- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

CRLP fights Bush administration's 'global gag rule' against NGOs

Austin Ruse's Aug. 26 Commentary Forum piece, "Pro-choice and pro-U.N.," misrepresents the lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP) challenging the Bush administration's global gag rule. This lawsuit is about cherished American principles the rights to freedom of speech and association. It is not about any funding that CRLP receives. We have never accepted any U.S. funds.
The Bush global gag rule censors speech that promotes abortion law reform. It restricts foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. government family-planning funds from using their own, non-U.S. funds to provide legal abortion services, lobby their own governments for abortion law reform or even provide accurate medical counseling or referrals regarding abortion. Yet at least 78,000 women each year continue to die because of unsafe abortions. The gag rule thus buys the silence of overseas NGOs that seek to alleviate this global tragedy.
CRLP vs. Bush is about the rights to freedom of speech and association guaranteed to us all by the U.S. Constitution. We are challenging the Bush gag rule because it censors us and restricts our ability to associate with groups worldwide.
For example, although 20 percent of all women in Nepal's jails are imprisoned for the "crime" of abortion, the Bush gag rule forces Nepalese NGOs to choose between working with CRLP to oppose those laws or accepting crucial U.S. dollars. Overseas NGOs also may be reluctant to work with me on other reproductive rights issues, including safe motherhood and putting an end to female genital mutilation. The additional unfairness of the Bush gag rule is that it applies only to groups fighting to legalize abortion.
The U.S. government does not restrict organizations, such as Mr. Ruse's Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-Fam), from working to criminalize or further restrict abortion. CRLP is merely seeking the same rights as C-Fam to express its views.
CRLP's lawsuit is premised partly on our assertion that, like prohibitions on slavery and torture, freedom of speech and association are international customary norms. Our lawsuit does not assert that the right to abortion is a principle of international customary law. We will, however, continue to advocate worldwide for the critical importance of reproductive self-determination to women's equality. We ask only that the U.S. government not interfere with our work.

ANIKA RAHMAN
Director of the international program
Center for Reproductive Law and Policy
New York

Belarus can elect next leader without outside interference

The Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in the United States could not overlook the Aug. 23 Op-Ed column "Europe's last dictator," in which the authors urged the U.S. administration as well as the European Union to mobilize opposition forces against the Belarussian government and to use other countries to put pressure on Belarus.
The Belarussian people, like the people of any other independent and sovereign nation, can decide for themselves who will run their country for the next five years. Belarussian authorities are trying to make the upcoming presidential election democratic, transparent and fair. All external attempts to influence the people's decision-making process is counterproductive.
Belarus adopted a new electoral code in February 2000, which met commonly accepted international standards and was recognized by international experts, including those of the Venice Commission. In particular, they concluded that the code can be used for reasonably democratic elections.
To make the electoral process transparent, the Belarussian government created conditions for its observation. Besides internal observation, invitations have been sent to member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and to the major international institutions, including the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Union and others, which already deployed their missions in Belarus.
At this time, the candidates for the presidency are promoting and advertising their programs to the voters on the state television and radio company as well as in the eight state-run periodicals. Access to the independent media (more than 800 independent media are registered in Belarus) is not limited.
On Sept. 9, the internal and international communities will have the opportunity to observe the results of the second presidential election in the history of the Republic of Belarus.

VALERY V. TSEPKALO
Ambassador
Embassy of the Republic of Belarus
Washington

Corps of Engineers says Potomac discharge is 'safe'

In response to your recent articles and editorials about the Army Corps of Engineers' Washington Aqueduct, I am writing to clarify the process used to provide safe, reliable and economical drinking water to more than 1 million residents in the District, Arlington County and the Falls Church service area in Northern Virginia ("Dumping in the Potomac," Editorials, Aug. 23).
All water processed in the Washington Aqueduct's plants is drawn from the Potomac River at Great Falls and Little Falls. Annually, 65.7 billion gallons are produced. The sediment that comes with the raw water into the treatment plant must be removed. Only the sediment and the coagulant (alum) are flushed periodically back into the river. We call them "solids" to differentiate them from the product of a sewage treatment plant, which may be referred to as sludge.
Our solids contain no human or industrial wastes, nor do they contain chlorine or chloramine. The discharge does not cause foam in the Potomac River. We make these discharges strictly according to our National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit and only when it is operationally appropriate, whether it is day or night. The current method of removing solids has been used since 1927.
A study completed in 1993 (as a condition of the 1989 permit) determined there were no toxic or benthic effects of the discharges on aquatic life in the Potomac River.
We continue to work closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Fish and Wildlife Service to gather additional scientific data on the effects of the discharges. We fully expect the EPA will re-evaluate every aspect of the Washington Aqueduct's present discharge procedures as it decides the limits of the new permit.
We frequently give tours of the aqueduct to inform the public of the issues facing water-treatment operations. I invite any member of the news media to visit and observe operations. He or she will find our highly qualified employees carrying out their responsibilities in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.

COL. CHARLES J. FIALA JR.
District engineer
Corps of Engineers
U.S. Army
Baltimore


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