UNITED NATIONS—More than 250 world figures—but not the Bush administration—have urged the United Nations to promote a population agenda that seeks women’s education, health care and family planning.
The United States refused to support a statement from presidents, prime ministers and Nobel Prize winners, released on Wednesday, because it included the concept of “sexual rights,” which had no “agreed definition,” a State Department letter said.
At issue is the 10th anniversary of a 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo that abandoned population control goals. Instead it determined that if women were literate and had access to reproductive health care, they would choose to have fewer children.
Wednesday’s statement reaffirms a 1994 commitment “to an action plan to ensure universal access to reproductive health information and services, uphold fundamental human rights including sexual and reproductive rights, alleviate poverty, secure gender equality and protect the environment.”
It also says that although progress, poor nations were experiencing exponential increases in AIDS, persistent high levels of death from pregnancy and birth complications as well as inadequate access to family planning.
The statement was read at a news conference by Ted Turner, the media mogul who funds the UN Foundation that contributes to UN agencies and helped organize the letter.
Among the signatories were 85 prime ministers and presidents, including those from all 25 European Union nations as well as China, Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru and a dozen African countries.
Also signing were former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter as well as 47 Nobel Prize winners.
In Cairo 10 years ago, 179 countries approved a lengthy document and action plan, including Clinton’s Democratic administration, which reversed earlier Republican positions and agreed that abortion, in nations where legal, should be safe.
Since President George W. Bush took office, the $34 million annual funds for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have been withheld on grounds that it supports forced abortions in China, a contention the agency denies and says Washington never proved.
Thoraya Obaid, head of UNFPA, told a news conference her agency suffered from the White House cuts until last year when European nations and foundations more than made up for the shortfall.
Timothy Wirth, a former US senator from Colorado, who headed the US delegation in Cairo and is now president of the UN Foundation, said that 134 million couples who wanted family planning services had no access to them.
Five years ago, UNFPA sponsored a review of the Cairo program but this year Obaid said the United Nations was cutting down on conferences and would focus on “the country and regional level where real action takes place.”
Another reason, diplomats said, is that recent social issue conferences, such as AIDS prevention, have become increasingly divisive. The United States, Islamic countries and a few Catholic nations have joined forces to combat UN documents from promoting sexual and other rights for gays, women and teenagers.