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UN Women's Conference Hears Call for Special Rapporteur, Debates Abortion Issue


Women's rights advocates Wednesday called on the U.N. Conference on the Status of Women to step up the campaign to revoke sex discriminatory laws.

Ten years after 189 countries pledged in Beijing to end legal discrimination, Jessica Neuwirth of the group Equality Now said it is time to name a special investigator, or rapporteur, to push governments to end legal discrimination against women.

"Equality Now is calling on the Commission on the Status of Women, the CSW, to establish a special rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women. While the Commission on Human Rights, a parallel body, has more than 20 special rapporteurs, the CSW has no special rapporteur. Not one. In fact the CSW has none of the mechanisms that the Commission on Human Rights has to carry out its mandate, the challenging mandate of monitoring implementation of the Beijing Platform for action," she said.

The Beijing Platform on women's equality has dominated discussions at this ten-year review conference. The United States has stirred heated debate with a proposal to add language to the 1995 document that would make clear that there is no universal right to abortion.

The head of the U.S. delegation, Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, has accused some women's advocacy groups of trying to hijack the term "reproductive health services" by defining it in a way that guarantees abortion rights.

Opponents argue that the amendment is unnecessary. They say the Beijing document can not be interpreted as creating a right to abortion, and accuse the Bush administration of trying to further an anti-choice agenda.

In a speech to the gathering Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador on the Status of Women, Ellen Sauerbrey, charged opponents with misrepresenting Washington's position.

"The United States has had concerns about efforts to mischaracterize the outcome documents of Beijing and Beijing five in creation of new international rights. It is clear that there was no intent on the part of States supporting the Beijing documents to create new rights. While those documents express important political goals, they do not create rights or legally binding obligations on States under international law, including the right to abortion," she said.

U.N. diplomats say the United States is under pressure to drop its proposed anti-abortion amendment. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Bush administration is reviewing its position.

In her speech, Ambassador Sauerbey hinted at a compromise that would allow all sides to move on to the issues of improving women's lives.

"The United States recognizes the International Conference on Population Development principle that abortion policies are a matter of national sovereignty," she said. "And, we are pleased that so many other governments have indicated their agreement with this position, and we anticipate that we can now focus clearly on addressing the many urgent needs of women around the world."

A U.S. official Wednesday declined to comment on whether the amendment would be withdrawn, but predicted agreement by Friday on a final document reaffirming the Beijing platform. The official said both bilateral and multilateral negotiations are in progress behind closed doors with the goal of meeting Washington's concerns.

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