Outcome Document Finalized as Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development Begins

On Tuesday, June 19, delegates at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development accepted the finalized version of the outcome document. The forty-nine page text reflects six months of negotiations, and now awaits adoption by high-level ministers and heads of state. The document was completed just in time for the official start of the Conference on Wednesday.

Initially set to conclude on Friday, June 15, negotiations were extended over the weekend under the leadership of Brazil. As the host country, the Brazilian delegation assumed the task of wrapping up negotiations and putting together the finished text. Throughout the final days, the mood at the Conference site was one of urgency—the document needed to be completed before the motorcades and helicopters bringing presidents and prime ministers descended on Rio. The Brazilian delegation responded by moving quickly through paragraphs and barring the inclusion of new language to accelerate the process.

In typical United Nations fashion, negotiations came to a halt after 2:00 AM early Tuesday morning. Delegates and civil society went home to await the release of the text by Brazil. As expected with a document of this breadth, Member States have identified remaining points of concern with the finished text. Acknowledging these difficulties, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota noted that the text was not ideal, but yet represented “the equilibrium” necessary to finalize the work of Rio+20.

The aim of the Rio+20 outcome document is to set the international sustainable development agenda. The document begins by renewing past political commitments, and then follows with language on the “green economy,” the institutional framework for sustainable development, and various thematic areas. These areas represent the many sectors in which attention to sustainable development is critical, ranging from poverty eradication to oceans and seas. The next section on the Sustainable Development Goals states that the work of defining these Goals, which will replace the current Millennium Development Goals, will begin at the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly this fall.

The World Youth Alliance is in Rio with a delegation of eleven young people that is committed to defending the dignity of the person. Civil society actors, representing an array of causes, have been extremely active and negotiation rooms overflowed with observers. The Monday evening negotiations on Gender were some of the most heavily attended. At this session, the WYA team witnessed the dramatic moment that gave rise to the removal of “reproductive rights” language from the text. Nicaragua, Syria, Chile, Egypt, Honduras, Russia, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic followed the lead of the Holy See in calling for the term’s deletion. In contrast, Peru, Norway, Bolivia, Canada, Switzerland, Uruguay, New Zealand, Iceland, Mexico, and the United States supported reproductive rights. Ultimately, reproductive rights received no mention in the final document.

It is critical to note that in the Health section of the document language on “sexual and reproductive health and the promotion and protection of all human rights in this context” was included. Although this language was directly taken from previous UN language (the 2009 ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration), it does not carry significant weight as consensus language, and should not have been presented as such. Now that this language has been included in the Rio+20 outcome document (paragraph 145), it could have negative effects for the protection of human life.

WYA stands in grateful solidarity with those delegates that boldly affirmed life at Rio+20. The inclusion of language on reproductive rights would have represented a sharp departure from previous Conferences, and would imply a right to abortion that is not grounded in international law, and fails to respect the national sovereignty and fundamental values of many Member States. While equality between genders is of paramount importance for the achievement of sustainable development, the World Youth Alliance recognizes that this equality is not achieved by way of approaches that violate the value of human life.