Published on Wednesday, March 2, 2005 by the Agence France-Presse
US Demand Causes Outcry at UN Meeting
A US attempt to insert language restricting abortion rights into documents prepared by a conference marking the 10th anniversary of a meeting in Beijing has sparked a determined response from European delegates as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations.
More than 150 such groups taking part in the conference that is examining the status of women a decade after the Beijing conference issued a statement Tuesday condemning the proposed US amendment.
"The purpose of this Session of the Commission on the Status of Women - the UN body charged specifically with advancing the status of women - is to reaffirm the Beijing Platform for Action, not to move backward or undermine it," the statement said.
"We, representatives of civil society organizations from all regions of the world, celebrate the historic achievement for women's human rights that the Platform represents," the document continued. "We strongly applaud the statement by Secretary General Kofi Annan that the Platform adopted in 1995 was 'a giant step forward' and that gender equality is critical to the development and peace of every nation', and we affirm his call for specific targeted actions to realize women's rights in ALL areas.
"In this light, we urge government delegations to oppose unequivocally the amendment to the Draft Declaration proposed by the United States. Let's affirm the Platform fully and move forward!" the signatories urged.
Nicole Ameline, the French Minister of Parity and Professional Equality, pointed out that the European Union and France, in particular, were opposed to the US amendment.
"France considers the Beijing Platform an achievement," the minister said at a press conference. "We are open to dialogue, but we also remain firm. It appears important to us to be able to adopt a new declaration without giving the world the impression that we are stepping back."
Ameline said this position had been unanimously approved by all 25 members of the European Union.
An aide to the minister explained that women's reproductive rights, as formulated in the Beijing Platform allow countries to legalize abortion but do not force them to do so.
Meanwhile, the US amendment will open the door to abortion bans, the aide pointed out.
The UN-sponsored World Conference on Women in Beijing set eight millennium goals, including cutting poverty by half by 2015.
Four other goals, based on recommendations from the Beijing conference, specifically affected women: universal access to primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of infant mortality; and improving women's health.
On Monday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged governments to pursue a comprehensive strategy aimed at guaranteeing women equal rights worldwide.
The UN head recommended improving girls' access to secondary as well as primary education, guaranteeing sexual and reproductive health and rights as well as property and inheritance rights and increasing women's share of seats in national parliaments and local government.
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