PRESS RELEASE: Commission on Population and Development Concludes without Resolution

Countries struggle to agree on abortion, comprehensive sexuality education

April 7, 2017

NEW YORK—Following lengthy negotiations, the UN’s Commission on Population and Development ended late tonight without a document. The 50th Session of the Commission on Population and Development came to a surprise conclusion when it was unable to adopt a resolution on its theme, “Changing population age structures and sustainable development.” World Youth Alliance worked with delegates throughout the process. Focused on promoting policies to address youth and ageing, the two elements of the Commission theme, World Youth Alliance also could not accept a final document that emphasized abortion and sexual rights.

Many Member States and the Chair, the State of Qatar, worked hard past the scheduled end of the Commission, to adapt the text to something that everyone could support without controversial policies or the need for reservations.

Countries committed to the promotion of abortion and comprehensive sexuality education prioritized promotion of these policies over achieving a consensus document. In light of this, Ambassador Alya Ahmed bin Said Al-Thani of Qatar withdrew the text. WYA appreciates Ambassador Al-Thani’s efforts throughout the Commission.

Following the announcement that there would be no resolution for the second time in three years, Nigeria, speaking on behalf of the Africa Group stated that it had exercised flexibility to accept the final compromise proposal under discussion and regretted that final proposed text was not acceptable to other delegations. The Caribbean Community also indicated that it would have accepted the final text under discussion at the end of the day.

Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, indicated that they would only have accepted an earlier draft, which included references to reproductive rights as well as comprehensive sexuality education. These terms refer to abortion and often explicit sexual education programs. France, speaking for a coalition of western countries as well as several from Latin America, expressed its disappointment that the Commission could not agree to adopt its views on reproductive rights and comprehensive sexuality education, and described sexual rights as being “at the heart of development.”

These extreme positions clearly do not reflect global consensus, but they do reflect the negotiating positions of several States and groups, sometimes even in spite of national laws that contradict what they are promoting. Likewise, these positions do not reflect the consensus of the document the Commission is tasked with implementing, which explicitly states that any policy related to abortion must be decided at the national level. In its national statement, Russia expressed its concern that the Commission was being used as a “back door” way to promote concepts such as reproductive rights and comprehensive sexuality education that do not enjoy consensus.

“It is unfortunate that European and other countries were so committed to the promotion of abortion and sexual rights that they could not come together to find a path forward to address human development,” said Nadja Wolfe, World Youth Alliance Director of Advocacy. “We thank those delegations, the Chair, and the facilitators who worked so hard even to the last minute to create a text that enjoyed global consensus, while respecting national laws and customs as well as international agreements.”

WYA expresses its gratitude to all the delegations, particularly in the Africa Group, the Arab Group, and the Caribbean Community, who worked hard to promote human dignity and sought a document grounded in authentic consensus. WYA will continue to work with Member States to ensure that this Commission and all the other activities of the UN enshrine policies centered on respect for the human person.

Want to learn more about WYA’s advocacy work at the Commission? Read our statement.