13 March 2006
UN Women's Commission Adopts Texts Addressing HIV/AIDS, Women Hostages, Situation of Palestinian Women, as It Suspends Fiftieth Session
Texts Concerning Afghanistan, Discriminatory Laws also Approved; Women's Participation in Development, Decision-making Session Focus
NEW YORK, 10 March (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission on the Status of Women suspended its fiftieth session today, after having taken decisions concerning Palestinian women; women and girls in Afghanistan; release of women and children taken hostage; women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS; and the advisability of a special rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women.
Marking 60 years of working for gender equality, development and peace, the Commission, a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, focused on two substantive themes during its two-week session, namely the enhanced participation of women in development and equal participation of women in decision-making processes.
Action on all but one of the five resolutions adopted today was by consensus. By a recorded vote of 41 in favour to 2 against (Canada, United States), with 1 abstention (Nicaragua), the Commission called for measures for the tangible improvement of the difficult situation on the ground and the living conditions faced by Palestinian women and their families. It also reaffirmed that the Israeli occupation remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration in the development planning of their society.
Speaking after the vote, Canada's representative said he was deeply concerned that the living conditions of Palestinian women had been severely affected by Israeli operations. Nevertheless, he had voted against the resolution, in large part because of operative paragraph 4 -- which referred to the return of Palestinian refugees -- but also because he had consistently called for more balance in resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It was not helpful to include language in the resolution that was unrelated to its main purpose.
The representative of the United States -- who requested the recorded vote -- added that she remained deeply concerned about the impact of the current crisis on Palestinian women and on the entire Palestinian population. At the same time, she was concerned about innocent Israelis, including Israeli women, who had suffered and died, a reality many in the Commission did not recognize. One-sided resolutions only served to undermine the ability of the United Nations to play a constructive role in achieving peace.
In other action, the Commission took note of reports that were before it during the current session, namely documents E/CN.6/2006/2, 6, 7 and 9-13; and decided to postpone consideration of the report of the Secretary-General on the future work of the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women, contained in document E/CN.6/2006/11.
Also today, the Commission was informed that agreement had been reached on the agreed conclusions on the session's two substantive themes -- enhanced participation of women in development and equal participation of women and men in decision-making.
The Commission will conclude its fiftieth session at a date to be announced.
The Commission on the Status of Women met today to take action on draft resolutions and conclude its current session.
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
The Commission first took up a draft resolution on advisability of a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women (document E/CN.6/2006/L.5/Rev.1), by the terms of which the Commission, taking note of the Secretary-General's related report, would invite him to bring that report to the attention of the Commission and other relevant treaty bodies with a view to eliciting their views on ways and means that could best complement the work of existing mechanisms and enhance the Commission's capacity with respect to discriminatory laws.
By further terms, the Commission would invite Member States to submit to the Secretary-General their further views on the report, and decide to consider at its fifty-first session the advisability of the appointment of a special rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women, bearing in mind the existing mechanisms with a view to avoiding duplication.
Introducing the text, the representative of Slovenia, also on behalf of Rwanda, introduced the draft resolution, noting that, at its forty-ninth session, the Commission had requested the Secretary-General to report on the subject. In his related report (document E/CN.6/2006/8), the Secretary-General stated that, despite the Beijing Platform for Action and several other commitments, discrimination persisted, constituting an obstacle to women enjoying equal rights under domestic laws. A dedicated mechanism to tackle laws that discriminated against women as its primary concern, rather than incidental to a broader mandate, could provide the necessary momentum for change. The initial draft, tabled last week, had been discussed at length. It had been clear that delegations required more information and time to address the question of establishing a new mechanism.
In a spirit of flexibility, the delegations of Rwanda and Slovenia had come up with a compromise procedural text which addressed the concerns of those with reservations, she said. It was a constructive compromise that should address Member States' concerns, she said. Many concessions had been made, and she hoped other delegations would show flexibility.
Several delegations, including Canada, Cuba, Russian Federation, United States and Austria, requested that the Commission suspend its meeting in order to allow for further consultations on drafts before the Commission.
The representative of Slovenia noted that a series of informal consultations had been conducted on the text. Many concessions had made towards a procedural text. They were doubtful that further informal consultations would produce any improvements to the text. Rwanda's representative agreed, noting that the text was "barebones" and that it was ready for action.
South Africa's representative, on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said the Group was ready to take action on the draft resolution on assistance to Palestinian Women.
Commission Chairperson CARMEN MARIA GALLARDO (El Salvador) said the Commission would act on draft resolutions not requiring further action.
