Commission on Population and Development Unable to Agree upon Proposed Resolution, Reproductive Rights among Points of Contention

POP/1041
17 April 2015
Forty-eighth Session, 8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)

Commission on Population and Development Unable to Agree upon Proposed Resolution, Reproductive Rights among Points of Contention

Closing its forty-eighth session this evening, the Commission on Population and Development failed to adopt a draft resolution that had been prepared by its Chair after several days and nights of intense negotiations.

By the draft text, the Commission would have emphasized that population and development issues were interlinked with sustainable development at the subnational, national and international levels, requiring a multi-stakeholder and multi-level approach.

It would have stressed, among other things, that gender equality, the full realization of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all women and girls, including their reproductive rights, were critical to sustainable development and essential to the realization of social justice.

The draft was not adopted after an exchange between the representatives of Groups of States.

Following the presentation of the text prepared by Commission Chair Bénédicte Frankinet (Belgium), which she called an “honest attempt” to reflect the many disparate views of Member States, the representative of Nigeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed his hope that the text was still open for discussion, as its current iteration contained language that would impose “impossible and unacceptable commitments” upon Member States.

In response, the Chair said that the document before the Commission was her best attempt to reconcile the differing opinions of various States.  In that regard, she declined to alter the text, and instead, withdrew the draft.

“This is a kind of hard medicine the Chair had given us,” said John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division, in closing remarks.  The deliberations of the Commission had nevertheless reaffirmed the integration of population concerns in global processes related to development including the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda, he said.

Also taking the floor in closing remarks, Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that the Chair’s text had contained “all the things we wished to see” in order to jump-start a transformation to a sustainable world.  It was important for the international community to be tolerant, and to reflect the true reality of countries.  Some of the comments and positions taken had not spoken to that reality, and it was unfortunate that the Commission had been unable to adopt the Chair’s text.  “I wish to put on record that I truly regret that,” he stressed.

Some States then took the floor to add their support for the draft text, as well as their regret that it had not been adopted.  In that vein, Switzerland’s delegate said that his country had been ready to join consensus on the text, which struck a fine balance on negotiations between different Groups and States.

The representative of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of a number of likeminded States, said that sexual and reproductive health and rights were central to population issues going forward.  “We heard strong appeals to have sexual and reproductive health and rights embedded in the outcome document,” he said, adding that all people had the right to decide freely about their health and bodies, free of coercion.  The Commission was the place to discuss those issues at the multilateral level, and he regretted that the text could not be adopted.

Other speakers, however, disagreed with the draft text or with the course of the negotiations in general.  In that regard, the representative of Nauru expressed concern at attempts by UNFPA to “harass” and “discredit” his country’s position on such issues as sexual and reproductive health.

On procedural matters, the Commission took note of the following documents:  Report of the Secretary-General on “Programme implementation and progress of work in the field of population in 2014:  Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs” (document E/CN.9/2015/6); and Draft programme of work of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs for the biennium 2016-2017 (document E/CN.9/2015/CRP.1).

Taking up the themes for its forty-ninth and fiftieth sessions, the Commission adopted the draft decision, entitled, “Special themes for the Commission on Population and Development in 2016 and 2017”, as contained in document E/CN.9/2015/L.4.

It also adopted a draft decision entitled, “Future organization and methods of work of the Commission on Population and Development”, as contained in document E/CN.9/2015/L.5, as orally revised, and the “Provisional agenda for the forty-ninth session of the Commission”, contained in document E/CN.9/2015/L.2, which was also orally revised.

Vice-Chair and Rapporteur Mesbah Ansari Dogaheh introduced the draft report of the Commission on its forty-eighth session, contained in document E/CN.9/2015/L.3, which was then adopted.

Briefly opening its forty-ninth session, the Commission elected Mwaba Patricia Kasese-Bota (Zambia) as the session’s Chair and elected several members of the new Bureau.

Also speaking during the closing session were the representatives of the United States and Peru.

Introduction of Reports

JOHN WILMOTH, Director, Population Division, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the report of the Secretary-General describing the activities of the Population Division in 2014 (document E/CN.9/2015/6).  During that year, the Division had made substantial progress in several thematic areas.  Those included fertility and family planning, population policies, international migration, population estimates and projections, health and mortality and population and development.  Furthermore, the Division had made progress in its work on population ageing.

He also introduced the draft programme of work for the Division for the biennium 2016-2017 (document E/CN.9/2015/CRP.1).  The document spelled out the objectives, expected accomplishments and indicators of achievement for the Population subprogramme and a list of proposed outputs.  He recalled that the programme narrative had been reviewed by the Commission in 2014 as part of the strategic framework for the 2016-2017 biennium, and was subsequently approved by the General Assembly.

