All Participants Except United States Reaffirm Family Planning, HIV/AIDS Prevention Language in Bangkok Conference Plan of Action
The Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference ended yesterday in Bangkok, Thailand, with the reaffirmation of a 1994 international family planning and population agreement by all of the participating countries except the United States, which continued to oppose language in the conference's Plan of Action, the Jakarta Post reports (Yuliandini, Jakarta Post, 12/18). The Bush administration has said that portions of the Program of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference of Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt -- specifically the phrases "reproductive health services" and "reproductive rights" -- promote abortion (Dao, New York Times, 12/18). The U.S. delegation previously said it would not "reaffirm" provisions from past agreements on reproductive health and family planning and instead would only "take note of, acknowledge, or recall" the commitments agreed to at previous conferences, including the Cairo meeting (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 12/17). Conference attendees yesterday rejected the U.S. delegation's proposed changes to the draft in two votes of 31-1 and 32-1, the New York Times reports (New York Times, 12/18). The action was "virtually unprecedented" for a United Nations meeting, which generally operate on consensus. The United States, which abandoned its "demand for extensive amendements" and called for the vote, registered the only opposing vote, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 12/17). The plan as approved aims to fight poverty throughout the world by focusing on 12 areas, including family planning, gender equality and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, the AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports. The approved 22-page Plan of Action also calls for "consistent condom use," a phrase the U.S. delegation had asked to be removed, to help reduce the spread of HIV infection. The document states that population policies "must encompass the principle of voluntary and informed decision making and choices, the preservation and protection of human rights, including the matters related to reproductive rights and reproductive health services" (Joshi, AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 12/18).
The conference outcome "shows that the countries [participating] have acted independently, looking at their own laws and sovereignty and abiding by their own priorities," United Nations Population Fund Executive Director Thoraya Obaid said. She added, "Even though the U.S. was the only dissenting voice in the meeting it did join the consensus at the end." Assistant Secretary of State Eugene Dewey, the U.S. conference delegate, said, "There should be no inference drawn from the fact that everyone else seems to be very happy with the language -- and the U.S. is trying to improve the language in some cases -- that we have a great gulf between us and the other representatives here who share the objectives that we share" (Agence France-Presse, 12/17). The U.S. delegation lodged a reservation with the Plan of Action, saying it was "deeply disappointed," according to the South China Morning Post. "Our proposals were rejected without any serious attempt to bridge the gulf through normal compromises ... these matters reach into the heart of the very nature of life itself," it said (England, South China Morning Post, 12/18). Terri Bartlett, vice president of Population Action International, said, "Delegations came here prepared to strengthen language in the Plan of Action on areas of joint concern -- from women's rights, HIV/AIDS, migration and most of all, the elimination of poverty. Instead, they were met with roadblock after roadblock erected by the U.S. delegation in its singular determination to export a domestic political agenda to a region thousands of miles away." She added, "At the end of five ... days, the U.S. delegation then expressed its reservation about the weakness of the document on several key issues while, in reality, it was U.S. actions that prevented further progress from being made" (PAI release, 12/17).
NPR's "All Things Considered" yesterday reported on the conclusion of the conference. The segment includes comments from Francoise Girard of the International Women's Health Coalition and Lalaine Viado of the Network of Asia Pacific Youth (Wilson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 12/17). The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online.