By Jeanne Head, R.N.
For the past three years, an escalating decrease in transparency and the unprecedented change in process regarding negotiations on various United Nations documents—plus the exclusion of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from access to negotiations and to the working documents—is cause for alarm.
As a result the documents emerging from recent negotiations are not the result of consensus brought about after hard fought negotiations. Instead they reflect the will of the few—an illusionary or false consensus. Also, an ever-decreasing commitment to transparency is reflected in the marginalization and exclusion of NGOs, which makes it difficult to hold delegates accountable and for civil society to impact the outcome documents.
Members of the Pro-Life and Pro-Family NGO Coalition are particularly concerned. We rely on access and transparency and the negotiating powers of like-minded delegates to impact the document on issues relating to life and the family.
The principle of consensus at the UN has been an institutional hallmark, designed to protect single states from having to relinquish their sovereignty and constitutional protections in the interests of conformity with perceived political correctness.
Normally, delegates would keep negotiating provisions of a document until they could reach agreement. The final product, even though not perfect, would be a “consensus” document based on negotiation and compromise between countries with divergent views. This process resulted in many hours of hard fought discussion, often through the night.
Sometimes no consensus could be reached on controversial issues, such as those dealing with the life issues. If a few delegations held out in their opposition to language they found problematic, it was removed from the document in order to reach consensus.
But the process has changed dramatically since the April 2009 Commission on Population and Development (CPD). Historically, for the CPD and other Commissions, a document was not accepted unless all agreed. One delegate could cause the rejection of the entire document. Several years ago one delegate did just that.
However in 2009 when no compromise could be reached on the CPD document, instead of insisting on completing the usual negotiating process, or accepting the fact that negotiations failed, the chairwoman of the meeting produced a “Chair’s Text.” This text retained most of the controversial issues related to life and family and did not reflect the will of a large number of the delegates even after one significant change insisted upon by one delegate.
The choice was: accept her text or no document at all. Contrary to established procedures, the chairwoman’s ploy carried the day and introduced a dangerous precedent—at the expense of true consensus and national sovereignty.
Since then negotiations on the documents for the CPD and the Commission on the Status of Women and some other UN documents have resulted in non-negotiated “Chair’s Texts” which belie the consensual basis for important UN documents.
Veteran UN negotiators and NGOs are concerned by this use of “Chair’s Texts” and question the current process, particularly on issues essential to the protection of life and family. Some speculate that the “Chair’s Texts” are a surreptitious way to insert controversial language, particularly relating to the life issues, that would never be accepted in open negotiations.
For example, the Friday Fax (a production of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute) reports that a delegate involved in a conference in early June of this year expressed bewilderment at the fact that the controversial phrase “reproductive rights” was only supported by one country during negotiations yet nevertheless remained in the resulting “Chair’s Text.”
John Klink, who negotiated on behalf of the Holy See for 16 years and subsequently served on many U.S. delegations, told the Friday Fax that he was “shocked to hear of the abrogation of the rights of sovereign states by current UN procedures which usurp the rights of delegations to conclude consensus negotiations, resulting in non-negotiated so called ‘chairman’s texts’ being forced upon delegations.”
Klink also said that it was “ironic that in this prime international forum where transparency has always been held as being of the highest priority, and sovereignty respected, that true consensus documents are being aborted in favor of ‘chairman’s texts’ on which no consensus has been reached. This is reminiscent of other places and periods in history where Chairman’s edicts have ruled the day without the benefit of the democratic process.”
“It is also striking,” he continued, “that NGOs, and through them the public that they represent, are currently excluded from most negotiations, again calling into question any real transparency in this primary forum of world governments.”
One can only wonder if these tactics are being undertaken by, amongst others, the anti-life and anti-family forces who have been unable to satisfactorily inject their ideology into the document through legitimate transparent negotiations due to the increased engagement and effectiveness of pro-life and pro-family delegates and NGOs.
Jeanne E. Head, R.N., is NRLC’s vice president for international affairs and UN representative.