Statements on Programme Implementation, Future Programme of Work of Secretariat in Field of Population

MARGARET POLLACK (United States) said the Population Division played an essential role as a source of policy-neutral population expertise, producing analytical reports, compendia of data and policies, among other products widely used by technical experts in Governments of Member States, multilateral organizations, academia and the general public.  It had done an exceptional job of delivering on its expected accomplishments, including facilitating Member States’ review of progress in the implementation of the Programme of Action, as well as progress towards population-related goals as part of the Millennium Development Goals and other United Nations conferences and summits.  She highlighted Division accomplishments over the past year, among them its charting of population development in small island developing States and the many databases it had developed, such as the “Population Ageing and Development Database 2014” and the “Urban and Rural Population by Age and Sex, 1980-2015” web data sets.

HARALD BRAUN (Germany) said that, for years, the Population Division had contributed to the integration of population issues into development cooperation.  The integration of key aspects of that nexus into the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and the measurement of data towards the sustainable development goals would be critical.  Germany was committed to cooperate with the Division, Member States and other partners to those ends.  In addition, his country had recently further strengthened its use of population data in order to facilitate decision-making and development planning.

GUSTAVO DE SANTIS (Italy) said that the huge effort of collecting data over the years, analysing it and making it available for access by scholars, policymakers and others, was both critical and useful.  One would always want more and better data, however the strides made should be recognized.  Italy would continue to count on the commendable work of the Division in the future.

JIANG WEIPING (China) said that the Division had made progress in data collection and dissemination and had a far-reaching role in assisting the decision-making of countries around the world.  During the past five years, China had cooperated effectively with the Division on a web-based population project, and was working on related training programmes with Kenya, Ghana and other countries.  Turning to future work of the Division, he said that several areas were critical.  The areas included strengthening technical support for developing countries, and the capacity of those countries on the collection, monitoring and evaluation of data; and strengthening the information exchange between countries on population.

JUAN ALFONSO (Cuba) said that the collection of population data was of key importance, in particular for developing nations across the world.  Taking into account the population issues being addressed in the sustainable development goals, Cuba wished to highlight the work of the United Nations Statistical Commission.  However, he expressed concern over the replacement of national statistics collection by international collection, which was unacceptable.  International data collection could never replace national statistics, he stressed, adding that Cuba’s national statistics were of a very high quality.

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations on Realizing the Future We Want:  Integrating Population Issues into Sustainable Development

REBECCA OAS, Catholic Family and Reproductive Rights Institute, said work by the United Nations on the issue of fertility had focused too much on contraceptives and fertility reduction, while the focus on families and making pregnancy safer had been lost.  Some 40 per cent of funding in that area was spent on family planning, while less than 2 per cent of women in Africa reported a lack of access to family planning.  Indeed, there was no unmet need for family planning, and the current policies around those issues were wasteful or, at worst, coercive.  Women needed to be educated about their fertility and a stronger focus needed to be placed on their health.

BRENDA MBAJA of the International Sexual Reproductive Rights Youth Caucus, noting that adolescents and young people accounted for 1.8 billion people in the world, said they had been left behind by the Millennium Development Goals and demanded that they be heard.  Youth must be engaged in meaningful participation throughout the new development agenda, which should include a strong paragraph on young people’s rights.  As sexual beings, they needed sexual and reproductive health information, education and services.  She demanded the full realization of all their human rights.  When health and rights were neglected in youth, adolescents and young people would suffer health issues throughout life.  When they did not participate in the design, implementation, governance, evaluation and accountability mechanisms of policies and programmes, “we do not feel the benefits of those programmes”, she said.

KATIE LAU of International Planned Parenthood said that, with the largest generation of young people in history, that population must be able to protect themselves and be trusted to make decisions about their own lives, bodies and futures.  Governments must ensure that the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action and the outcomes of its 2014 review were integrated into the post-2015 development framework, including a rights-based monitoring and accountability framework.  The new framework must promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health rights, advance gender equality and end all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls.  It must ensure that the human rights of all were respected, protected and fulfilled.

Ms. REDHAWK of the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning, noting that 80 per cent of the world’s population would live in urban areas by 2050, said that urbanization was the direct manifestation of institutionalized constructs, the micro-level processes that divided people from one another:  the sanctioned “rule by corporation” that “inhibited the creation of sustainable jobs in urban areas and dismantled the human spirit by blight that impedes the ability to effectively compete in local, national and global markets”.  The lack of dignity arising from social constructs imposed on others in order to capitalize on resources for the benefit of the relative few, constraining the availability and use of natural resources, creating scarcity of water, land, food security, health, housing and employment, and contributing to cultural and social instability as the root cause of poverty, inequality, political unrest and armed conflict.  Ways must be designed for all people to learn, plan and act, guided by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  Discussion was needed on the meaning of human rights to individual lives and how it could be used as a powerful tool for population development to progress safely.

