consider the harm caused by “cash free bail” approach in places such as New York in which recently arrested persons are immediately released and many quickly predate new victims.

​As far as the Principles are concerned, that doesn’t matter. Human rights are at stake! “The unjustified criminalization of individuals and sometimes entire communities is increasingly impeding progress in advancing human rights in many areas, including: racial and gender equality; reproductive autonomy; disability; economic justice; civil liberties; sexual orientation; gender identity; education; youth development; and public health.”

The report somehow never mentions that members of these same communities are often victims of the criminals on whose behalf the Principles advocate.

​So, let’s get into specifics. The Principles start with the sacred cause of abortion: “Criminal law may not proscribe abortion. Abortion must be taken entirely out of the purview of the criminal law, including for having, aiding, assisting with, or providing an abortion, or abortion-related medication or services, or providing evidence-based abortion-related information.” In other words, abortion absolutism at any time in pregnancy, for any reason.

And no punishment if a mother’s dysfunctional behavior adversely impacts her baby. “No one may be held criminally liable on the basis that their conduct is alleged to be harmful to their own pregnancy, such as alcohol or drug consumption or contracting HIV or transmitting it to the foetus while pregnant, or for their own pregnancy loss.”

And speaking of HIV: If a person passes the disease on to another or acts with extreme recklessness in this regard, that potentially lethal act can’t be criminalized either unless the infected person intended to pass on the disease. “Criminal law may not proscribe non-disclosure of HIV status or exposure to HIV or HIV transmission per se. The use of criminal law should be limited to cases of intentional transmission of HIV: that is, where a person knows their HIV-positive status, acts with the intent to transmit HIV, and does in fact transmit it.”

The Principles would also open the door to legalized incest since the right to consensual sex would be absolute. “Consensual sexual conduct, irrespective of the type of sexual activity, the sex/gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of the people involved or their marital status, may not be criminalized in any circumstances.”

Prostitution could also not be punished—even in public places. “The exchange of sexual services between consenting adults for money, goods or services and communication with another about, advertising an offer for, or sharing premises with another for the purpose of exchanging sexual services between consenting adults for money, goods or services, whether in a public or private place, may not be criminalized, absent coercion, force, abuse of authority or fraud.” That could turn our busiest streets into so many brothels.

But surely children can still be protected from sex with adults? Maybe the youngest. But not necessarily if the child is deemed mature and the sex was consensual. “Sexual conduct involving persons below the domestically prescribed minimum age of consent to sex may be consensual in fact, if not in law. In this context, the enforcement of criminal law should reflect the rights and capacity of persons under 18 years of age to make decisions about engaging in consensual sexual conduct and their right to be heard in matters concerning them.”

The Principles would also prevent criminal prosecution for taking any drug—no matter how addicting to the individual or devastating the drug scourge might be to communities. “Criminal law may not proscribe: a) drug use or the possession, purchase or cultivation of drugs for personal use, including by anyone under the age of 18 or while pregnant.” Again, to see how open drug consumption destroys communities, check out the squalor of homeless encampments in San Francisco or Seattle.

And while we’re on the subject of the unhoused, the horrific encampments that now befoul our most progressive cities would become untouchable. “No one may be held criminally liable: a) for engaging in life-sustaining economic activities in public places, such as begging, panhandling, trading, touting, vending, hawking or other informal commercial activities involving non-contraband items.” That includes squatting in public places, “such as sleeping, eating, preparing food, washing clothes, sitting or performing hygiene-related activities, including washing, urinating and defecating, or for other analogous activities in public places, where there are no adequate alternatives available.”

Criminalizing personal behavior certainly isn’t the answer to all our proliferating social ills. Freedom matters. But personal restraint also needs to be encouraged, sometimes by punishing profligacy. In this sense, criminal law has a place in protecting innocent life, defending human dignity, and promoting the general welfare. Under the Principles, this important function of the criminal law would collapse. Anti-social behavior would surge, communities’ quality of life would plunge, street squalor would proliferate, our streets would become less safe, and social anarchy would reign supreme.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.