Mid-week Report on the 48th Commision on Population and Development

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The Commission on Population and Development (CPD) is currently holding its 48th meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York. This year’s theme is “Realizing the Future We Want: Integrating Population Issues Into Sustainable Development, Including in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.”

The theme links the work of the commission with the largest project currently underway at the United Nations: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs will replace the Millennium Development Goals, which will expire at the end of the year. For that reason, the SDGs and sustainable development agenda is often known as the “post-2015 agenda.” Through this theme, the Commission is offering its ideas for the ongoing SDG process.

CPD is a functional commission within the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Founded in 1946 as the Population Commission, it was renamed and re-tasked following the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Held earlier that year in Cairo, the ICPD produced a non-binding consensus document, the Programme of Action, which linked population with development. Since then, CPD has functioned as a review mechanism on work towards the program articulated in the ICPD.

ICPD is often discussed as a guarantee of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). However, there are several problems with this statement. First of all, the ICPD is not a binding document, and therefore States are not required to comply with its terms (and a number of States made clear at adoption that they reject policies against human dignity). Even if the ICPD were binding, however, it does not promote abortion as a human right, does not call upon any State to legalize it, and it states that abortion should never be used as a method of family planning.  This is discussed further in several of WYA’s white papers.

Despite this, the review conference has largely concerned promoting reproductive rights, not in the limited sense outlined by the ICPD, but as a guarantee to abortion with few restrictions. As part of the meetings, ministers and diplomats from Member States can make comments. Many of these statements reiterate the same assumptions: that fertility rates must be lowered for sustainable development, that sexual and reproductive health and rights are necessary for this and for women’s empowerment, and that youth require SRHR, comprehensive sexual education, and “youth friendly reproductive health services.” All of these policies run contrary to human dignity.

Several States communicated the centrality of these goals to their national agendas. The Netherlands’ statement was given by a 21 year old Youth Ambassador for Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights. Brazil asserted that it is time to “recognize sexual rights as human rights.” Myanmar (Burma) described its efforts to increase contraceptive use prevalence as a way to “make pregnancy wanted and planned.” Some, such as France, highlighted a commitment to increasing contraceptive use and legalizing abortion in developing countries where use is low and abortion restricted or illegal. Many official statements have echoed these ideas.

However, several Member States, both for themselves and on behalf of groups, have taken stands for human dignity. Speaking on behalf of the African Group, Niger noted the region’s rejection of the use of abortion as an alternative to contraception and reiterated the principles of respect for sovereignty, national laws, and cultural and religious values which are accounted for in ICPD. The Arab Group expressed similar ideas. The island State of Nauru, speaking for itself and several other small island developing states, stated that, “A narrow focus on just population reducing policies misses that human beings are the solution, rather than the impediment, to the achievement of sustainable development,” and noted efforts to strengthen families, and its rejection of abortion as a method of family planning. More directly, Malta “continues to sustain that the right to life extends to the unborn child” and that “induced abortion at any stage of gestation and for whatever reason is an infringement of this right.” Member States can submit their statements for online publication, and may be found here.

There are also 20 official side events, typically panel discussions, sponsored by Member States and U.N. agencies, and often co-sponsored by non-governmental organizations. Of these events, at least 12 are related to the promotion of SRHR. WYA has been attending these meetings. Antoine Mellado, Director of Advocacy for WYA Europe, has asked several questions designed to draw attention to the authentic needs of young people. The advocacy team has also noticed the high attendance and frequent co-sponsorship for these events of International Planned Parenthood Federation, a well-funded global organization dedicated to the expansion of abortion and sexual rights, including for children without parental consent.

Throughout this process, negotiations on the Commission’s report are also ongoing. The report, although non-binding, has persuasive authority and can influence future negotiations and funding decisions that may follow. WYA has been monitoring the negotiations and providing support to Member States.

Finally, WYA requested to speak at the Commission and has been added to the speaker list. Civil society organizations may give statements after Member States, and so we expect to give our statement late in the week, with online publication to follow.