SUSMITA CHOUDHURY of the Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, noting that sexual and reproductive health rights were interlinked with the other proposed sustainable development goals and the post-2015 development agenda, stressed that the unfinished agenda of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action should be incorporated into the post-2015 agenda.  She called for ensuring the protection of migrant rights, including their sexual and reproductive health, and demanded policy coherence of commitments to gender equality for sexual and reproductive rights, as well as in addressing climate change and increasing women’s access to decision-making structures and climate change resources.  The harmful ripple effect of religious extremism and fundamentalism in the region on sexual and reproductive health rights must be recognized.  She demanded that protection from all forms of violence remain an integral component of the post-2015 agenda within a human rights framework, and asked for greater resource allocation within the health sector to enhance sexual and reproductive health services.

RABELANI MUDAU of Action Aid related a number of stories from the informal settlement in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she lived, including stories of girls who learned nothing about sex except that if they engaged in it they would become pregnant or HIV positive.  “We, the young urban women, are working to change our realities,” she said, calling for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda to include a holistic approach to development for women, including decent working conditions and accessible sexual and reproductive health services that were friendly and non-judgmental.

NIHINLOLA MABOGUNJE, Country Director of IPSAS Nigeria, said that, if women and girls in Nigeria decided to terminate their pregnancies in order to protect their health and reclaim their futures, they might be treated as criminals or even die due to lack of access to safe abortion services.  Despite legal barriers, an estimated 760,000 abortions still occurred in Nigeria annually, most of them clandestine and many unsafe.  In the post-2015 development framework, all Governments should support making safe and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services — including legal abortion — accessible to all women.  In addition, all Governments should support repealing punitive abortion laws and all Governments should affirm that sexual and reproductive health and rights were human rights which should be respected, protected and fulfilled by States.

PATRICIA SAYERS of the International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants said that health and healing involved the whole person and required culturally sensitive care.  Encouraging the involvement of individuals, families and communities in their own health fostered responsibility and relieved the global community burden.  On human rights, she said that all patients had the fundamental right to informed consent, particularly in the areas of contraception and abortion, and that the coercion of young girls, boys, women and men must be forbidden.  She expressed concern that the primary means of fertility suppression was through the use of estrogen, a Class I carcinogen and progesterone, which was linked to blood clots that could lead to stroke and heart attack in women of childbearing years.

CAMILLE PESAVA of Amnesty International said it was important to learn from the Millennium Development Goals and address the gaps and challenges with regard to full implementation of key international agreements reached in Cairo, Beijing and Vienna.  Women and girls had been left behind.  The new framework must enable all to participate equally in sustainable development, particularly minorities and indigenous populations, migrants, refugees, the internally displaced and those in poverty or belonging to marginalized groups.  Women and girls must have access to development benefits regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.  Among numerous points, she urged consideration of the place of sexual and reproductive rights in the new agenda, the provision of sex education to all children and adolescents in and out of school, and access to effective remedies when sexual rights had been violated.  Inclusive participation in the development, implementation and monitoring of policies and programmes was critical, as was holding Governments to account for the implementation of sustainable development goals in line with human rights obligations.

YOADAN SHIFERAW of Stichting Rutgers WPF said that it remained of utmost importance for sub-Saharan Africa that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people and adolescents were at the centre of the debate on the integration of population issues in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.  Urgent action was needed to ensure that access to sexual and reproductive health services were youth-friendly.  Furthermore, legal and policy reforms were needed to end harmful practices, such as forced married and female genital mutilation.  “We call upon our Governments and the African region to follow up on the commitments made in the Addis Declaration,” she stated, adding that integrating those issues into the post-2015 agenda needed to be driven from a human rights perspective, based on the principles of the International Conference on Population and Development.

ELIZA MARGUERITE RAYMOND of the New Zealand Family Planning Association said that sexual and reproductive health and rights lay at heart of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.  Recalling principle 8 of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, she stressed that States should ensure that women and men around the world had the information needed to make critical decisions about their family planning.  Women should also have safe and unimpeded access to abortion.  Investing in sexual and reproductive health saved lives and brought social benefits, she added, noting that it was one of the most cost-effective investments that could be made.  According to one recent study, for every $1 invested, $23 could be saved.  Nevertheless, just .03 per cent of all donor aid was earmarked for family planning.  “We must seize this opportunity” to ensure that those issues were integrated into the post-2015 development agenda, she stressed, noting also her support for a standalone goal on gender equality.

