CPD47: Renegotiating Cairo

Early in the morning on Saturday, April 12 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the 47th Review Session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD47) drew to a close. At around 4:30 AM, the Chair presented a revised streamlined resolution that removed some but not all language on reproductive rights and abortion, which was an improvement on earlier versions.

CPD47, with the theme “ICPD Beyond 2014 Review,” was intended to identify best practices and challenges in achieving the agreements made by 179 governments in Cairo in 1994 in the ICPD Programme of Action (PoA). Although no outcome document was expected in this session of the Commission, many Member States insisted on one on the basis of its being the 20th anniversary of the ICPD. However, these insistences were an attempt to mainstream the controversial sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) language contained in non-binding regional ICPD review conferences, in particular Latin America’s Montevideo Consensus. One week before the CPD, the Uruguay-appointed Chair circulated a draft outcome document. While it was supposed to be purely procedural in nature, the 4-page draft outcome document contained multiple SRHR references. Late-night parallel negotiations that concluded at dawn on Saturday and that involved only selected Member States brought up new SRHR issues not found in the PoA, attempting to force a revision of the 1994 agreements.

Through the strong efforts of some Member States, who were shocked to see the initial document that was not the review it was supposed to be, the final document has some good language, including sovereignty language reaffirming that each country can implement PoA recommendations “with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people.” Also, the document treats the aforementioned regional conferences as providing “region-specific guidance on population and development,” not international guidance, limiting their scope.

WYA also commends that in a paragraph on youth, language affirming parental rights and responsibilities to their children “to provide . . . appropriate direction and guidance on sexual and reproductive matters” and respect for “cultural values and religious beliefs” made it in. Yet this paragraph also calls on States to ensure that sexual abuse health services safeguard the “right of adolescents to privacy, confidentiality, respect, and informed consent,” and “where appropriate, remove legal, regulatory and social barriers to reproductive health information and care for adolescents.” This suggests the removal of restrictions for adolescents, such as parental consent or notification, on services like abortion and sterilization.

Abortion language in the outcome document is mixed. On the positive side, it is confined to the parameters set out in the PoA, as the document states abortion should not be a form of family planning and recourse to abortion should be reduced. Yet it explicitly states that “where abortion is not against the law” there must be “training and equipping [of] health services providers and other measure to ensure that such abortion is safe and accessible.” WYA asserts that no abortion can be safe in that it violates the dignity of the woman and results in the loss of a child, and that true reproductive health options do not include abortion. Further, “health services providers” is vague and opens the door to the performance of abortions outside hospitals and not by doctors, making abortion more accessible.

While there were several small victories in the CPD47 outcome document, there is much room for improvement. WYA will continue its advocacy efforts at the UN to get the language focus to move away from its current sole focus of SRHR to the broader purposes of protection of the family unit, access to proper sanitation, clean water, education, and basic health care for all, especially efforts to get mothers and babies safely through pregnancy and childbirth.

To find out more about the landmark ICPD conference in Cairo, the resulting PoA document, and more on the draft outcome document circulated before the start of CPD47, please see WYA’s blog post on the introduction to CPD47.

To find out more about WYA’s positions on reproductive health and maternal health in international law and policy, please read our white papers.