UN Agencies Try to Evade Oversight in Crafting New Global Measurements

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | November 5, 2015

NEW YORK, November 6 (C-Fam) UN bureaucrats and agencies trying to bypass the oversight of UN member states are beginning to meet resistance as they craft an influential set of statistical indicators to track progress on a new UN development scheme that will impact every country and cost billions of dollars.

The UN statistics division and other UN agencies tried to shut down any debate on proposed indicators intended to pressure countries by monitoring access to abortion and contraception, sexual autonomy for adolescents, and social acceptance of homosexuality around the world.

At an expert meeting in Bangkok last week UN staff asked to end debate on some of the more controversial indicators. They had to relent and allow further discussion because of concerns about abortion expressed by delegations from Latin America and the Holy See.

The Sustainable Development Goals, a 15-year blueprint to improve living conditions in every country, were adopted by world leaders in September. Still in their embryonic stage, governments committed to achieving the goals without knowing what they will look like when they mature into a full-fledged UN system-wide effort.

Now governments must flesh out specific details of the scheme, including statistical indicators to track progress and farm out tasks to different UN agencies and departments. Abortion and LGBT groups see this as an opportunity to expand their influence by using the UN as their surrogate.

The indicators to track progress on the goals will greatly determine the final development scheme. The idea is to translate 169 targets under the 17 goals covering a broad range of social, economic and environmental policy into measurable outcomes. The outcomes chosen will imply the kinds of policies and investments required to achieve the goals by 2030, determining how hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent.

While controversial issues like abortion and homosexuality would not have a chance of passing at the General Assembly, discussions of the indicators have taken place far from the supervision of UN member states in New York. The process to reach the indicators seems to have been designed to limit the possibility of oversight.

Instead of using established channels of communication with capitals, the UN statistics division, an increasingly important part of the UN bureaucracy, has been directly in contact with national statistical offices that are generally oblivious to global understandings, and therefore the political implications of the indicators.

Statisticians see their role as merely technical. Their job, for the most part, is to determine whether governments have the ability to monitor any proposed indicators, and where assistance from the UN would be needed. But they are unaware of the political aspects, and how abortion and LGBT groups will use the indicators to promote their agenda.

The limited personnel and resources of states in Africa, Asia and the Middle East exasperate the difficulties inherent in communication between governments and statisticians.

Some indicators currently being discussed seek to expand access to abortion, eliminate parental supervision in adolescent decisions about sexuality and reproductive health, and promote social acceptance of homosexuality. So far they have flown under the radar of UN member states.

States have an opportunity to provide oversight following a decision last week to open an additional period for comments that will end Saturday, November 7.

Issues: UN & UN Agencies, Global Health, Human Life