Opinion: UN Secretary General’s Abortion Agenda Goes Unchallenged For Now
NEW YORK, August 8 (C-FAM) A new UN directive to promote abortion in war-torn areas went unchallenged when it was presented to member states at UN headquarters last week.
The high level UN officials who presented a guidance note of the Secretary-General with the new directive in a packed meeting room at UN headquarters were visibly anxious. It is the first time the Secretary-General has openly instructed UN staff and officials to promote abortion. No one used the term “abortion” during the meeting, but it was clearly on everyone’s mind.
Officials and delegates looked around furtively, scouting the room as if to anticipate where the challenge might come from. In the end, the challenge never came.
The guidance note on reparations for conflict-related sexual violence goes beyond what UN staff has ever dared to say about abortion, at least publically. The controversial document instructs UN officials and staff to lobby for changes in law to permit abortion as a form of reparation for sexual violence against women. In the wake of the Secretary-General’s note, UN officials advocating abortion won’t seem “rogue” officials any longer, but rather good foot soldiers for the Secretary-General.
The meeting on Friday was a non-official launch of sorts. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of the UN’s agency for women, UN Women, highlighted the section that contains the offending new directive to promote abortion in her brief speech, as if daring anyone to challenge her.
She called this effort part of a “broader struggle” for gender equality, but acknowledged the directive has no legal or normative value. “To leave it at this level is not enough” she said, highlighting the need to change laws.
Ivan Šimonović, second in command in the UN human rights bureaucracy, said the contents of the guidance note are worthless unless implemented. He suggested criticizing states through treaty bodies, special rapporteurs, and the UN process called Universal Periodic Review, to pressure states to liberalize their laws.
The UN bureaucracy faces an uphill battle, however, especially in delicate post-war situations. On Friday, the only country held up as an example of how to address sexual violence in war torn areas was Colombia, where legislators rejected a right to abortion for cases of rape in March.
None of the countries that would normally object to this kind of maneuver in the UN bureaucracy objected to the directive during the presentation on Friday. This may be because the document is not considered worth the aggravation of a public scuffle with the UN bureaucracy. The causes and consequences of wars are something national leaders would rather put behind them, especially at a time when they need the UN bureaucracy to help fund programs that are much higher on their nation’s list of priorities.
This does not mean the Secretary-General is not hearing complaints, only that they are not made in public. Sources have told the Friday Fax that several member states, mostly from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are preparing a cautionary note for the Secretary-General on this and other matters where they believe he is interfering with exclusively national prerogatives.
The Secretary-General, who heads up the UN bureaucracy, frequently tests the outer limits of his mandate. Even so, the note goes far beyond his competence or that of the UN bureaucracy. Abortion is a subject to be dealt with under national legislation in UN consensus, and it is the kind of subject that the framers of the UN Charter never contemplated coming under the purview of any UN entity.
African countries— many of which are in conflict or only recently emerged from it—mostly prohibit abortion and are the primary targets of this new bureaucratic campaign. In these vulnerable states, the UN has a hefty responsibility to protect all people from further harm. The Secretary-General’s use of post-conflict situations to promote abortion is a scandalous moral failure and betrayal of trust. He got away with it on Friday, But it won’t be for long.