Geneva -- As the United Nations convenes its first "peer review" of member countries' human rights records, the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with ten other organizations from around the world, is expressing concern that issues surrounding women's reproductive rights have been largely absent from the process. The new mechanism, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), was created by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (which is made up of representatives from forty-seven countries) and will periodically evaluate the human rights records of all 192 member states. Its first session is being held in Geneva between April 7 and 23.
Each year three sessions will take place in which eleven countries will present to the Human Rights Council their records and will answer questions on their compliance with international human rights obligations. This first session, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Philippines, India and PolandÑall countries which have serious violations of womenÕs sexual and reproductive rightsÑare among those countries under review.
As the first session gets underway, the Center is calling on the Human Rights Council to demand that the following issues be raised during UPR sessions:
* Maternal mortality. Over half a million women die from pregnancy-related causes every year. India has the largest number of maternal deaths in the world and Brazil accounts for over a quarter of such deaths in Latin America. Both countries should be held to account for failing to adequately address these high rates of deaths. Yet, maternal mortality was not raised by either state or by the Human Rights Council.
* Unsafe abortion. Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Philippines, India and Poland, all have high rates of unsafe abortion and women in these countries face numerous barriers when trying to access legal abortion. Still only Poland was asked on how the government was guaranteeing access to abortion when the woman's life or health is at risk or in cases of fetal anomalies. No other question related to women's sexual and reproductive rights was raised.
* Sexual Diversity. References to human rights violations against transgender, transsexual and intersex people have been almost completely absent from the process. This -- despite serious violations and discrimination in access to education, employment and health care in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Philippines, India and Poland.
In addition, women's equality has only been partially addressed in the questioning of states. Access to land, housing, social security and unemployment all play significant roles in women's experiences worldwide and have not been addressed.
On the positive side, the UPR process has raised issues around discrimination on the basis of individuals' sexual orientation, both through the questions asked by the states and the presentations of the states under review. Domestic and sexual violence, political participation and equality policies have also been repeatedly addressed in the review process.
This process has the potential to be an effective mechanism for providing a comprehensive review of the human rights records in all countries of the world. In order to meet these expectations, states must fully incorporate women's rights, including reproductive rights, into the review process while guaranteeing the full and meaningful participation of civil society.
The ten organizations joining the Center for Reproductive Rights are Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Argentina), CLADEM - Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa delos Derechos dela Mujer, INSGENAR - Instituto de Género, Derecho y Desarrollo (Argentina), Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, Red Latinoamericana de Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir, and the six organizations of the Sexual Rights Initiative: Action Canada for Population and Development (Canadá), CREA (India), INCREASE (Nigeria), MULABI Espacio Latinoamericano de Sexualidades y Derechos, and Taller de Comunicación Mujer (Ecuador).