Action on Texts
The Commission first turned to the draft resolution on the release of women and children taken hostage, including those subsequently imprisoned, in armed conflicts (document E/CN.6/2006/L.1). That text would have the Commission condemn all violent acts committed against the civilian population as such, in violation of the international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflict, and call for an effective response to such acts, in particular the immediate release of women and children taken hostage, including those subsequently imprisoned, in armed conflicts, including by strengthening international cooperation in this field. The Commission would also condemn the consequences of hostage-taking, in particular torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, murder, rape, slavery, and trafficking in women and children.
In addition, the Commission would strongly urge all parties to armed conflicts to respect fully the norms of international humanitarian law in armed conflict and to take all necessary measures for the protection of the civilian population as such and to release immediately all women and children who have been taken hostage. It would also urge all parties to armed conflicts to provide safe, unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance for those women and children in accordance with international humanitarian law.
The Commission adopted the text, as orally revised, without a vote.
The representative of the United States said she was pleased to join consensus on the text just adopted with the following explanation. The Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action had expressed important political goals, which the United States had endorsed. She reaffirmed those goals, based on the understanding that they constituted an important policy framework, which did not create any new international rights, including the right to abortion.
When the Commission turned to the draft resolution on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS (document E/CN.6/2006/L.2/Rev.1), Botswana's representative informed delegates that further consultations were required on the text, and requested more time before taking action on it.
Therefore, the Commission next turned to the draft resolution on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan (document E/CN.6/2006/L.3), by which it would invite the Secretary-General to take into account a gender perspective when preparing the reports requested in General Assembly resolutions 60/32 A and B and to include a specific and substantive section focusing on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan in those reports.
[On 30 November 2005, the Assembly adopted resolutions 60/32 A and B, in which it applauded the substantive progress achieved in the empowerment of women in Afghan politics. The Assembly, among other things, reiterated the continued importance of the full and equal participation of women in all spheres of Afghan life, including in development, recovery and reconstruction programmes.]
Austria's representative presented a revision to the text in operative paragraph 1, by which the word "welcomes" would be replaced by "takes note with appreciation", in the hope that the text could now be adopted by consensus.
The Commission adopted the text, as orally revised.
Next, the Commission turned to the draft resolution on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2006/L.4), by which it would call on the concerned parties, as well as the international community, to exert all the necessary efforts to ensure the full resumption of the peace process on its agreed basis, taking into account the common ground already gained, and call for measures for tangible improvement of the difficult situation on the ground and the living conditions faced by Palestinian women and their families. The Commission would also reaffirm that the Israeli occupation remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration in the development planning of their society.
In a related term, the Commission would demand that Israel, the occupying Power, comply fully with the provisions and principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention in order to protect the rights of Palestinian women and their families. It would also call on Israel to facilitate the return of all refugees and displaced Palestinian women and children to their homes and properties.
The Commission would also call on the international community to provide urgently needed assistance and services in an effort to alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis being faced by Palestinian women and their families to help in the reconstruction of relevant Palestinian institutions.
The representative of South Africa presented a revision to preambular paragraph 8 of the text. That paragraph should now read "Welcoming the report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that addresses the issue of Palestinian pregnant women giving birth at Israeli checkpoints owing to denial of access by Israel to hospitals, with a view to ending this Israeli practice".
Israel's representative said she recognized the difficult situation faced by Palestinian women, but the text failed to assess the multiple causes of those difficulties. She called on the Commission to vote against the text. The Secretary-General's report on the situation of Palestinian women was flawed and made unfounded claims. However, the document did refer to some important social factors in Palestinian society that inhibited the rights of Palestinian women. The report outlined details of patriarchal biases that had limited the rights of Palestinian women. For example, women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were killed or threatened with death for tarnishing family honour.
The draft resolution, year after year, failed to recognize the reality on the ground, she said. If terrorism did not exist, Palestinian women would live without the detriment of security checkpoints and the security fence. Israel was troubled by the recent role assumed by Hamas. Nevertheless, it had not lost hope for dialogue with partners who were genuinely interested in a peaceful political process. She hoped both Palestinian and Israeli women would be able to work together to lend a woman's voice to a peaceful outcome.
The representative of the United States requested a recorded vote on the draft resolution.
The Commission adopted the text on Palestinian women by a recorded vote of 41 in favour to 2 against (Canada, United States), with 1 abstention (Nicaragua).
In explanation of vote, the representative of the United States said she had voted against the text. She remained deeply concerned about the impact of the current crisis on Palestinian women and on the entire Palestinian population. The United States was the largest donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and provided bilateral assistance to needy Palestinians, as well. At the same time, the United States also grieved for innocent Israelis, including Israeli women, who had suffered and died, a reality many here did not recognize. The final settlement of the crisis must be negotiated between the two sides, and her Government was committed to working with the Quartet to move both parties towards the vision of two States living side by side in peace. One-sided resolutions only served to undermine the ability of the United Nations to play a constructive role in achieving peace.
