UN Begins Five-Month-Long Series of Annual Commissions

The United Nations will begin the 2008 season next week, convening the first annual meetings of its various commissions in Geneva and New York. Several important social policy issues affecting human life and the family are coming up for debate.

On Monday the CEDAW committee will convene its first session in Geneva. This will be the first year the committee will split its time between UN headquarters in Geneva and New York ostensibly to harmonize with the other human rights instruments under the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR). More than a dozen countries are scheduled to be reviewed this year including Morocco and Nigeria whose pro-life laws have come under fire from the CEDAW committee in previous reviews. 

Almost half of CEDAW committee member terms will expire at the end of 2008 and elections are planned for June. Governments will be called upon to submit nominations from March to May. Three controversial CEDAW committee experts will see their terms expire at the end of the year. Anamah Tan from Singapore, Magalys Arocha from Cuba and Silvia Pimentel from Brazil, have used the country review process, as well as their positions as UN officials more broadly, to pressure countries to liberalize their abortion laws despite the fact that the treaty is silent on abortion. 

Pro-life advocates will be paying particular attention to the 2008 session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in February and March. The theme for this year's meeting is "financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women." Financing was also the theme of the pro-choice "Women Deliver" conference which UNFPA, WHO and UNICEF co-sponsored with International Planned Parenthood and other groups last October in London. Women's groups who expressed frustration at last year's CSW when a US resolution to condemn the practice of prenatal sex-selection and female infanticide was derailed by the EU can be expected to follow up on the issue this year.

The Human Right Council (HRC) will convene several meetings in Geneva throughout the year in addition to their main sessions in March and September. In addition to examining reports of various human rights violations, the committee will take action on the roles of special rapporteurs in the UN system. UN special rapporteurs serve as independent and impartial experts to inform the debate on a variety of subjects from the human rights situations in particular countries to thematic issues such as health, religious freedom and violence against women.

Controversy has surrounded several of the UN special rapporteurs who have overstepped their mandates.  Last year, nine rapporteurs helped draft a hotly-contested document called the Yogyakarta Principles, which seek to re-define established human rights to include special rights for homosexuals and three rapporteurs were uncovered to be serving as part of the expert litigation committee of the pro-abortion NGO the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).

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