58th Commission for Social Development concludes with resolution on homelessness

Contention over a health paragraph in a separate resolution on economic development in Africa.

Feb. 20, 2020, NEW YORK—The Commission for Social Development concluded Wednesday, February 19th, 2020, adopting a resolution on homelessness for the first time. WYA welcomes the inclusion of language about dignity education in the Resolution on Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness (E/CN.5/2020/L.5).

The resolution declares that “the dignity of the human person is fundamental” and describes homelessness as a violation of human dignity. It also adopted language first included last year encouraging Member States to adopt educational programs “that promote equality and inclusion through the affirmation of the fundamental dignity of the person.”

“Homelessness is a global problem but is not often addressed at the global level,” stated WYA president Lord Pomperada. “This theme has been an opportunity to remember that human dignity does not depend on the wealth of the individual, but is inherent in everyone. WYA is proud to contribute to affirming this dignity through the Human Dignity Curriculum, including with programs serving poor and homeless children.” (Learn more about the Human Dignity Curriculum here.)

The resolution also stressed the importance of family-oriented policies and noted the connection between breakdown of the family and homelessness. Moreover, several Member States hosted side events related to the family and homelessness, addressing challenges of ensuring appropriate housing and addressing family-related causes of homelessness.

During the closing session, the resolution was adopted by consensus, reflecting good will and partnership towards shared goals. Speaking after adoption of the resolution, the Holy See noted in its statement that this was the first time a U.N. body adopted a resolution on homelessness, and encouraged addressing health needs, mental health needs, and family homelessness.

The Commission also adopted several other resolutions. Among these was a Resolution on the social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, sponsored by the Group of 77 and China as well as Turkey. The U.S. challenged a paragraph which referenced the Maputo Plan of Action 2016–2030 for the Operationalization of the Continental Policy Framework for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, requesting a vote to remove it. Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are widely understood to include abortion, which is not agreed in international law (learn more in WYA’s white paper on reproductive health). The U.S. objected specifically to this language. Guyana, speaking for the sponsor group, said it regretted that an important health paragraph was being challenged. Portugal, speaking for the European Union, shared that view and stressed that the language had appeared in previous resolutions on the same topic.

Although the Maputo Protocol, an African Union treaty which the Plan of Action is based on, does call for abortion rights, the Plan of Action recognizes it “in accordance with national laws and regulations,” in line with the international consensus at the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo 1994) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing 1995). Most African countries permit abortion in only limited circumstances, despite significant international pressure to legalize it.

The U.S. was the only country to vote against the paragraph’s inclusion, and the document was adopted afterwards intact. Given the inclusion of other important health topics in the paragraph, the weak language on abortion, and the resolution’s co-sponsorship by 135 countries, its adoption was unsurprising. However, WYA will continue to encourage Member States to respect international consensus on abortion and avoid language that suggests there is a right to abortion.

WYA will also continue to represent its members at the Commission for Social Development and other U.N. events, promote a correct understanding of human dignity, and urge Member States to adopt policies which reflect and respect that understanding.