Canada's representative said he had consistently supported greater international attention to address the situation of women in armed conflict, including Palestinian women. Canada's assistance over many years had demonstrated its commitment to alleviating poverty and enhancing the human security of Palestinians, including women and children. He was deeply concerned that the living conditions of Palestinian women had been severely affected by Israeli operations. Nevertheless, he had voted against the resolution, in large part because of operative paragraph 4, but also because he had consistently called for more balance in resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Canada had always had difficulties with the text, he said, and the recent changes had not made it more acceptable. Regarding operative paragraph 4, Canada had an interest in the search for a fair and just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, which should be negotiated between the parties. It was not helpful to include language in the resolution that was unrelated to its main purpose. The text should also express the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority to protect the rights of Palestinian women and children and improve their living conditions.
Making a general statement, the observer of Palestine expressed appreciation to all those who had voted in favour of the text, saying the resolution sent a strong message of solidarity to Palestinian women living under occupation. She looked forward to the day when resolutions like this one were no longer needed. That day would come when the occupation ended and the Palestinian people lived in their own State in peace and security.
The Commission then turned to the draft on the advisability of a special rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women (document E/CN.6/2006/L.5/Rev.1).
Introducing an amendment to the text, the representative of Slovenia said the main co-sponsors were ready for action on the text.
Ms. GALLARDO, Commission Chairperson, said the Commission would take action on the draft resolution in the afternoon.
The Commission then took note of the Chairperson's summary on the high-level round table on "Incorporating gender perspectives into national development strategies, as requested at the 2005 World Summit, for achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals", as contained in document E/CN.6/2006/CRP.7.
The Commission also took note of the Chairperson's summary of the high-level panel on "Gender dimensions of International Migration", as contained in document E/CN.6/2006/CRP.10, and decided to transmit the text, through the Economic and Social Council, to the General Assembly's High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development to be held from 14 to 15 September 2006.
The Commission then took up the draft resolution entitled "Advisability of the appointment of a special rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women" (document E/CN.6/2006/L.5/Rev.1).
The representative of Slovenia introduced several amendments to the text. Operative paragraph 2 would include the words "and observers" after Member States. In the first operative paragraph, the Commission would invite the Secretary-General to bring his report to the attention of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and not the Commission on the Status of Women.
Acting without a vote, the Commission then adopted the text, as orally revised.
Cuba's representative said it was part of the mandate of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to analyse the legislation of States parties to the Convention and to encourage them to eliminate discriminatory laws. As only 10 States had not ratified the Convention, it was not logical to create a new mechanism for those countries only. The Commission and the international community should encourage those States to ratify the Convention as called for in the Beijing Declaration. Last year, additional time and resources had been approved for the 23-member Committee, which now met three times a year. The Committee, the Human Rights Commission, and other Economic and Social Council functional commissions were mandated by the Assembly to discuss the question of discrimination against women, in particular its legal aspects. While her delegation had gone along with the consensus on the text, she hoped the Commission would be able to find results that were acceptable to all delegations on such an important issue next year.
New Zealand's representative, speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia (CANZ), said she had looked forward to contributing to the discussion on the establishment of a special rapporteur next year. CANZ looked forward to finding a way forward that addressed the perspectives of all Member States that took into account the larger reform process. The clear objective should be the strengthening of the United Nations gender architecture.
The representative of Iran said that, while she had joined consensus on the text, she wished to offer several reflections on the text. The Commission's working methods, including high-level round tables and agreed conclusions, provided it with the opportunity to implement its mandate. Like many other Member States, her delegation had not had time to study the resolution and seek instruction, as the first draft had only been brought to the Commission's attention four days before its conclusion. Taking action under such conditions would force members to adopt artificial timetables on an important resolution. The consultation process had not been as transparent as expected. It was not clear why a new text had been put forward hours before the session's end, leaving no meaningful timetable to seek instruction. She hoped that would not be repeated next year.
The representative of the Sudan noted that there was no consensus on the issue and that consultation with her capital continued.
Guatemala's representative said that, had her delegation been present when the draft on assistance to Palestinian women had been adopted, her delegation would have voted in favour of it.
The Commission took note of a number of documents before it.
Colombia's representative took the floor to explain her position on the Secretary-General's report on women and children taken hostage, including those subsequently imprisoned, in armed conflicts. It was the responsibility of all States to seek the liberation of those victims by all means.
The representative of Cuba said he wished to clarify that not all proposals in the Secretary-General's report on the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had yet received endorsement.
