United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)


Ms. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid Executive Director United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Presented by Ms. Imelda Henkin Deputy Executive Director (Management)

World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Durban, South Africa. International Convention Centre
31 August to 7 September 2001

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address this important meeting on behalf of Ms. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund. She greatly regrets that she cannot be here in person.

We are here today in the pursuit of tolerance and equal treatment for all in the 21st century. Though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," these words ring hollow for all those whose rights have been violated, or never recognised.

Respect for human rights begins with respect for each individual. Today I would like to talk about how the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, is working for human rights and equality in our efforts to ensure reproductive health in developing countries.

All of our endeavours are guided by the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, and its five-year review. The Programme of Action places human rights and well-being explicitly at the centre of all population and development activities. It recognises the human rights and special needs of vulnerable groups such as migrants, refugees, those who have been displaced by conflict and disaster within their own countries, and indigenous peoples. It acknowledges the special needs of those who suffer as a result of racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia.

Last September, at the Millennium Assembly, the leaders of the world agreed to ensure respect for and protection of the human rights of migrants, migrant workers and their families; to take measures to eliminate the increasing acts of racism and xenophobia in many societies, and to promote greater harmony and tolerance in all societies.

In the spirit of ICPD and the Millennium Declaration, UNFPA is fully committed to the goals of this World Conference. We have participated in the various preparatory activities, and in the expert meetings in each region, organized around the Conference's key themes.
The Population Fund is an advocate for the proposition, recognized since 1968, that all couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children, as well as the right to the information and means to do so.

In our Mission Statement, UNFPA affirms its commitment to reproductive rights, gender equality and male responsibility, and to the empowerment of women everywhere. UNFPA believes that safeguarding and promoting these rights, and promoting the well-being of children, especially girl children, are development goals in themselves. All UNFPA assistance programmes conform to internationally accepted standards on human rights. We promote universal protection of the rights to sexual and reproductive health for men and women. And we support national partners in taking action to bring about the effective exercise of individual reproductive rights.

Last month, in collaboration with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNFPA organised a meeting on the "Application of Human Rights to Reproductive and Sexual Health." The objective of the meeting was to assess progress, and to elaborate further measures and strategies to be used by the United Nations treaty bodies to better monitor and promote respect for reproductive health and rights. The meeting concluded that these rights were core human rights and could suffer from discrimination in the broadest sense. Participants therefore defined actions and recommendations to ensure better implementation of treaty obligations at the domestic level in order to promote and ensure the enjoyment of reproductive and sexual health.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The United Nations Population Fund is fully aware of the importance of linkages between population and development and human rights issues. In the design and implementation of population programmes, we stress unequivocally the need to respect
human rights, and the need to maintain adherence to international principles, especially those related to reproductive rights and women's empowerment.

We have found that understanding the overall socio-cultural environment of a country leads to a better positioning of population issues. Such understanding has made it easier to find the most appropriate ways to promote the reproductive rights of men and women, which has led to changes in policies to protect those rights and to empower women. This approach has also helped us to address many challenging issues, such as sexual violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and honour killings. Today harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation, have been outlawed in many African countries. And practically all countries have formulated national population policies, as well as other related policies, which have resulted in significant legal and institutional advances to protect women's rights.

UNFPA also supports reproductive health information and services to meet the needs of those who have no access to them, including indigenous and other marginalized peoples. Our common aim is to meet reproductive health needs, with the full participation of the communities concerned, in a manner that respects their rights, while taking into account their socio-cultural contexts. UNFPA endorses the establishment of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as called for last year by the UN Economic and Social Council.

Another group in special need are women and girls who have been forced to leave their homes, displaced by war, famine, persecution or natural disaster. They face difficult conditions during pregnancy and childbirth and a heightened risk of rape and sexual violence. UNFPA and its partners have taken the initiative in providing emergency reproductive health care to meet these needs. Last year, we provided emergency reproductive health supplies and services to women in 20 countries.

But wide-scale violations of women's and girls' most basic human rights, in particular those rights related to their sexuality and reproductive health, continue. Trafficking of women and girls remains a particularly difficult issue-and one which is becoming more serious by the day. According to our colleagues at UNDCP, it is the fastest-growing area of organised crime.

UNFPA is increasing efforts to promote the implementation of all human rights instruments, by focusing on the respect of the rights to sexual and reproductive health of both men and women and the elimination of violence against women, in particular. We are advocating for the integration of reproductive rights in all human rights treaty bodies and for strengthened collaboration with the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. We are supporting partnerships to monitor violations of women's and girls' reproductive rights, within the context of accepted international human rights standards, to address the particular vulnerability of women and girls to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And we are protecting the lives of mothers and increasing access to family planning services by empowering women to make reproductive choices with the support of their families and communities.

In a continuous effort to promote development activities and the respect for all human rights, UNFPA has taken steps to deepen its involvement in system-wide initiatives of the United Nations in the field of human rights and poverty reduction. We have also adopted a system for resource allocation that gives priority to the least developed countries, and to the poorest communities within other countries.
I am proud to inform you that the UN Population Fund is fully committed to implementing human rights treaties in partnership with Governments, civil society organizations, other United Nations agencies, as well as within the United Nations Development Group. Together, we are working to transform words on paper into concrete action for human rights, tolerance and equality.

Thank you.