CYNTHIA STUEN of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, South Asia Region said persistent violation of sexual and reproductive health rights seriously undermined the possibility of achieving sustainable and inclusive development.  It was critical for the Asian and Arab region that the integration of population issues in the post-2015 development agenda was human-centric, as reflected in the International Conference on Population and Development.  Accordingly, the Federation called on all Governments to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination and to empower youth and adolescents.

NADJA WOLFE of the World Youth Alliance said that recognition of the dignity and inalienable rights of all people was at the foundation of peace, security and development.  All people, without exception, must be respected.  “People are our greatest resource,” she added.   To achieve authentic development, it must be recognized that development was not only the work of the United Nations and policy makers, it was the shared work of all people.  Policy makers must recognize that.  She urged them to “invest in us; we are your dividend”.  Young people faced real challenges.  All needed stable families, good nutrition, education and health care.  Focusing on those areas would lead to truly inclusive sustainable development.  She called for people — not just population issues — to be integrated into the sustainable development agenda.

CYNTHIA STUEN of the International Federation on Ageing and Stakeholder Group on Ageing and the Stakeholder Group on Ageing said that older persons aged 60 and over were now the world’s fastest growing age group.  “There is no longer just a youth population bulge, there is now an age bulge,” she said.  People aged 60 and over now made up nearly 12 per cent of the world’s population, rising to 16 per cent by 2030 and 21 per cent by 2050, with the fastest increase in the developing world.  In that content, she urged the Commission to consider a paradigm shift that did not see ageing persons as only in need of health and social services, but also as active contributors and rights holder in an ageing world.  The disaggregation of population data by age, gender and disability was essential for the implementation and measurement of the sustainable development agenda.  In that vein, she recommended five-year increments beyond the age of 60 years.  “We must have data collection and management tools for monitoring the achievement targets of all sustainable development goals,” she said.  When referring to mortality and morbidity differentials between population subgroups within countries, it was insufficient to just focus on younger ages and showed a lack of respect for human rights.  “Older ages must be included,” she said.

SAIDA ALI of the International Women’s Health Coalition said that attempts by others to control the sexuality of women and girls violated their human rights on a daily basis.  Furthermore, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, sex workers and those living with HIV/AIDS also lived with daily discrimination.   The fulfilment of human rights was particularly urgent for youth, and comprehensive sexual rights education was needed to help people ensure their own health and navigate healthy relationships.  She added that violations of sexual rights exacerbated poverty and other development challenges.  Giving several examples of country and regional examples where sexual rights had been realized, she stressed that the start of the post-2015 period was a critical point to ensure respect for all rights related to bodies and sexuality.  “This is the time, right here and right now,” she stressed.

ZIA AUR-REHMAN of the Awaz Centre for Development Services said that, in Pakistan, 65 per cent of the population comprised young people.  They represented a huge potential for the fledgling nation and there was a dire need to include them in every strata of life.  The assumption that girls and boys under the age of 18 were “too young” to need sexual and reproductive health information and services ignored reality and kept young people from protecting themselves from abuse, exploitation and disease.  In that context, it was crucial that the sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, which were part of two goals — health and gender — in the Open Working Group outcome document, be retained and further strengthened by being included in the post-2015 development framework.  He went on to list a number of specific recommendations to that effect, including the endorsement and implementation of life skill based education for both in- and out-of-school youth and the strengthening of legislation for women’s protection and empowerment.

ANGELICA REGO of Advocates for Youth said girls were too often denied their fundamental human rights in the name of cultural beliefs.  Many of them were unaware of the importance of family planning and did not have sufficient access to sexual and reproductive health services.  Traditions, cultures and beliefs were important, but they should never hinder the fundamental rights of a human being.  To achieve collective, sustainable development goals, it was imperative that all stakeholders worked together to improve access to healthcare facilities and put an end to child marriages.

EVA RICHTER of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee on Migration said she was encouraged by a number of the goals, targets and indicators being considered for the post-2015 agenda, among them eliminating trafficking, protecting the rights of all workers and ensuring safe migration.  She requested that those goals and targets be supported and she urged work towards developing indicators that protected the rights of migrants and supported them in other ways.  All work on sustainable development should be people-centred, she stressed.

Right of Reply

Ms. ALI (Bahrain), speaking in right of reply, said that Israel’s claims about her country were groundless and off the topic of the meeting.   Bahrain was at the forefront of facilitating women’s rights, she asserted.

For information media. Not an official record.