Last March more than 800,000 ethnic Albanians crossed the border between Kosovo and Albania. Running from Serb soldiers and NATO bombs, the refugees settled into camps organized hastily all over Albania in schools, churches, abandoned factories, and tents put up in fields. The whole world watched as frightened, wounded, hungry refugees reached out for help. And just about the whole world responded, including a UN agency called the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
UNFPA is a $295-million-a-year agency dedicated to population control or, as it is now euphemistically known, "reproductive rights." In the early days of the emergency, what the refugees desperately needed was food and medicine. However, UNFPA's one and only response was to send enough "reproductive health kits" to last 350,000 people in the field for six months. These packages of contraceptive devices included something called a "manual vacuum aspirator," used for performing abortions in the field.
At the request of the Population Research Institute (PRI), I traveled to Albania to investigate charges of human-rights abuses being committed in the name of "reproductive rights." The concern was that the refugee women were being coerced into sterilizations and even abortions. This type of abuse goes on all over the world and generally involves bribing women with food or medicine, while not fully informing them of all the complications of these procedures. With the highest birth-rate in Europe, the Kosovar women are a juicy target for the population-control ideologues at UNFPA and its aggressive field partners, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and Marie Stopes International.
For eight days last June, I traveled with an Albanian translator and a driver over what must be the worst roads in Europe. We traveled into the far north, to a mostly Catholic town called Durres, and into the far south, to a town on the warm Ionian Sea called Vlora. Over this eight-day period I visited more than a dozen camps and interviewed more than a hundred refugees and aid workers.
I discovered some good news and some bad news.
First, UNFPA seems to be something of a paper tiger. While it has lots of money to spread around and is able to reach out and intimidate governments, it is basically a "headquarters operation and does not have the personnel to run many programs on the ground. I discovered a small and only marginally motivated staff in the Albanian capital of Tirana. The staff seemed only occasionally to have left their comfy offices.
However, UNFPA must rely on partners to run its population-control programs, which allows it a great deal of "deniability." UNFPA, for instance, insists that its manual vacuum aspirators are only for assisting at live births or for completing botched abortions. Yet the head of the Vlora office of the Albanian Family Planning Association, a part of IPPF, told me they were used "only for abortion." When confronted with this, UNFPA spokesmen say they cannot be held responsible for the way their partners use UNFPA equipment.
In the eight days I was there, I discovered only one case that could be considered an abuse. A peasant woman in Vlora had been given an abortion at the governmentís regional hospital and not been told of the negative medical consequences to her. As to bribes with food and medicine, I saw none. Except for the earliest days of the crisis, the country was awash in assistance. The streets and highways were clogged with new white all-terrain vehicles belonging to governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and intergovernmental agencies. In this situation, women did not have to bargain away their fertility for food or medicine.
And their need would have to be great, for I discovered almost no interest among the Kosovar women in the "reproductive health" technologies of UNFPA and its partners. Kosovars remain committed, at least for now, to large families. Indeed, an American nurse told me that "telling a Kosovar woman she is pregnant is like making her whole world."
On my last day in Albania, I visited the UNFPA-UNICEF compound not far from the nearly abandoned U.S. Embassy in dusty downtown Tirana, to interview the head of UNFPAís operation in Albania. Roseanne Murphy had just arrived from the United States and had taken a whirlwind tour of the country by helicopter. I told her that UNFPA was very disorganizedfor example, I had found only one "reproductive health kit" in a regional hospital in Vlora, and it was still wrapped. She angrily agreed and wanted me to "tell them in New York [at UNFPA]." I reported to her what I had learned about Kosovar womenís love of large families. She said, "That is just the boys talking." I told her that, even with the rumors of widespread rape of Kosovar women by the Serbs, I had discovered no more than a dozen abortions in the camps and hospitals. She expressed surprise.
By this time, the war in Kosovo had ended, so I asked her what was next for UNFPA. She told me she intended to "plant the UNFPA flag in every region of Kosovo." She said UNFPA intended to follow the targeted population back to their homes and villages.
Critics of UNFPA say it is a very aggressive agency that horns its way into countries that donít want its reproductive wares. UNFPA insists it never goes anywhere without an invitation by the host government. Upon returning to New York, I asked Stirling Scruggs, head of external communications for UNFPA, who had invited UNFPA into Kosovo. He said that UNFPA was invited into Kosovo by the Yugoslav government. Moreover, he said UNFPA had already been there a few months before, to do a "needs-assessment survey" with a view to later doing "regular programs. He left this on my office voice mail. I saved the tape.
