‘It Is a Major Failure,’ Says Chair, as 3 Draft Decisions Win Approval of Members
Concluding its fiftieth session today, the Commission on Population and Development failed to reach consensus on its outcome document, while approving three draft decisions, including one determining the themes for upcoming sessions.
Following the failure to reach consensus on the outcome document, Commission Chair Alya Ahmed Saif al-Thani (Qatar) withdrew the relevant draft resolution — titled “changing population age structures and sustainable development” — and expressed regret that “we have not been able to resolve differences and reach compromise”. She praised the efforts of all participants, but emphasized: “It is a major failure.” She sought authorization to prepare a Chair’s summary of the discussion on the draft resolution, to which reference would be made in the report of the fiftieth session.
Acting without a vote as it kicked off the session’s final meeting, the Commission approved a draft decision titled “special themes for the Commission on Population and Development in 2018 and 2019” (document E/CN.9/2017/L.4), deciding that “sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration” would be the special theme for the fifty-first session, in 2018. “Review and appraisal of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and its contribution to the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” would be the special theme for the 2019 session.
The Commission also approved, again without a vote, the draft decision “multi-year work programme of the Commission on Population and Development, including the cycle for the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development”. By that text, the Commission decided to adopt, starting with the fifty-third session, a four-year review cycle for the Programme of Action and its contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It also decided that the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) would collaborate in providing technical support to the Commission’s Bureau, on the basis of their respective complementary reviews of its Programme of Action.
Acting once again without a vote, the Commission went on to approve the draft “report on the flow of financial resources for assisting in the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development”. By that text, it decided to request that UNFPA provide information on a potential review of the methods used to prepare that report, a minimum of 45 days before the start of the session. The Commission also decided that it would review the report’s technical recommendations at its fifty-first session.
In other business, the Commission approved the provisional agenda for its forthcoming 2018 session (document E/CN.9/2017/L.2), as orally revised, and adopted the draft report of its fiftieth session (document E/CN.9/2017/L.3).
The representative of the Netherlands, Co-Facilitator of the draft resolution, said she was disappointed that, in 2017, “we are not able to come together on really crucial themes for development and human rights”. The Commission was close to an agreement, but it was “too bad that we couldn’t make that extra effort”.
The representative of the United States said her delegation was prepared to go along with the compromise discussed in the final hours of negotiations, adding that the Commission would be better served in the future by staying more closely aligned with its theme. Noting that the world was undergoing a uniquely historical change in population age structures, she called for greater efforts to deal with the consequent challenges while seizing the opportunities.
Nigeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said he wished to make clear that the absence of consensus was “not the fault” of the Group, emphasizing that it had tried to be accommodating and had even shifted its position to accommodate others. He added that the Group had hoped the resolution would help to address the development issues of developing countries.
Finland’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the text presented earlier that morning was a compromise requiring concessions from all parties. It was an outcome that the European Union could have lived with, he added, echoing other delegations.
The Russian Federation’s representative emphasized that pushing sexual and reproductive health rights as indivisible from human rights was nothing but an attempt to undermine international agreements on human rights. Such formulations diluted basic human rights, which only discredited the Commission’s work, he said, expressing opposition to use of the Commission as a “back door” through which to force various human rights concepts that did not meet the broader consensus.
France’s representative, speaking also for some 30 other countries, said that protecting the rights of girls and women, and more broadly those of young people and adolescents, was critical to sustainable development, underlining the need for youth to have access to comprehensive sexuality education so they could understand and make informed decisions about their own bodies.
Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination in the Department of Social and Economic Affairs, said in closing remarks that the measurable progress made in the past 20 years reaffirmed the importance of addressing the “unfinished business” of the Cairo Agenda. Respect for human rights must be central to the advancement of progress towards sustainable development, he added, emphasizing the need to ensure sexual and reproductive health rights. Although the Commission had not reached the outcome for which everyone had hoped, the discussions had been productive and were critical to “taking a step forward”, he said.
Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), expressed regret that the Commission had been unable to reach consensus on its outcome document for the second time. “This is about the lives of women and girls who are especially disenfranchised,” he said, adding that it was clearly a challenging time for the Commission. “For every minute we don’t come to a conclusion, we not only lose value, we lose lives,” he pointed out. As population age structures changed, commitment improving the lives of women and girls was becoming increasingly important, he emphasized, urging all Member States to continue their funding of the Population Fund so as to restore its core budget.
Commission Chair Al-Thani (Qatar) commended members in her closing remarks for their active engagement and the goodwill of all parties. The 2017 theme, “Changing population age structures and sustainable development”, had been particularly relevant because it had permitted a focus on population issues central to implementing the 2030 Agenda, she added.
Following the closure of the fiftieth session, the Commission immediately elected the following members to the Bureau of the fifty-first session: Ion Jinga (Romania) as Chair, and Nokulunga Zandile Bhengu (South Africa) as Vice-Chair. It also decided to postpone the election of three Vice-Chairs until its next meeting.
Participating in the Commission today were representatives of Mexico, South Africa, China, Argentina (also on behalf of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic and Uruguay), Philippines, Tunisia, Jamaica (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Panama, Paraguay and Norway, as well as observers for the State of Palestine (on behalf of the Arab Group) and the Holy See.
The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.