OneWorld.net, October 14, 2004
Bush AWOL As 250 World Leaders
Reaffirm Women's Rights
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON With the notable exception
of U.S. President George W. Bush, more than
250 global leaders, including former President
Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony
Blair, reaffirmed their commitment to a ten-year-old
UN plan to ensure the rights of women around
In an unprecedented statement, the former and
current leaders, including 85 heads of state
and government, also called for the fulfillment
of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),
adopted by the UN in 2000, that call for greater
efforts to sharply reduce global poverty and
achieve universal access to education and health
by the year 2015.
This statement is the good news the world
is looking for in these troubled times,
said CNN founder Ted Turner, one of the business
leaders and philanthropists who signed the
statement, in presenting it to Thoraya Ahmed
Obaid, the executive director of the UN Population
Fund (UNFPA), and Deputy Secretary General,
It underscores the need for cooperation
across every sector and country, to realize
our shared dream for a world that is equitable,
peaceful, and healthy, he said.
The statement came on the eve of the tenth anniversary
of the 1994 International Conference on Population
and Development (ICPD) in Cairo where representatives
of 179 governments adopted a plan of action
that affirmed the fundamental rights of women,
including their sexual and reproductive rights,
and set specific targets for their achievement.
The targets included universal access to family
planning, safe motherhood, treatment and prevention
of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such
as HIV/AIDS, basic education and greater opportunities
for social and economic advancement.
But the Bush administration, which has cut off
funding of UNFPA and repeatedly voiced reservations
about the ICPDs commitment to sexual
and reproductive rights, declined to sign on
to the statement.
In a letter to the organizers, U.S. Deputy Assistant
Secretary of State Kelly Ryan said Washington
was committed to goals and objectives
of the ICPD, but that it was unable
to endorse the statement. The statement
includes the concept of sexual rights,
a term that has no agreed definition in the
international community, goes beyond what was
agreed to at Cairo, and is not a component
of the ICPD, the letter asserted.
The United States, which helped draft and strongly
supported the Cairo plan of action, as well
as the UN women s conference in Beijing in
1995, abruptly changed course after Bush became
president six years later.
It has not only refused to spend over US$70 million
in contributions approved by Congress to UNFPA,
but has also sought to weaken international
support for the ICPD and the Beijing platform
of action by lobbying so far, unsuccessfully
other countries to back its efforts to exclude
references to sexual and reproductive health
services in regional conferences in Latin America
Last spring, senior officials even threatened
to withhold U.S. contributions to other UN
and private agencies, including the World Health
Organization (WHO) and the UN Children s Fund
(UNICEF), if they failed to break their links
to UNFPA, despite its active role in the global
fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Bush has charged that the UNFPA, by providing
support to Chinas Health Ministry, indirectly
supports a program of forcible abortion and
sterilization in several countries in China,
although the State Department and a series
of investigations by other private groups have
concluded that the agencys work in China
has actually encouraged its government to abandon
coercive practices in its population program.
As one of his first acts in office, Bush also
reinstated the so-called global gag rule
first decreed by former President Ronald Reagan.
Under it, foreign family planning agencies may
not receive any U.S. foreign aid if they provide
any abortion-related services, including counseling
or referrals on abortion, or even lobbying
to relax anti-abortion laws in their own country,
even if they use their own money for that purpose.
Some U.S. lawmakers and a number of feminist
groups have accused the administration of waging
a war against women in its international
Indeed, Washington teamed up this week with the
Vatican, a staunch ally in its opposition to
sexual and reproductive health rights, and
some conservative Islamic countries in order
to prevent a formal review of progress toward
achieving the goals of the ICPD by the General
Assembly in addition to marking its 10th anniversary
that would result in a final communique.
The head of the UN Foundation, former Sen. Tim
Wirth, noted that Washingtons position
on the reproductive rights, and its abdication
of its leadership on the issue, created a
lot of disappointment at the UN. As undersecretary
of state for global issues, Wirth played a
major role at both the Cairo and Beijing conferences.
Washingtons isolation was made clear by
the leaders who signed the statement, among
them Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Mexican
President Vicente Fox, all of the heads of
government of the European Union (EU), Botswanas
president Festus Mogae, as well as a more than
a dozen other African leaders, and the leaders
of China, Japan, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
In addition to Clinton, former President Jimmy
Carter also signed the statement, as well as
former WHO chief and Norwegian Prime Minister
Gro Harlem Brundtland.
In addition to Carter, more than two dozen Nobel
laureates were also listed as signatories,
including the Rev. Bishop Desmond Tutu and
former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
The statement noted that global contributions
to the achievement of the MDGs were lagging.
For 2005, some $18 billion was to have been
devoted achieving universal health care and
sharp reductions in infant and maternal mortality
rates, but that current contributions were
running about $3 billion short. The rapid spread
of HIV/AIDS also required more funding than
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