Reproductive rights, sovereignty continue to prevent agreement at 51st Commission on Population and Development
April 13, 2018
UNITED NATIONS—The Commission on Population and Development (CPD) concluded its 51st session without adopting a resolution. This marks the third failure to come to consensus in the last four years due to disagreements on controversial policies.
CPD leadership and the Member States were highly motivated to agree to a resolution on the theme “Sustainable cities, human mobility, and international migration,” and break the trend of disunity. However, uncertainty about the outcome characterized the week as disagreements proved intractable.
Ambassador Ion Jinga of Romania, chairing the Commission, made several statements throughout the week expressing his desire for an agreed outcome. As the resolution was taken up for final consideration, he made a final plea, indicating specific efforts on the points of disagreement. He noted the use of language from previous resolutions on reproductive rights, but did not mention that that same language was a large part of why the previous session did not come to agreement. He also stated that the idea of sovereignty, if not the word, was reflected in the text.
The United States took the floor before adoption to state that it could not join consensus as the text stands. Uganda then made a statement on behalf of the African Group that they could not accept the text due to the lack of clear reference to sovereignty. If the language had been removed, the Western Europe and Other Group of states would have rejected it. In light of this, the Chair withdrew the text from consideration.
Tunisia then made a statement on behalf of a number of countries expressing a commitment to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health and rights, describing them as “at the heart of sustainable development” in light of the lack of outcome document. Australia later echoed these sentiments, and stated it also could not have supported the text in the way that it addressed migration issues, a topic also being negotiated in a different process.
The United States also made a statement explaining that it could not support a document in which language such as sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights went unqualified and sovereignty was not fully included. The Holy See expressed its support for the theme of the Commission, but also stated its disappointment with a departure from principles in the International Conference on Population and Development, the guiding document of the Commission, including recognition of the right of states to set their own laws on abortion.
The Commission’s failure to adopt a resolution highlights the centrality of arguments about the dignity of the human person to negotiations at the United Nations. It also raises questions about the work of the CPD and its future.
Although it is regrettable that the Member States could not reach consensus on the important theme of the session, standing firm on key issues ensured that problematic language was not adopted. WYA thanks those Member States and regional groups that worked hard to ensure that the text respected human dignity and did not promote controversial policies.