UN Bureaucrats Put Words in Delegates’ Mouths At Humanitarian Summit

By | May 12, 2016

NEW YORK, May 13 (C-Fam) In the final stage of preparations for the much-anticipated World Humanitarian Summit convening soon in Istanbul, countries are being pushed to endorse policies to establish a right to abortion and other controversial social policies.

Homosexual rights, abortion rights, and comprehensive sexuality education are among the commitments the UN bureaucracy is asking countries to adopt at the upcoming Summit.

The source of the commitments, the UN bureaucracy suggests, is in UN “humanitarian policies, frameworks and legally binding documents” — an ambiguous phrase that places the non-binding guidance of UN bureaucrats on the same level as treaties and agreements like the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The documents that the UN secretariat wants countries to endorse are the most controversial the UN system has produced in recent years.

The most explicit previous effort of the UN bureaucracy to establish abortion as a right in humanitarian settings is General Comment 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations, by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), released in 2013.

Since then, other documents from UN bureaucrats meant to give guidance on complying with international obligations go beyond promoting abortion as a right in humanitarian settings.

General Comment 22 of the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), released early 2016, after being blocked for over five years by member states, seeks to articulate what countries must do regarding “sexual and reproductive health”—a term that is not even in the treaty.

The CESCR committee says abortion is an international right and countries must “eradicate social barriers in terms of norms or beliefs” about homosexuality, mandate comprehensive sexuality education, offer sexual and reproductive health services without parental consent to minors, remove conscientious objection protections to health providers and insurers, monitor and regulate private health care providers, insurers, schools, and child-care institutions to ensure no insurance companies opt-out of abortions and sexual health services, what could be construed as a reference to sex-change operations.

Another explicit document mentioned by the secretariat is a technical guidance by the UN human rights bureaucracy that says abortion should be considered a part of maternal health care. Twenty UN member states objected to the guidance when it was first presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. It was never adopted by the General Assembly, which continues to consider abortion a subject that should be exclusively left to nations to decide.

A section titled “Sample Commitments” includes a wish list of items that the UN secretariat desires in order to design a more effective response to humanitarian crises. The format for reaching an agreement is a novel tool tailored for the Istanbul Summit.

Given that humanitarian law trumps national laws, it is difficult to reach agreement on this subject. The UN secretariat devised the “Sample Commitments” to reach at least a threshold for UN humanitarian programs without the need for negotiations.

Yet this shortcut also makes commitments with regard to “sexual and reproductive health” in humanitarian work especially problematic since the UN has a history of redefining the terms after the fact. Countries will likely make strong statements to ensure all records of the Summit include that abortion is not a humanitarian right and that humanitarian groups that object to abortion not be shut out of UN humanitarian efforts.


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