The Yugoslav government alluded to by Scruggs was none other than the Milosevic regime, the same entity that had spent the previous several months trying to kill off Kosovars. After years of Soviet-style rule, Milosevicís Serbia has among the highest abortion rates and the lowest fertility rates in Europe. So the Serbs hated the Kosovars not just for religious reasons, but also for reasons of demography. UNFPA was only too happy to assist the Serbs with the demography question. UNFPA has long been charged with cutting human-rights corners in cozying up to oppressive regimes like Chinaís and Peruís. And here it was clearly aiding Milosevic in his desire for fewer Kosovars.
I reported this finding in PRI Review and in Catholic World Report. This was during the time that UNFPAís request for $25 million was being debated in the U.S. Congress, an idea fought vociferously by pro-life lobbyists and conservative congressmen. The last thing UNFPA needed was charges of playing footsie with a genocidal lunatic, indeed that it was helping him carry out ethnic cleansing, via manual vacuum aspirators instead of Russian-made rifles.
UNFPA immediately started spinning tales. Tale number one was that my report was a lie, that Scruggs had not said UNFPA had been invited in by the Yugoslav government. I had saved the tape. The next tale came from UNFPA spokesman Corrie Shanahan, who said UNFPA wasnít invited by the Milosevic regime; rather, UNFPA "invited itself." The final and most improbable story came from yet another UNFPA flack, Alexander Marshall, who claimed that UNFPA personnel sneaked into Kosovo without permission or invitation. This is supposed to have happened late in 1998, while NATO was dropping bombs and Serb troops were committing atrocities.
Apparently these were some very dedicated prophylactic salesmen.
The story was picked up by New York Post columnist Rod Dreher, and it carried quickly to the media all over Kosovo. Another PRI investigator sent to Kosovo reported that the locals were calling the UNFPA "reproductive rights intervention the "white plague. Pro-life lobbyists on Capitol Hill widely distributed my tape of the Scruggs admission, and PRI put it on its website. UNFPA charged me and PRI with killing women in Kosovo. After a bitter fight, UNFPA was refunded by the U.S. Congress.
To date, UNFPA's programs continue in Kosovo, and without doubt the abortion rate in Kosovo has begun to rise. If UNFPA stays in place, the Kosovar birthrate will surely decline precipitously within the next five years.
Interventions like the one in Albania and Kosovo do not happen by accident, nor do they happen in a vacuum. While this story exhibits the sharp knife-edge of the UNís obsession with "reproductive rights, the real story begins with UN documents that are used with brutal efficiency against target populations. The Albania-Kosovo intervention could not have occurred without written directives. Indeed, every official memo I read in Albania was replete with references to UN documents.
This is the story of how these UN documents are negotiated, and how the pro-life world has finally engaged the river of death at one of its key sources. This still unfolding Kosovo tragedy really began in quiet and carpeted conference rooms at UN headquarters in New York City.
Half a dozen feminist lobbyists surround a Vatican diplomat, berating him for the Churchís position. A well-connected radical feminist shakes her finger in the face of a conservative western diplomat, threatening his job. A UN bureaucrat pushes a pro-life lobbyist away from the photocopier she was trying to use. A supporter grabs a well-known Catholic journalist, demanding to know her identity. Uniformed UN security officers detain and beat a Muslim pro-life journalist and permanently bar him from the UN.
As the sun rises, a Catholic priest stands in a dark UN conference room, reading the prayers of exorcism. Gray-haired women wander through a UN conference, their lips moving almost imperceptibly, praying for the success of the pro-life effort. A platoon of "prayer warriors hole up in a monastery in The Hague asking for confusion among the pro-abortion forces.
On both the physical and spiritual planes, pro-life lobbying in the United Nations is a full contact sport.
All this is quite new. Though some at the UN have long dabbled in abortion and population control, the battle was not joined by pro-life forces until 1994, when John Paul II made a universal call for people of faith to descend upon Cairo, Egypt, for the International Conference on Population and Development.
At Cairo, battle lines were drawn that exist to this day. On one side, pushing the radical agenda, are the liberal western statesthe US under Bill Clinton, the European Union, and Canada. On the other side, defending life and family, stands what the Left calls the "unholy alliance of the Holy See, some Muslim and Arab states, and a smattering of Catholic countries in Latin America. Sprinkled on both sides are the lobbyists and NGOs, but most heavilyabout a thousand to one on the pro-abortion side.
Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the UNís work was largely submerged in the power politics of the Cold War. Both the Soviet Bloc and the Western Alliance kept everyoneís attention focused on that crucial struggle. When the Wall fell, all the pent-up desire for sexual liberation broke forth, drowning most UN debates in talk of "reproductive rights.
More than two hundred people answered the Popeís call in the spring of 1994 and went to Cairo. They knew next to nothing about what they would find there. They had no friends among the diplomats, and UN documents read like hieroglyphics to them. They were the most ordinary of heroic citizen-lobbyists, housewives mostly, who only knew this: that something bad might happen there and that they were needed. The UN pro-life movement was born at Cairo, and those citizen-lobbyists, working with the "unholy alliance, beat back the radicals on a number of important points.
The most significant victory came on the question of "reproductive rights. The radicals were deadly intent on naming abortion as an international human right. Instead, what they got was an explicit exclusion of abortion as a method of family planning. The "Cairo Exclusion still rankles them. More than anything else, they intend to overturn the Cairo Exclusion, to direct all governments to liberalize their laws on abortion. The radicals began their long march through the UN conferences, an honor roll of place names Rio, Istanbul, Rome, Copenhagen, Beijing that have been battle grounds in the war between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death. All along the way, the radicals were met by the citizen-lobbyists for life.
What UN conferences do is produce documents. Cairo produced the Program for Action; Beijing, the Platform for Action; Rio, Agenda 21; and so forth. The first thing to know about these documents is that they are merely aspirational statements that are wholly non-binding upon governments. And yet the backdrop of exotic locales and thousands of participants invests the documents with a kind of authority they do not actually possess.
These non-binding documents cause problems in several ways. First, proponents promote them as binding and use them as clubs to beat weaker states into submission. They are used this way by radical NGOs, but also by powerful international institutions like the World Bank. In recent months, the World Bank has been telling some small nations (which must remain nameless for fear of retribution) that they must change their laws relating to gender in order to get much-needed development loans. The World Bank is using a purposeful misreading of the Beijing document in doing this.
A related problem is even more serious because itís more insidious. Without trying to claim that the documents are binding, proponents still promote them as international "standards, which countries are finding increasingly difficult to resist. Moreover, through the repeated use of key phrases and ideas, these "standards are producing a new kind of "customary law to which national courts are already referring. So, we have the specter of non-binding UN resolutions entering into legal systems as somehow binding.
Another problem is one of interpretation. Even after governments negotiate a meaning into a document, UN bureaucrats reinterpret it to mean almost anything they desire. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, will tell anyone willing to listen that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights allows for homosexual marriage. Of course, it does no such thing.
The UN negotiations themselves are messy enough. UN conferences happen on many levels and in many locales, and it is easy to miss the real action. Pro-lifers often press their noses against the glass without truly getting to the inside of the debate.
While a UN conference eventually leads to a Special Session of the UN General Assembly, this is mostly a pro-forma ratifying session. All the real input begins long in advance with "regional" or "technical meetings at far-flung locales that only the very well-funded can attend. The currently ongoing five-year review of the Beijing Conference held "regional meetings in Lima, Geneva, and Bangkok. Funded heavily by mega-foundations like Ford, Gates, and Soros, radical feminists have no trouble attending even the most remote meetings.
Regional and technical meetings lead to one or more preparatory committee (prepcom) meetings in which governments actually begin negotiating the document. And this is one of the great mysteries of UN conferences. A proposed document is written long in advance by well, we really donít know. We believe these documents are written by UN bureaucrats, so-called "experts, with some input from a small group of UN delegates called the "bureau. The "bureau changes with each conference, as do the bureaucrats who draft each document.
A document is kept absolutely under wraps until shortly before the opening of the final prepcom. It is even withheld from UN delegates until the very last minute, the better to keep pro-life delegates and NGOs in the dark, off- guard, unorganized.
Actual UN debates go like this. First the US speaks, then the European Union, then the Group of 77, then Canada. The Holy See speaks, but only at the most important moments. That is generally it. Nations inside a bloc rarely speak outside it. Thus an outsized portion of the behind-the-scenes action at a UN conference takes place at the spirited meetings before the official sessions where the various blocs hammer out their positions.
