United Press International, October 15, 2004
Bush Refuses to
Support 1994 Cairo Agreement on Women's Rights
DATELINE: WASHINGTON -- With very little fanfare,
President George W. Bush has refused once again
to see the United States included among the
signatories on an international declaration.
That the United States would not participate
in international agreements that work against
U.S. economic or national-security interests
-- like the Rome Treaty establishing the International
Criminal Court -- has been a major issue in
the 2004 presidential campaign.
Bush sees it as a matter of principle -- that
it is his job to ensure the United States does
not have its sovereignty or its national interests
subordinated to international treaties, agreements
and declarations, many of which originate in
the workings of the vast U.N. bureaucracy.
His political opponents counter the Bush approach
to such matters smacks of dangerous neo-isolationism
that borders on a "my way or the highway"
approach to international relations.
Bush, nevertheless, remains firm.
The most recent example of that firmness is the
administration's decision to withhold the president's
signature from a declaration signed Wednesday
by 85 nations -- as well as a number of prominent
private citizens, including Bishop Desmond
Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and
former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias --
reaffirming support for a 1994 agreement on
women's rights hammered out in Cairo.
At the conclusion of the International Conference
on Population and Development, 179 nations
including the United States agreed to embark
on a 20-year program that set targets for promoting
what a U.N. news agency described as "sexual
and reproductive health, women's empowerment,
human rights and resource mobilization."
The declaration, which several news reports suggested
media mogul Ted Turner, who has pledged millions
in financial support for the United Nations,
played a part in organizing, was issued on
the 10th anniversary of the Cairo conference.
It was signed by several important Bush allies
on the world stage, including British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, Mexican President Vicente
Fox, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.
For Bush, however, their endorsement was not
While the administration remains committed to
advancing the rights of women around the world
and frequently cites the number of women who
participated in the recent Afghan presidential
election as tangible proof of that the support,
a senior U.S. State Department official said
there would be no Bush signature for the anniversary
declaration because it "goes beyond what
was agreed to at Cairo."
The United States' particular complaint is that
the declaration includes a clause committing
the signatory nations to uphold "sexual
rights," a term the Bush people say has
no agreed-upon definition in the international
The phrase first appears to have been used at
the 1995 U.N. conference on women in Beijing.
Under the leadership of first lady Hillary
Rodham Clinton, the United States played a
lead role in the production of a document signed
by 180 nations -- including the United States
-- that said women's rights "include their
rights to have control over and decide freely
and responsibly on matters related to their
sexuality, including sexual and reproductive
health, free of coercion, discrimination and
The Bush administration reads the phrase as code
for abortion rights, something the president
firmly opposes and has acted to limit during
his time in office..
Domestically, Bush signed into law a ban on partial-birth
abortions in the United States, something that
earned him kudos from the GOP base even after
several federal judges who called it an unconstitutional
infringement on the rights of women issued
injunctions against it.
Internationally, Bush signed on his first day
in office an executive order restoring President
Reagan's 1984 "Mexico City Policy."
That policy requires non-governmental organizations
like the U.N. Population Fund to agree as a
condition of receiving U.S. taxpayer funds
that they will not perform or actively promote
abortion as a method of family planning.
Bush's statement reinstating the Mexico City
Policy that Bill Clinton -- who also signed
Wednesday's anniversary declaration -- rescinded
may be the president's clearest pronouncement
on the matter.
"It is my conviction that taxpayer funds
should not be used to pay for abortions or
advocate or actively promote abortion, either
here or abroad," he said in 2001.
As a result, the United States has repeatedly
withheld tens of millions of dollars from the
UNFPA because the U.N. agency, the United States
says, provides assistance to China, which uses
forced abortions to limit the growth of its
Both China and the UNFPA deny the charge.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration -- on moral
as well as political grounds -- has remained
firmly committed to its original position on
The Kerry campaign, which is barnstorming swing
states in the Midwest looking for last-minute
votes, hopes to make abortion an issue since
women are thought to be a key bloc of undecided
or persuadable voters.
Unlike Bush, Kerry endorsed the declaration and
pledged in a statement of his own to reaffirm
a "leading role" for the United States
in fighting for women's rights -- including
the right to abortion worldwide.
"I will repeal burdensome restrictions on
family planning (and) restore U.S. funding
to the (UNFPA)," Kerry said.
For the first time in recent memory, both candidates
for president have danced around the issue
on the campaign trail. Bush addresses it obliquely,
as he did during the second debate when he
brought up the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous
Dred Scott decision affirming that at least
some of the people living in the United States
could be classified as a piece of property
rather than as a person.
Kerry, on the other hand, falls back on his past
as an altar boy to affirm what he says is his
personal view while failing to trumpet his
20-year record of opposition to legislation
restricting abortion rights or his receipt
of the first presidential endorsement from
Planned Parenthood's political arm.
Rather than being a centerpiece of one or both
campaigns, Bush and Kerry both seem reluctant
to face it head-on in the political arena --
though neither has shied away from it as a
matter of policy.
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<< United Press International -- 10/15/04
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