- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000


Conservative nations routed liberal and radical feminists at the finale of a U.N. special session on women's rights over the weekend, forcing Western powers to drop homosexual rights, sex rights for children and promotion of abortion from a new five-year U.N. agenda for women's advancement.
Christine Kapalata of Tanzania, the conference's negotiations chairman, told feminists at the end of a weeklong onslaught by Catholic and Muslim delegations, "We don't want a Beijing-minus-five document" a reference to the session's title, "Beijing-Plus-Five."
But conservative forces, led by Poland, Nicaragua, Senegal and the Holy See, pushed back efforts to expand a Platform for Action adopted five years ago by women from 189 nations at the 1995 U.N. Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing.
"It was a rout, it was an utter defeat for the other side," said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute in New York, who helped coordinate conservative opposition to sexual rights provisions for homosexuals and children and tougher pro-abortion mandates.
The session ended with the adoption of a document reiterating, among other things, that better education and health care are key to improving women's lives. It also called for universal primary and secondary education for boys and girls within the next 15 years and a more aggressive prosecution of those who commit acts of violence against women, including employers.
But there was no agreement on the tougher issues. The turning point came in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the first of two all-night negotiating sessions, when Western nations continued insisting that expanded homosexual rights be listed among the document's accomplishments. The section noted measures taken "by a growing number of countries … to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."
"We cannot accept that language," said a delegate from Senegal. A Syrian delegate agreed: "There's no way we can accept a document tonight with the phrase 'sexual orientation.' " Delegates from Nicaragua and Kuwait said they could not accept "sexual orientation," an undefined term, as a human right. The term was not included in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights nor the Beijing Platform for Action, the Kuwait delegate said.
"We need to progress and move beyond" the Platform for Action, said a New Zealand delegate, speaking for a coalition called JUSCANZ Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Patricia Flor of Germany, chairman of the negotiating session, agreed. "Should we go with a more than 50-year-old list?" she asked of the 1948 declaration.
After 45 minutes of argument on the single sentence, Ms. Flor said she would bracket the paragraph as unresolved and return to it later. Third World delegates protested that Jyoti Shankar Singh, executive coordinator of the U.N. session, had ruled that original Beijing platform language would prevail when disagreement occurred over new language, in order to move the process along.
"Translators were due to leave at 1 a.m., five minutes away, and Flor had let the debate continue long past the time limit," said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, one of 2,300 nongovernment organization (NGO) delegates. "People were livid. But the delegates from Senegal, Pakistan, and the G-77 group of developing nations said they would continue debate without interpreters. They truly put EU and JUSCANZ to shame," she said.
Then the blowup came. Western delegations are "holding the women of the world hostage to one term, 'sexual orientation,' " when their real needs are clean water and help in overcoming illiteracy, said the Pakistan delegate.
"We should just leave now," said a G-77 delegate. "They are being stubborn on one issue that is not important to most women of the world who are illiterate" and whose basic economic and health care needs are unmet. "They need to respect people who have spoken out. They are wasting time on minor issues and not being serious about the time spent. If they're not being serious, it is better just to leave now and go back to our own countries. They need to show respect and not bog us down on this issue."
"It was then a drum-roll rejecting sexual orientation," said Mr. Ruse. "It rolled across Africa, the Middle East, demanding ouster of 'sexual orientation' from the document. The room was electric. Our friends were galvanized. You had almost the whole world against 'sexual orientation' and the U.S. and EU isolated in favor."
From then on, paragraph after paragraph giving legitimacy to homosexual rights, sexual rights for children, and expanding abortion mandates were dropped from the document, Mr. Ruse said.
The last big fight occurred during Friday's all-night session, over a paragraph proposed by JUSCANZ and Turkey requiring health service providers to be offered abortion training and equipment in countries where the procedure is legal, "and take other measures to ensure that abortion is safe and accessible."
"On the floor that night, this was the big ball game," Mr. Ruse said. "The U.S, knew they had lost. If there was disagreement, they were to revert to the Beijing language."
On Wednesday, 24 pro-life members of Congress and several dozen members of both the Canadian and European parliaments wrote letters opposing the pro-abortion and sexual rights sections, he said.
"This was pivotal. The radical feminists really wanted to extend reproductive rights further from Beijing. And the intervention of the American Congress and the European and Canadian parliaments was very important," Mr. Ruse said. As enacted by 2,300 official country delegates, the new women's rights document included stronger measures to combat violence against women, sex exploitation, and the impact of HIV/AIDS.
"We have a very strong document which not only reaffirms Beijing and other relevant conferences on human rights and social development, but also moves forward," said Angela King, a U.N. assistant secretary and special adviser on advancement of women to Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

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