The 15 states of the EU negotiate together and speak with one voice. The 135 nations of the developing world, where the best friends of life and family sit, negotiate and speak under the name of the G-77. However, the pre-session negotiation sometimes includes threatening attempts to break apart the larger and more fractious and less powerful G-77.
The pressures at these negotiating sessions can be powerful. So you see the pro-life nation of Ireland, afraid of losing billions in EU money, never speaking up, always allowing the EU, driven by the Scandinavian countries and Germany, to promote the most anti-life and anti-family policies imaginable. You also see conservative countries that desire EU membership, like Poland, only rarely opposing radical initiatives.
At its barest essentials, UN pro-life lobbying works like this. Pro-lifers get the document, generally from a friendly delegation, and scour it to find all the tricks of language, all the traps and bogeys. They then write counter language and then go hunting for diplomatic friends to fight for their language.
NGO lobbyists have full access to almost all UN negotiating sessions. This is one of the great blessings and great curses of the place. At almost any time, NGO lobbyists can walk right into the conference room, generally one of three enormous basement rooms with 50-foot windows overlooking the East River at UN headquarters in New York City.
NGO lobbyists need to move quickly to make friends in delegations; conferences only last an average of ten days. So, much of a UN conference is taken up with this constant hunting for friends. A pro-life lobbyist will just walk into a delegation and begin talking. Pro-lifers do not try to fly under any ideological radar. They are quite straightforward as to who they are and what they want. This because time is short and friends must be found. And not just friends, but brave friends who are willing to speak. A friend who does not speak might just as well sit in the opposing camp. Only audible voices can change a UN document. Silence is acquiescence.
The UN works by consensus, which supposedly means that every nation must agree to every jot and tittle. Theoretically this means any single delegation can kill any piece of language it finds objectionable. Of course, the reality is quite different. Very few single delegations have the incredible courage to stand up to the entire world. Terrible pressure is brought to bear upon recalcitrant delegations. They are berated by other delegations, by radical NGOs, by senior UN bureaucrats, by the press. Still, it frequently happens that a small group of delegations can band together for safety and beat back some bad language. On questions of life and family this courageous coalition tends to be those states first brought together at the Cairo conference: Muslim Arab states, Catholic states from Latin America, and the Holy See.
This coalition is not easy to maintain. Most nations need massive unilateral and multilateral financial assistance. This is the threat to lose financial aid and be considered an outcast in the international community. Only a few states can stand that kind of heat. They tend to be states that many consider outcasts already, those that wonít ever receive western aid, like Iran, Libya, and the Sudan. And indeed, in the just completed Cairo+5 process, these were almost the only states that vigorously stood up to the feminist onslaught. During the final prepcom for Cairo+5, at the start of a late-night session that promised to be particularly bloody, a Christian lobbyist went to the Sudanese negotiator (the Sudanese currently countenance the enslavement of Christians in their own land) and informed him that when the debate turned ugly, he should know that right over in the corner, 20 Christian lobbyists would be praying for him. The Sudanese Muslim was visibly moved, and that night he rose to the promise and repeatedly and aggressively intervened for life and family and explicitly allied himself with Christian NGOs.
Because pro-life delegations tend to come from small and poor nations, the support of Christian NGOs is vital to this effort. And the nature of that support has changed over time. The amateur citizen-lobbyists of the first Cairo conference, who knew neither diplomats nor documents, have become professional. They now provide vital staff services for small and under-funded delegations. Furthermore, the pro-life team has been in place and working together for many years, and now has experienced pro-life lawyers and veteran lobbyists. Small delegations eagerly await the pro-life analysis and use it freely during the debate. The pro-life team sits near the conference floor with laptop computers funneling new language to friendly delegations. This working relationship has grown so effective that at Cairo+5, a very powerful UN bureaucrat ordered Muslim delegations to stop working so closely with Christian NGOs.
Although the game has changed in terms of the depth of experience now possessed by the pro-life side, the fight is the same. It is over language used by the other side to disguise positions that could not carry the day if they were put forth honestly.
Take the central term "reproductive rights. Until the first Cairo conference, the term was rarely used. A UN bureaucrat admitted as much at a briefing for the European Parliament a few months ago. He said "population control had become discredited as too authoritarian, so at Cairo they changed the term to "reproductive rights. This term has become the steadiest drumbeat at the UN: After all, the line goes, only the most backward and ignorant people could be against a woman exercising her "reproductive rights. The other side insist the term has nothing to do with abortion, and pro-life delegations have fallen for the argument. But, according to the official definition issued by the World Health Organization, "reproductive rights includes the right to fertility regulation, which explicitly includes the right to abortion.
