20 years ago, in this very city; negotiators at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development: rightly termed, the “Earth Summit,” arrived at outcomes that sought progress on sustainable development, including human rights, population change, social development, women’s rights and gender equality. However, at the recent preparatory committee sessions of Rio+20 there were shameless attempts by member states and non-state actors to roll back internationally-agreed language on sexual and reproductive rights.
Women account to half of the seven billion earthlings, and for development to be truly sustainable, all human beings should have access to sexual and reproductive rights. Women are most vulnerable to effects of climate change. They are more likely to die during natural disasters than men. Many of the most inspirational leaders in the growing climate movement are women. Over the years, a human rights-based approach has emphasized the importance of guaranteeing accessibility of women to human rights.
It is flabbergasting how, the Holy See (together with G77 member states), which is not a member state of the United Nations, possessing only observer status is attempting to block all reference to sexual and reproductive rights in the current negotiation text. Of course the UN should advocate equal representation and accommodate diverse views, but the concept of Bargaining Power in elementary economics talks about the relative abilities of parties in a situation to exert influence over each other. This is an explanation as to why, member states choose to operate in blocs at UN climate negotiations: to increase their bargaining power; sometimes at the expense of heavy sacrifices. The Holy See, with no Citizens of its own, does not derive legitimacy from a mandate of the people. Even the Vatican City, where it is based, has a grand total of 832 citizens.
To ensure that the United Nations does not promote one particular religious view, religious entities such as the Roman Catholic Church should be divorced from such discussions. A statement released by the Center for Research on Population and Security reads “If the United Nations treats the Holy See as a state with permanent observer privileges because of the Roman Catholic Church’s religious authority, the United Nations is creating a precedent for similar claims by other religions.”.
Recently, the Holy See released a statement in view of the Rio+20 negotiations:
“Human beings, in fact, come first. We need to be reminded of this. At the center of sustainable development is the human person. The human person, to whom the good stewardship of nature is entrusted, cannot be dominated by technology and become its object…In this sense, our approach to nature clearly needs to be reviewed, for nature is the setting in which human beings are born and interact: it is their ‘home’.”
As of yesterday there were over 15 reservations/brackets proposed by the Holy See (often back by the G77) We watched on, at the Splinter Group meeting on gender, education, health, cities, transport, and mining, of the ugly militant, politicized use of Religion and all I could see were tears in Jesus’ eyes.
An estimated 1,600 women die every day from complications caused by pregnancy and child birth, 99% in developing countries. To regress on the outcomes of the 1992 Earth Summit, is a sacrilege. It will also negative impact development and economic growth.
Jesus wept. And we, if we watch on doing nothing, we’ll cry too.
About the authorSenel Wanniarachchi
Senel is a Sri Lankan activist tracking climate issues in South Asia and beyond. He's a trained journalist, columnist, radio news reporter, editor, student, and a Rio+20 Fellow.