UN Committee Raises Stakes in International Tussle Over Abortion
NEW YORK, November 1 (C-FAM) The committee that monitors the UN’s women’s treaty is famous for its extravagant opinions. Nowhere is its commitment to radical policies more explicit than when dealing with abortion.
Even as the General Assembly is scrutinizing its work, the CEDAW committee, which monitors the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Violence Against Women, is promoting abortion in a controversial new general recommendation on women in situations of conflict.
The committee asks countries, unequivocally and categorically, to ensure that “safe abortion services” become a part of “sexual and reproductive health care” for women in war-torn areas. The newly released general recommendation is for all countries that are party to the women’s treaty.
The committee has already instructed countries to change their abortion laws on over 100 occasions, even though the treaty is silent on the issue. For twenty years it asked countries to repeal criminal sanctions, expand the circumstances where abortion is legal, and eliminate conscience rights for health providers. But the committee had never spoken so plainly about its intentions as in the new comment.
The new development reflects the influence exerted on the committee by the UN human rights bureaucracy, in particular, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The high commissioner recommends that a “human rights approach” to reduce maternal mortality must include legal abortion.
As the UN human rights office has grown the past 20 years its staff has become indispensable to UN compliance committees, also known as treaty bodies. Experts on the committees don’t receive a salary, and only dedicate a few weeks of the year to the monitoring system.
The experts look to the human rights office for more than just their opinions. The human rights office has an entire division dedicated to servicing them, producing drafts, analyzing reports, etc. It also acts as the logistical control center for the UN on anything to do with human rights. It has over 500 full-time staff around the world, and a budget of $600 million per year. The shift to promoting abortion outright will have an effect on other compliance committees and the UN system more widely.
The latest recommendations from the women’s committee will certainly feed into the negotiations in the General Assembly on how to reform the UN treaty monitoring system. The current work pace of the treaty bodies is too slow. Backlog and inefficiencies plague the system.
States are especially keen to change the geographic composition of the human rights staff as well as the treaty committees. The human rights office is disproportionately populated by Europeans who account for less than 25% of the membership of the United Nations, and even less of the world population.
The new recommendation also instructs countries to report on their progress in implementing Security Council Resolutions. Nations that have criticized compliance committees for expanding their mandate beyond the text of the treaty they monitor are unlikely to view this favorably, since the women’s treaty and Security Council resolutions remain quite distinct legally.
These new eccentricities will be added to the expanding body of evidence against ratification of the women’s treaty by the few governments who have not ratified including the United States.