UN Population Agency Intends to Avoid Negotiations on Abortion

By | September 6, 2019

Natalia Kanem

NEW YORK, September 6 (C-Fam) The UN population agency is asking governments to endorse 17 political commitments related to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” without a UN negotiation. The request raises fears that the agency wants to supplant limits set by the UN General Assembly on UN programs for controversial issues like abortion and sex education.

The Executive Director of the UN population Agency, Natalia Kanem, rebuffed concerns at the UN agency’s executive board session this week. She said the agency would “tread very carefully” and that the agency would try its best to be an “honest broker.”

The 17 commitments proposed by the UN agency have never been discussed by governments in an open and transparent negotiation. The UN population agency has asked governments, civil society, and the private sector to endorse them directly instead. More controversially, the agency wants governments to report on the 17 commitments it has drafted to the UN instead of previous UN agreements negotiated by states.

What is being disputed by the agency is the continued relevance of the 1994 Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, or ICPD, the 25thanniversary of which occurs this year.

The ICPD Program of Action prohibits the UN system from promoting abortion. It also limits UN agencies’ ability to promote controversial sex education programming that legitimizes pre-marital sex and homosexuality. And it affirms sovereignty and respect for culture and religion as core principles of any UN programmatic activity.

The Trump administration insists that the 1994 agreement’s caveats on abortion, parental authority, and sovereignty continue to be the binding norm for UN agencies. But high officials of the UN population agency have openly challenged this position of the Trump administration.

Responding to a not-so-veiled attack on the pro-life position of the Trump administration Kanem showed the willingness of the agency to evade any U.S. pro-life diplomatic efforts.

A UK delegate complained about “bold opposition to sexual and reproductive health and rights,” referring implicitly to efforts of the Trump administration in recent months to oppose this ambiguous phrase used to promote abortion. She asked specifically, “what is UNFPA doing to engage government leaders at highest level?”

Kanem said the agency had been working directly with ministers in capitals to secure commitments ahead of a conference in Nairobi this November to mark the 25thanniversary of the 1994 conference.

Implicit in Kanem’s answer was the intent to avoid traditional UN negotiations where pro-life concerns might be expressed and gain traction.

Earlier this year, the spokesman for the agency, Arthur Erken, indicated that the agency would move past the limiting aspects of the 1994 agreement at the Nairobi conference where the 17 commitments will be endorsed by governments earlier this year. Erken, who sat behind Kanem as she addressed the executive board this week, was so adamant that he insulted U.S. President Donald Trump with vulgar expletives.

Most of the 17 commitments are not controversial. They have already been adopted by the UN General Assembly at one point or another, including goals like ending female genital mutilation and violence against women and improving maternal health. But others are not UN agreed goals or modify existing UN agreed goals related to sex education, sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights.

Only a Russian representative publicly stated concern about the agency bypassing or undermining the guidance of the General Assembly in the ICPD Program of Action.