By Stefano Gennarini, J.D.
NEW YORK, March 8 (C-FAM) The meeting has barely begun and UN member states are already deadlocked in negotiations at the Commission on the Status of Women this week at UN headquarters. The new line of attack appears to be a push to establish abortion for cases of rape as a right of reparation under humanitarian law.
Delegates are under exceptional pressure to agree on a final document for the two week-long session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) because last year they failed to reach consensus. Despite avowals from delegates that it won’t happen this year negotiations aren’t getting any easier, especially when some member states continue to fuel disagreements by proposing controversial new language.
The United States is asking for new content in the UN policies dealing with women, specifically, the provision of sexual and reproductive health services in conflict situations, usually governed by humanitarian law. The proposed language appears to challenge existing US law that prohibits humanitarian assistance from providing abortions.
Abortion groups have claimed for some time that there is a right to abortion as reparation in cases of rape, but this approach has gained significant momentum in the lead up to the conference. This is probably not a coincidence.
Another major disagreement concerns “reproductive rights”, a term so closely associated with abortion that several UN member states are asking for its deletion, even though it has been part of UN parlance for almost two decades. The term was excluded from the outcome of a UN Conference on development last year in Rio de Janeiro precisely for that reason. Perhaps in an attempt to amend for that failing, Brazil is unashamedly calling for the creation of new sexual and reproductive rights, knowing well that it is championing a lost cause.
At a press conference on the first day of CSW festivities, Michelle Bachelet, the head of UN Women, signaled she was willing to accept compromise, and even exclude the term if it meant having agreed conclusions. Nevertheless, at an event she moderated on Tuesday she showed no sign of compromising, deliberately employing the term when she was given the chance.
The real issue however, is a proposal from the African Group. Last year the United States and European delegations did not want a document that gave any latitude to sovereign states in implementing CSW policies. This year African nations have again put forth similar language, recognizing the sovereign right of countries to implement policies in accordance with their own traditions, religions, and cultures. This has been common language throughout the history of UN social policy negotiations.
The proposed paragraph also states that tradition, religion and culture cannot be used to defend human rights abuses. Bachelet seemed to echo the paragraph when she told reporters, “culture, tradition or religion should not be used as an excuse, because no culture or religion really supports violence against women.”
Abortion advocates took to twitter to vent their frustrations with the uncertain state of the negotiations. Francoise Girard, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), “misrepresented” delegations’ positions in tweets of the negotiations, according to one person who participated in the negotiations. Adrienne Germain, a long-time abortion advocate, is President Emerita of IWHC and is on the U.S. delegation.
Ms. Bachelet told the press on Monday she was “reasonably optimistic” that negotiations would not collapse again this year.
Stefano Gennarini is Director of the Center for Legal Studies at the Catholic Family and Human Right Institute (C-FAM). Her article first appeared in FridayFax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM. C-FAM is a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (http://www.c-fam.org).