This is where repetition of language becomes so insidious. "Reproductive rights has been used so many times in so many documents that it is now part of the international wallpaper.
Then there is the lying. Pro-life lobbyists and delegations have been fighting for almost two years over the phrase "enforced pregnancy. In Rome during the summer of 1998, 120 nations voted in favor of establishing an International Criminal Court (ICC) that would try individuals in four broad areas: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression. The US, India, China, and many other states either voted against it or abstained. The ICC is distinct from the World Court in The Hague, which hears only cases arising from disputes between nations. The ICC would be a permanent Nuremberg-style war-crimes tribunal for individuals.
Supposedly to be used against crimes of the most outrageous nature, the ICC has from the start offered radical feminists an opportunity to put very sharp teeth in their desire for social engineering on a very broad scale. Whatís more, most of the western nations have ceded partial control of the negotiating process to these radical feminists. In private negotiating sessions, diplomats from the most powerful nations are heard to exclaim, "But what will the Womenís Caucus say about this?
More than a year ago, radical feminists introduced the term "enforced pregnancy in two contexts: "war crimes and "crimes against humanity. These feminists maintain that the term relates only to the sort of thing that happened during the darkest days of the Bosnian conflict when Bosnian women were repeatedly raped and impregnated by Serb soldiers as a way of humiliating their enemies and changing the ethnic composition of the Bosnian people. But part of the proposed statute makes the simple fact of a womanís being pregnant an element of a crime.
Pro-lifers see this as a dangerous precedent, an opening for international abortion on demand. Indeed, the phrase has been used in a court case in Utah that had nothing to do with rape. In the Utah case, "enforced pregnancy simply meant that a woman couldnít get an abortion. Feminist law-review articles use the term in this way, too.
Veteran pro-life lobbyists spent the entire spring of 1998 convincing the Muslim and Catholic delegations of the true meaning of this phrase. After four months of steady lobbying, finally, at the Rome conference, lonely Qatar insisted upon the narrowest Bosnian definition. In subsequent meetings, however, the term has again come up for debate; the question will not be finally decided until the fall of this year. It may actually happen that the fact of a womanís being pregnant will be an element of a criminal offense in the new ICC.
This sort of thing is a language problem in a more basic sense. While the UN translates the negotiated documents into many different languages, and while the UN provides immediate voice translation into half a dozen languages, the concepts come almost exclusively from the West, and are almost totally foreign to diplomats from the Middle East, the Far East, and Africa. Furthermore, the most controversial parts of documents are saved for sessions at the ragged end of the conference, often late at night when the translators have gone home. So you have diplomats forced to negotiate, in a foreign language, concepts that are more foreign still.
The prospects for the UN pro-life movement in the coming months and years are both good and bad. The first thing to take into account is that none of this Cairo, Beijing, Rio, Istanbul would have happened if it were not for the Clinton Administration. In our country, foreign policy is almost the private preserve of the President. This is especially true in the backwater of the UN. Moreover, there is no record of the speeches here, and the US delegation can proclaim almost any radical notion it wishes. The Clinton Administration feels completely free to advance ideas at UN conferences that would never fly in domestic political discourse.
The near-term plans of the UN pro-life movement are to attempt to soften the negotiating position of the European Union. Working with national legislators in a few European countries, and with what may be more than one hundred pro-life members of the European Parliament, pro-lifers will attempt to slow the radical juggernaut of the EU. Pro-lifers are also reaching out to senior government officials in the Middle East and Latin America. They believe they can build a more permanent opposition to the pro-abortion position at the UN, but only by working through home governments talking to national legislators, foreign secretaries, and even presidents of countries.
But even if these two efforts are successful, pro-life delegations will remain vastly outnumbered. Pro-life NGOs will remain outnumbered a thousand to one, and outspent a million to one. So the UN pro-life movement will remain in a defensive posture, only able to stop the most radical provisions and rarely able to initiate language that overtly supports life and family.
But the prospects for our movement at the UN rest chiefly on the outcome of the next US presidential election. If the next US administration is pro-life, everything will change. If not, the disaster continues.
The Human Life Foundation, Inc.
215 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York 10016
Winter 1999 Issue