Vatican Accused of 'Tyranny' at UN Conference

By Justin Torres | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

( - As the United Nations women's conference ended Friday, criticism aimed at a conservative coalition that includes the Vatican and Islamic nations reached the boiling point.

With conference delegates working late into the night Thursday and Friday to finish the document, the Vatican, in its capacity as a permanent UN observer, pushed for extensive changes in the working draft of the 1995 Beijing Women's Conference, commonly known as Beijing+5.

Among other changes, the Holy See demanded the deletion of a section that called for global "access to sexual and reproductive health information, education, and services needed to address . . . unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases."

The Vatican also pushed for inclusion of language that would protect the "responsibilities, rights and duties of parents and legal guardians" in making decisions about the sexual values transmitted to their children.

The Vatican has also pushed for deletions of references to the need for expanded access to abortion, contraception and safe sex for adolescents. The World Health Organization defines "adolescence" as including children as young as ten years of age.

The Beijing Conference has long been a target of conservative ire for its espousal of increased worldwide access to contraception and abortion, redefinition of "family" to include alternative configurations such as single-parent and homosexual-headed households, legal protection of homosexuality, gender parity in national legislatures, "gender mainstreaming," government day care, and children's rights.

While Secretary General Kofi Annan urged all UN members to "work together in a spirit of cooperation to ensure that the gains made by women five years ago are consolidated, protected and advanced further," many other UN officials and observers directed harsh criticism at the Holy See's representatives.

Gita Sen, an Indian academic and member of the UN observer DAWN, or Development Alternatives With Women for a New Era, said adoption of the final document was being held up by "a tiny minority that is exercising tyranny" over the delegates.

Sen listed the Vatican, Nicaragua, Libya, Sudan and Iraq as countries that have blocked consensus, and urged the conference to adopt the document by a voice vote, "regardless of whether they agree or not," noting that nations that object can register their comments in a separate document.

Alexandra Speildoch of the group U.S. Women Connect said she "hoped that the UN would not let a tiny group of ideologues roll back the gains" of the 1995 Beijing Conference.

Speildoch's group earlier released a report card on the US government's dedication to advancing the Beijing agenda. The US received an "F" for its attempts to reduce female poverty but scored a "B" for increasing the number of women in political power.

On Thursday and Friday, conservative nations and observers struck back at accusations that they were a hostile minority attempting to derail an agreement on women's rights.

Characterizing the accusation as "an absolute lie," Austin Ruse of the UN observer C-FAM, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, accused wealthy Western nations of disseminating a new kind of "sexual colonialism" to developing nations.

"It is unconscionable that rich Western nations would force developing nations to adopt an agenda that conflicts with their moral values," added Janet Crouse of the Beverly LaHaye Institute.

Ruse released a letter from 23 members of the US Congress, expressing "great alarm" that the State Department's representatives at the conference are promoting "a new and dangerous term, 'sexual rights.'"

"It will mean not just special rights for homosexuals but could mean the right to sexual expression for children. Moreover, it may allow for the spread of prostitution," said the letter, which was addressed to all 188 U.N. member states.