SANTIAGO, Chile, JAN. 26, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Should countries let the United Nations dictate to them on matters of social policy? Definitely not, says the president of the Chilean bishops´ conference, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz.
Chile´s Senate is debating whether to ratify the U.N. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The newspaper El Mercurio reported Jan. 9 that the Catholic Church has asked the Senate not to ratify the protocol, because it could oblige Chile to legalize abortion.
In testimony before the Senate´s Foreign Relations Commission, Cardinal Errázuriz explained that the protocol, approved by the Chamber of Deputies last August, opens up the possibility for individuals to denounce what they consider to be violations of the guarantees contained in CEDAW. This, warned the cardinal, will lead to a loss of Chile´s sovereignty.
Chile ratified CEDAW in 1989, and already the committee in charge of reviewing the implementation of its provisions has been critical of the nation´s laws.
CEDAW in a nutshell
CEDAW was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979 and entered into force in September 1981. It has been ratified by 168 nations. The most notable holdout has been the United States, where the Senate has refused to ratify CEDAW.
States make periodic reports to a 23-member committee, which reviews implementation of the convention´s provisions. The committee comments on the reports and also recommends actions that governments should be taking under CEDAW.
On Oct. 6, 1999, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a 21-article Optional Protocol to the convention. By ratifying the Optional Protocol, a state recognizes the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to receive and consider complaints from individuals or groups within its jurisdiction.
Not only can individuals make claims before the committee, but the committee also has the power to initiate inquiries into what it considers situations where women´s rights are being violated.
The Optional Protocol entered into force Dec. 22, 2000, after the 10th nation ratified the convention. As of Dec. 20, 2001, there were 73 signatories to the protocol, of which 28 had formally ratified the document.
CEDAW and the Church
In his intervention before the Senate commission, Cardinal Errázuriz started off by noting how the Church has been actively represented in U.N. conferences on women in recent years. He also emphasized the importance of the fight to eliminate unjust discrimination against women.
Quoting from the Second Vatican Council pastoral constitution “Gaudium et Spes,” No. 29, the cardinal stated: “Forms of social or cultural discrimination in basic personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion, must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God´s design.”
The cardinal further hailed the increased participation by women in public life and the work force as a positive step for Chile, while at the same time admitting there is still much to do in achieving full equality for women. He also had positive words for CEDAW, affirming that it is an important instrument in ensuring respect for women´s rights.
But the convention contains serious flaws too, he noted. For a start, the document is based on a limited vision of women, not recognizing the value of motherhood and the relation of the mother with her family, the cardinal said. The document is also marred by a juridical ambiguity, introducing concepts not adequately defined, such as “gender” and “reproductive rights,” he noted.
The way gender has been described by the United Nations leads to a subjectivization of sexual identity, whereby each person can freely choose his or her sex independently of their biological condition, Cardinal Errázuriz contended. In this way, sexual identity simply becomes the fruit of external conditions, he said. Moreover, it is all the same if a person is homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or heterosexual, according to the U.N. view.
As for reproductive rights, Cardinal Errázuriz observed that the United Nations has a very reductive vision of this concept, limiting it to just a woman´s right to complete autonomy over her body, without considering the rights of men or of children. Such an individualistic concept leads to discrimination against others, particularly the unborn.
The cardinal noted that the convention asks signatories to modify their laws that constitute any form of discrimination against women. The limitations and ambiguities of the document thus open the door for international organizations, such as the CEDAW committee, to put pressure on Chile. Such a situation constitutes “cultural colonialism” that does not respect the values and sovereignty of Chile, the cardinal said.
The protocol under consideration by the Senate would give additional powers to the CEDAW committee to interfere in Chile. How will these powers be used? Cardinal Errázuriz gave some examples of how the committee has acted in the past.
In a 1999 report, the committee recommended that Chile promote a change in attitudes concerning the position of men and women and their roles in the family, work and society. The committee also asked that the authorities “energetically support” laws that permit divorce — currently not allowed in Chile.
The committee further contended that the failure of the state to provide services in the area of reproductive health constitutes discrimination. The committee also asked that the abortion laws be liberalized. Its report also called for the distribution “without limits” of contraceptives of all types. And it asked that women be allowed to undergo sterilization without consulting their husbands.
Cardinal Errázuriz is not alone in his concerns about CEDAW. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for relations with states in the Vatican Secretariat of State, noted in a conference how the convention has led the United Nations to call for the end of all laws that restrict abortion.
In a discourse he gave before the VI General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life on Feb. 11, 2000, Archbishop Tauran also noted that the CEDAW committee has called for countries to provide “reproductive health services,” even in cases where officials have a conscientious objection.
A detailed examination of the U.N. conventions on women´s and children´s rights is contained in the Heritage Foundation´s Backgrounder, “How U.N. Conventions on Women´s and Children´s Rights Undermine Family, Religion and Sovereignty,” by Patrick F. Fagan.
The study notes how the CEDAW committee is in favor of the legalization of prostitution; abortion-on-demand for teen-agers; and the criminalization of conscientious objections by doctors who do not wish to carry out abortions.
The committee has asked countries not to give support to mothers, even going so far as to decry the observance of Mother´s Day. It has also criticized the Irish Constitution because of its support for the family and mothers.
Cardinal Errázuriz warned the Senate that the protocol is just one step toward the creation of an international tribunal, with juridical powers, that will force countries to adopt the United Nations´ radical ideology. It remains to be seen whether Chile, and other countries, reject this new form of colonialism.