U.N. Members Debate the Meaning of Family At Pre-Istanbul Meeting In NYC
by Vernon Kirby
Will the world develop "sustainable,' "gendered" cities-places where every "stake holder" has a "right to housing," where "equality" (or is it "equity?") reign, where "various forms of the family exist" and where landlords cannot discriminate based on "sexual orientation"?
Well, the world will have to wait at least a few months more to find out. Despite efforts to piece together such a document at the recent (5-16 February) preparatory meeting for the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), delegates will be sending a heavily contested, largely unapproved document to Istanbul in June.
At the end of a plodding, inefficient process criticized even by U.N. insiders, the PrepCom III meeting at the U.N. produced a draft Statement of Principles and Commitments and a Global Plan of Action that is heavily bracketed (meaning the wording of large sections are contested). In fact, about one-third of the document was virtually unnegotiated in New York, where a leisurely start, coupled with lack of adequate interpretation, aggressive maneuvering to change language in the original documents and the presence of large numbers of delegates who had not previously attended a U.N. conference combined to produce delays.
Only the unnegotiated and bracketed text will be subject to review in Istanbul, but that is a considerable portion of the document. Efforts by various groups to get their language inserted in the document is likely to be intense.
"We leave here with many brackets on phraseology that have thus far defied our most intense efforts," Wally N'Dow, the conference's general secretary, lamented in his closing PrepCom address. N'Dow himself became the center of controversy after it was revealed that he authorized the borrowing of $1.4 million in Habitat Foundation housing funds to help finance the conference. U.N. funding is tight, and Habitat enthusiasts hope to get considerable private sector and local government financial support for their plans.
One observer suggested that a newly described condition known as "Pre-Millennial Tension" (PMT) seemingly struck PrepCom III. Maybe so. Habitat II, the U.N.'s last global conference of the century, subtly seeks to weave the major elements of the past several global conferences together under one roof. Those conferences focused on the radical feminist agenda (Beijing), economics/development (Copenhagen), radical environmentalism and feminism (Rio de Janeiro).
As part of its central "enabling paradigm," the Habitat II document borrows especially heavily from the population control concepts of "sustainable development" and "carrying capacity" promulgated in Rio, and it pushes the "gender perspective" refined in Beijing. Such a noxious mix could easily lead to a bout of PMT.
As the session drew to a close on 16 February, one of its most interesting and illustrative diplomatic exchanges took place. The subject was the phrase "various forms of the family exist" that appears in the current document. Prolife/family forces at the conference are concerned that the language, while true on its face, will be used to advance legitimization of homosexual and other "alternative" arrangements.
In one of the working group meetings, Guatemala asked that the language be bracketed. Canada immediately objected, saying that was language previously agreed upon at other conferences. Italy, Benin and the U.S. jumped aboard, giving "full support" to the Canadian position. The chairman seemed to rule against Guatemala, whose delegate then firmly insisted on his country's sovereign right to call for bracketing any portion of the document.
The Holy See delegate pointed out that an earlier section, which included previously agreed-upon language, was bracketed. Algeria urged that the rules be fairly and consistently applied. After a break, the chairman of the session, differentiating between objections based on principle and those based merely on linguistics, ruled in favor of Guatemala.
A gender perspective?
Earlier in the week, the Women's Caucus, dominated by archfeminist Bella Abzug, co-chair of the Women's Environment and Development Organization, proffered four pages of recommended inclusions into the final document; a list that represents their critical concerns. Abzug told the group she spoke to Wally N'Dow about getting more support for the Women's Caucus perspective, particularly their concern "that a consistent gender perspective permeate the entire document." The next day, N'Dow announced that he had appointed a special committee to consider the women's perspectives. To feminists and population controllers, Habitat II is an extension of the U.N.'s 1993 conference in Rio de Janeiro where environmentalism was wedded to radical feminist goals. "No conference is more grounded in the Rio conference," U.S. delegate Melinda Kimble proclaimed. Enviro-feminist masons must build their new world order "one brick at a time," Kimble said. "With Rio and the conferences succeeding Rio (Cairo, Copenhagen and Beijing) we've put a lot of bricks in place." A document of recommendations from local governments in the United Kingdom is jammed with references to Agenda 21, the plan of action that flowed out of Rio.
A representative from USAID noted that Habitat II is, in a sense, the fulfillment of the earlier efforts. "If Rio is the epitome of thinking globally, then this conference, it seems to me, must be the epitome of acting locally," he said.
The women made a concerted push to get language from last September's radical feminist Beijing conference inserted into the Habitat II document. Of central concern to pro-lifers was the feminists' attempt to have basic health care provisions expanded to include "reproductive health." "I think to most of us basic health care includes reproductive health care," one U.S. delegate told the Women's Caucus. The Holy See and the G-77 were the primary opponents of the maneuver.
The G-77 is a group of developing countries that has its own separate government delegates to the conference. The G-77 emerged as perhaps the primary opponent of the feminist agenda, persistently insisting that Habitat II is about human settlements, not about the feminist cause. "If a conference on shelter doesn't have women at its roots, then I don't know what does," U.S. delegate Kimble reasoned as she complained about the G-77 position.
Pro-life caucus launched
Pro-lifers formed a caucus of their own, dubbed the Caucus for Stable Communities. The caucus describes a stable community as a place, "where the population is not subject to economic manipulation or deprecation; where the deep human need for identity within the family, religious, ethnic and cultural community is upheld; where all individuals can participate in the decision-making process; where individuals in partnership with NGOs ... can work together for a peaceful, Stable Community."
Freedom in such a community, the caucus says, "is tied to the legal protection of the personhood of every human being from the moment of fertilization throughout the continuum until natural death." The group also champions the family.
Another group, the Caucus on the Family, takes the latter theme further. The group, although not noticeably pro-life in its perspective, presented 16 pages of proposed revisions to
the current draft document that would repeatedly call for the recognition, nurturing and advancement of the family unit. The caucus doesn't try to define "family."
The current document still contains scant references to the family, mentions the home and husband only once each and doesn't mention marriage, wife or spouse at all. Rather, the financial term "stake holder" has cropped up and is peppered in a dozen places throughout the document. Use of the rather vague term in the document is viewed with mild suspicion by pro-family forces, who are well aware that such terminology can suddenly assume importance after the fact.
As the conference drew to a close, the document still included bracketed language that listed "sexual orientation" in the section that calls for "eradicating discrimination in the access to shelter." The noxious phrase was inserted, to the surprise of many, by Slovenian government delegates and, not surprisingly, backed by the European Union. The phrase, introduced in Beijing and rejected even there, is not expected to survive the final approval process, but there is at least a chance that it will.
The term "sustainable development," picked up from Rio, permeates the document and is of concern to pro-lifers because it strongly implies that population control measures will be one of the primary means of maintaining such sustainability. Environmentalists, constantly fretting that people are overstressing Mother Earth, view population reduction as a necessary option. G-77 is pushing the term "sustained economic growth," one much more favorable to the economic development of poorer nations, and one that's not hostile toward fertility.
As PrepCom III limped to a close in New York, the delegates and bureaucrats began laying their paper trail toward Istanbul, where the feminist bricklayers and population control hod carriers will be mixing their mortar and setting their courses. Whether this results in more liveable human settlements or just another ugly shrine to socialistic eco-feminism and population control remains to be seen.
Vernon Kirby, HLI's director of publications, attended the PrepCom III meeting in New York.
Taken from the March 1996 issue of "HLI Reports."
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