- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

NEW YORK European leaders at the United Nations Child Summit yesterday accused the U.S. delegation of being "intransigent" on hot-button cultural issues.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who is leading the U.S. delegation, stood firm in private meetings yesterday in the face of strong European objections to U.S. positions on child abortion, redefinition of the family and capital punishment.
European delegation leaders from Sweden, Norway and other countries spoke to Mr. Thompson in a private morning meeting before the official start of the U.N. General Assembly's Special Session on Children.
The leaders complained that the United States was being "intransigent" on social and cultural issues that divide conservatives and liberals, sources close to the U.S. delegation told The Washington Times.
"And Thompson didn't flinch," one person familiar with the meeting said. Mr. Thompson told the leaders that the U.S. delegation was following the wishes of President Bush, the sources said.
The European delegates told Mr. Thompson it was ironic that the United States was siding with Muslim countries at the child summit, some of whom have been labeled as constituting part of an "axis of evil" in the war against terrorism.
The secretary of health and human services "told them that these issues were bigger than political issues, they are important policy issues," one source said.
The European delegations to the summit are pushing for the redefinition of the family "in its various forms." Language in documents of prior world conferences dating to 1995 give primacy to the natural husband-wife unit.
The United States is demanding the inclusion of other language stating that "marriage must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses, and husband and wife should be equal partners," according to those familiar with ongoing negotiations for a final child summit document.
The U.S. delegation also is fighting European insistence that "reproductive health services" be guaranteed by member states to all children, which, a senior Canadian negotiator recently acknowledged, included abortion services.
"The U.S. delegation is working very hard and they're doing a brilliant job," said Jean Head of the National Right to Life Committee, a nongovernmental organization with a permanent presence at the United Nations.
A move by European leaders to have the summit ban capital punishment for all child criminals under age 18, regardless of the crime, is the latest obstacle confronting negotiations on the final document.
The United States has vigorously opposed the move on the grounds that each country has the right to make such decisions for itself. "The United States is standing firm, because this would require us to change our laws," said Sharon Slater of Arizona-based United Families International.
In another move yesterday, the European Union and certain Latin American countries of the so-called Rio Group removed language that said implementation of international health and reproductive health goals would take into account "national laws, religious beliefs and cultural values" of particular countries giving the U.N. document more muscle in overcoming resistance in Christian and Muslim countries.
United Families and the World Congress of Families produced a 510-page hard-bound "Negotiating Guide" in time for the child summit. The guide was distributed to more than 70 delegations attending the three-day special session this week.
The United Nations' yearly conferences on population problems, social development, women's and children's rights and environmental issues are a new development in international law. The result is that "outcome documents" are implemented and reviewed every five and 10 years, with U.N. report cards being issued to countries by implementing committees, said Richard G. Wilkins, a constitutional lawyer and managing director of the World Family Policy Center at Brigham Young University.
"For more than a decade, participating states have formally committed themselves to the norms contained in each outcome document of the conference cycle," he said in a foreword to the negotiating guide. "Some academics, including myself, have observed that the international community's increased attention to the statement, restatement and implementation of new social rules may be facilitating the rapid creation of customary and enforceable international law."
The intent of such world law is to supersede laws of individual countries through moral persuasion and lobbying by international groups, he said.
In opening the summit, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted the presence of nearly 400 participating youth from 138 countries 211 girls and 151 boys, more than half of them members of official country delegations.
Mr. Thompson, speaking for the United States, celebrated the "substantial progress" of American children in the areas of health, nutrition, education, labor and the environment.
But too many children in the United States and throughout the world are physically inactive "and the consequences are being found in deteriorating health for many children," Mr. Thompson said. "In America, for example, type-2 diabetes is growing at epidemic proportions and the number of overweight children has tripled in the past two decades."
Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, which organized the summit, said governments would reaffirm goals that the international community has long agreed on.
"I would just like to note that what world leaders do here is being watched," the UNICEF director said. "The global pledging campaign for children, called Say Yes, has gathered nearly 100 million pledges from people around the world. Through paper ballots and Internet voting, these 90-million-some individuals have said they support investment in children and expect leaders to keep promises they make. That is a powerful incentive that I hope will add to the momentum of this conference."
The Say Yes campaign, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, asked children to rank the most important actions that world leaders must take for children confronting poverty, starvation, lack of health care, war, exploitation and trafficking.


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