The Commission then decided to postpone consideration of the report of the Secretary-General on the future work of the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women, contained in document E/CN.6/2006/11.
The Commission then took up a draft resolution on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS (document E/CN.6/2006/L.2/Rev.1), by which the Commission would, among other things, urge Governments to take all necessary measures to empower women and strengthen their economic independence and to protect and promote their full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in order to enable them to protect themselves from HIV infection. The Commission would also urge Governments to strengthen initiatives that would increase the capacities of women and adolescent girls to protect themselves from the risk of HIV infection, principally through the provision of health services.
In addition, the Commission would urge Governments to ensure that women and girls have equitable and sustained access to treatment; call on Governments to intensify efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls in relation to HIV/AIDS; and urge Governments to rapidly scale up access to treatment programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Furthermore, the Commission would recommend that the 2006 follow-up meeting on the outcome of the twenty-sixth special session of the General Assembly take measures to ensure the inclusion of gender-equality perspectives throughout its deliberations, and that it pay attention to the situation of women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS.
The representative of Botswana introduced the draft on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). She was pleased that, after long negotiations, delegations had managed to reach broad consensus. The resolution brought forward important issues on the gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS and would serve as an important input in the upcoming five-year review. She then read out amendments to the text, including the addition of two preambular paragraphs and a new operative paragraph.
The Commission then adopted the text, as orally amended.
Speaking after action, the representative of the United States said she was pleased to join consensus on L.2/Rev.1 with the following explanation of position. She reiterated that the United States was firmly committed to the empowerment of women and the promotion of women's fullest enjoyment of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action expressed important political goals that the United States endorsed, and constituted an important policy framework that did not create international legal rights or legally binding obligations on States under international law. During the Commission's session in 2005, there was consensus that the Beijing documents created no new international rights, including a right to abortion.
Her country's reaffirmation of the goals, objectives and commitments of those documents did not constitute a change in the position of the United States with respect to treaties it had not ratified, she said. The United States had stated clearly that it did not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor did it support abortion in its reproductive health assistance. Her country understood that reference to the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the use of the phrase "reproductive health", did not create any rights and could not be interpreted to constitute support, endorsement or promotion of abortion.
The United States emphasized the value of comprehensive prevention strategies to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, she stated. That approach employed population-specific interventions, and highlighted abstinence for youth and other unmarried persons, including delay of sexual debut for youth; mutual faithfulness and partner reduction for sexually active adults; and correct and consistent use of condoms by those whose behaviour placed them at risk for transmitting or becoming infected with HIV. She supported interventions that were informed by, and responsive to, local needs, local epidemiology, and distinctive social and cultural patterns, as well as coordinated with HIV/AIDS strategies of host Governments. Nothing in the resolution created any rights and could not be interpreted to constitute support, endorsement or promotion of abortion.
The Holy See, stated its observer, continued to be active in supporting those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Thousands of Catholic hospitals and clinics in different parts of the world were providing treatment and care to those affected. While he welcomed much of the language and sentiments in text, he understood the references to the Cairo and Beijing conferences and the terms sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as applying to a holistic concept of health that did not consider abortion or access to it as dimensions of that concept.
The representative of Venezuela reiterated her commitment to combat HIV/AIDS. Everyone must have access to treatment for HIV/AIDS. Rather than adopting new formulas, it was necessary to find real solutions in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Canada's representative, speaking also on behalf of New Zealand, Finland, Norway, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and the United Kingdom, said she was pleased with the outcome achieved today in supporting those affected by HIV/AIDS. However, much remained to be done, as HIV/AIDS continued to disproportionately affect women and girls. The commitments undertaken in Beijing provided the framework to combat HIV/AIDS, ensure equal access for women and girls to treatment and services, prosecute the perpetrators of sexual violence, eliminate gender discriminatory laws, and protect sexual and reproductive rights. She looked forward to the high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS to be convened by the General Assembly later this year, and to taking to it the collective commitment to ensure that women and girls were at the centre of efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.
Vice-Chairperson DICKY KOMAR (Indonesia) informed the Commission that agreement had been reached on the agreed conclusions on enhanced participation of women in development after lengthy and fruitful discussions. He thanked all those who had worked to reach agreement.
Vice-Chairperson SZILVIA SZABO (Hungary) said that agreement had also been reached on the agreed conclusions on equal participation of women and men in decision-making.
Vote on Assistance to Palestinian Women
The draft resolution on the situation of, and assistance to, Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2006/L.4) was adopted by a recorded vote of 41 in favour to 2 against, with 1 abstention, as follows:
In favour: Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bolivia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sudan, Suriname, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania.
Against: Canada, United States.
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