In the penultimate meeting of PrepCom II, Nitin Desai, Under- Secretary General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, pointed out that the ICPD should be seen as a bridge between the 1992 Earth Summit and the 1995 Social Summit, to be held in Copenhagen, as well as the 1995 World Conference on Women to be held in Beijing. While the Earth Summit focussed on the relationship between humanity and nature, the Social Summit will address issues of poverty, employment and social integration and the Womens' Conference will focus on the role and status of women. Desai noted that the ICPD will allow the international community to continue the process of discussion that began with UNCED -- a process that focusses on people as the primary concern of development.
As a bridge between UNCED and future conferences on environment and development, ICPD PrepCom II successfully preserved the spirit of cooperation that existed in Rio de Janeiro and created a feeling of optimism about the future. One of the ways in which this spirit was manifested was in the apparent consensus reached on a number of issues. PrepCom II was not a negotiating session per se, but rather, an opportunity for delegates to outline the areas and issues to be addressed in the Cairo document. Nevertheless, it was still noteworthy that delegates were able to agree on such important issues as the role of women, access to quality family planning services, reproductive rights and health, the role and responsibility of men, internal and international migration, goals and targets, the alleviation of poverty, financial resources, and the partnership role of NGOs in the development and implementation of family planning programmes.
For example, many countries that have traditionally relegated women to a secondary role in their societies, spoke positively about the importance of empowering women as an essential factor in achieving population objectives, sustained economic growth and sustainable development. Another example was agreement on the need to set quantitative and qualitative goals, as well as the need to draft principles on the basis of existing international agreements. For the first time in the history of UN Population Conferences, countries were able to agree on not only the need to set qualitative goals, but on actual specifics.
Financial resources was another area that was characterized by a degree of consensus. While Northern governments were not expected to specify their financial commitments at such an early stage in the preparatory process, governments did agree on the need to increase the percentage of official development assistance (ODA) to be spent on population, health and education activities. There was also considerable agreement on the need to increase social spending at the national level and to recognize that developing countries should not be held to the same spending targets as developed countries.
The Spirit of Rio was also maintained and expanded with regard to the participation of NGOs in the preparatory process. While UNCED paved the way for increased NGO participation in the UN system, NGO participation at PrepCom II was particularly intense. First, NGOs were given not only the opportunity to attend informal consultations, but were actually permitted to make interventions in these traditionally closed-door sessions. The Secretariat also displayed a remarkable openness to NGO input while drafting documents, incorporating the written submissions of NGOs together with those of governments. Furthermore, the ICPD Secretariat responded favorably to all NGO requests for services within the UN complex.
The degree to which NGOs were able to constructively influence the proceedings was a direct result of the open access. First, the majority of NGOs focused exclusively on the official process, as opposed to developing their own parallel agendas. Second, many NGOs found themselves engaging not only their own government representatives but those from other governments as well. Third, the geographical distribution in NGO participation (more than half of the NGOs present were from developing countries) ensured that the Southern dimension was sufficiently represented in the contributions of NGOs.
In spite of the high level of cooperation and consensus that marked PrepCom II, there are still a number of potentially contentious issues that must be resolved if negotiations are to be successfully completed at PrepCom III. These include the definition of the family, as linked to the rights of the individual and couples to decide on the number and spacing of children. Another issue that must be resolved is reference to abortion and reproductive rights. The Holy See and a number of countries expressed their strong opposition to abortion under any circumstance and do not consider abortion as an acceptable form of family planning. By contrast, there are a number of governments that see abortion as a health issue, as well as a reproductive right, because in many developing countries, thousands of women die annually as a result of illegal and unsafe abortions. In her closing plenary speech, Dr. Sadik clearly expressed her support for freedom of choice and stated that governments must assume that such freedom will be exercised responsibly.
Beyond these specific issues, there remains a division between those governments, such as India, that insist the Conference focus more narrowly on population issues. Other governments, including the Nordics and the EC, maintain that population issues cannot be resolved without due consideration to other development and environment issues.
It is too soon to tell whether these issues will continue as divisive areas at PrepCom III. There will be a number of opportunities for governments, the Secretariat and NGOs to discuss these issues in the coming months. If the Cairo Conference is to be a success it is essential that the spirit of cooperation and consensus that marked PrepCom II continue through the remainder of the ICPD preparatory process. Without this sense of cooperation, not only will the Cairo Conference lose focus and possibly fail, but the entire post-UNCED agenda could suffer as well.
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