Language on State Sovereignty Marks Huge Victory at Commission on Population and Development

Language on State Sovereignty Marks Huge Victory at Commission on Population and Development

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IN FOCUS// Language on State Sovereignty Marks Huge Victory at Commission on Population and Development

"Let's keep the focus on migration!" was the resounding cry at the 46th annual Commission on Population and Development (CPD) held at United Nations Headquarters from April 18-26. With over 214 million people on the move, it is clear that migration is one of the most pressing issues of our time; however, the conversation at the CPD quickly deviated from migration to a focus on sexual and reproductive rights—an agenda that fails to respond to the authentic needs of the migrant person.

The reasons to migrate may be manifold, but the fundamental needs of the person are universal. When a person sets up a life in a new land, he or she must have access to food, shelter, health care, education, and employment. These are the prerequisites that every person needs to flourish, and this was the call of the Arab Group and the African Group at the CPD negotiations. Representing a total of seventy-five Member States, these groups expressed their frustration with the tone of the discussions and urged colleagues to stay focused on the topic at hand. Even countries that are staunch advocates of the reproductive rights agenda clearly stated that the CPD was not the appropriate forum to debate reproductive rights.

After seven days of negotiations, the Commission came to an end after midnight on the last day, in large part due to the Arab Group's call for stronger language on foreign occupation and Palestine. The final outcome document, coming in at nine pages in length, includes ten references to sexual and reproductive health and rights language. The inclusion of this language was the result of pressure from a vocal minority of Member States, namely Norway and Argentina. At the conclusion of the Commission, Qatar, Poland, Hungary, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, Malta, Bangladesh, and the Holy See all made strong reservations explaining that no part of the document should be interpreted as an acceptance of abortion. The delegate from Bangladesh lamented the fact that "the thrust of the resolution was diverted," and stated that the exaggerated focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights language was unwarranted. In the end, however, the document represents an enormous victory in that all potentially detrimental language is qualified by the inclusion of a crucial paragraph on state sovereignty.

Over eighty Member States pushed for the inclusion of the sovereignty paragraph, which reaffirms the right of each country to implement recommendations from the Commission in a manner "consistent with national laws and development priorities, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized international human rights." Although this language represents an inherently non-controversial affirmation of the value of state sovereignty in the international arena—a basic principle that has been recognized since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia—it is met with virulent opposition.

This marks the third year that the sovereignty paragraph has been included in the CPD document, and its inclusion is revelatory of the collective will to highlight the fact that states are free to decide their own national laws in accordance with the will of their own populace. Countries at the CPD made clear that if the UN was to produce a document that represents the authentic needs of migrant persons, sovereignty had to be recognized as an essential pillar of international politics. The World Youth Alliance is grateful to all who called for the inclusion of this vital language, and we look forward to continuing to support Member States in the defense of human dignity at the UN. (Source: World Youth Alliance). 

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