|NGO Report 2005 FAWCO Conference in Birmingham|
In the past two years FAWCO has continued to focus its activity as an United Nations accredited NGO (non-governmental organization) with special consultative status with ECOSOC (the Economic and Social Council of the UN) on the traditional FAWCO issues of education, environment, literacy, women’s health and ageing, along with human rights in general and women and children’s rights in particular. We have become active members of CONGO (Conference of NGOs with ECOSOC) a membership organization that facilitates our participation in UN debates and decisions, giving us a stronger voice at UN meetings. Of the various CONGO committees, we are active members of the CONGO Committees on the Status of Women, the Special NGO Committee on Human Rights and we have recently joined a new committee on HIV/AIDS.
Using FAWCO’s Resolutions and Recommendations adopted in 2003 as mandates we have attempted to work within the UN framework to promote the rights and welfare of women and children and to support health services and programs aimed at preventing, controlling, and treating diseases such as HIV/AIDS and practices harmful to women. Such services are vital to the human rights and well-being of women and children around the world.
We continue to advocate for children’s rights with support for the CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child). This pro-life document affirms that children everywhere have the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life - all basic human rights. Every country in the world, including the Holy See has ratified the CRC with the exception of the United States and Somalia. The U.S. ratification of the CRC remains a FAWCO priority. Contentious issues blocking U.S. ratification are the death penalty for children, sexual reproductive rights and child rights. Today in the U.S. there are 82 juvenile offenders awaiting execution, which is permitted in 19 states. The Supreme Court is now hearing the case of Roper v. Simmons, No. 03-633, which reopens the issue of the constitutionality of sentencing juvenile offenders to death. In the industrialized world the U.S. has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease is increasing among the young. The U.S also leads the developed world with an average of 27 child deaths per week resulting from child abuse and 22% of children live in relative poverty. We must continue to strive for ratification as well as implementation of the CRC, which is of major importance in ensuring children’s rights in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Likewise we continue to advocate for women's rights with support for CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women). Often called the Women’s Bill of Rights, CEDAW has been ratified by 179 counties but not the US. The treaty affirms that women have equal human rights and fundamental freedoms and the right to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children. States parties agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of trafficking and exploitation of women. Opposition in the US Senate focuses on the issues of equal pay for equal work, maternity leave with pay, and childcare facilities for working mothers as well as the fact that it supports reproductive rights for women.
Continuing to support the work of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in July 2004, FAWCO issued a statement of concern on the decision of the U.S. Administration to withhold the U.S. Congress approved funding for the UNFPA; funds destined to help improve the health and survival rates of women and children worldwide. In the official statement FAWCO asked the US “to honor the rights and dignity of women and children by supporting life-saving programs sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund and commit to the future and health of millions of women and children”.
I attended the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) from December 10-13, 2003 in Geneva Switzerland. One of the most important objectives of the Summit was to consider Information Communication Technologies (ICT) as a tool for social and economic development. It should be a vehicle for democracy, justice, equality and personal and social development. The importance of radio, theatre, TV, print media and old fashioned story telling as information technologies were stressed by the NGOs and UN agencies. Universal access to information and education as a human right and freedom of expression and cultural diversity need to be considered along with the fact that the large majority of the world's six billion people are not in a position to access modern ICT systems; millions of them have still to make their first telephone call and the digital divide continues to widen. It was noted that this digital divide is a gender divide, an economic divide, and an urban/rural and a generational divide. As always, I networked with the various groups and was confronted by the enormity of the tasks ahead. The second part of WSIS will be held in November 2005 in Tunisia.
In addition FAWCO NGO representatives attended the 59th and 60th Session of the Commission on Human Rights; the U.N. Conference on Water and Health in NY; meetings of the Committee on the Status of Women in Geneva, NY, and Vienna; the 3 day CSW Forum in Geneva in 2003; meetings of the Special NGO Committee on Human Rights in Geneva; meetings of the NGO Committee on the Family, in NY and Vienna; the 3 day CONGO General Assembly in Geneva in 2003; the 4 day World Summit on the Information Society; a Geneva CONGO meeting on the MDGs and UN Reform, the Second World Urban Forum in Barcelona, the Asian Civil Society Forum 2004 in Bangkok, the annual September DPI Conferences in NY and various UN/NGO meetings on issues of concern. I was also pleased that members of AWG Paris, AWC Bern, and AWC Vienna and AWC of Thailand attended UN meetings for FAWCO acting as our eyes and ears.
I am most grateful to Pam Perraud, our NGO Liaison in New York, for representing us at this important UN Headquarters, for her involvement and for her written contributions to the website, the FAWCO Forum and the FAWCO Connections. Her report is listed separately in the Conference Manual.
A large portion of my job as NGO Director involves communication. The FAWCO Website and the FAWCO Forum remain important tools and I thank Alice Grevet and Rowena K. and their teams for their important contributions. The work of the FAWCO global committees is of major importance to our NGO/UN position and I am grateful to the committee chairs for their valuable work.
Networking is a major part of my activity and I receive a huge amount of mail from UN agencies, other non governmental organizations and FAWCO members. We plan to set up a subscription service on the NGO pages of the FAWCO website so that interested members may sign up to receive updated information on the NGO issues, which hopefully will ease the flow of information as well as relieve some of the email burden of the NGO director.
We must do more to link our NGO/ UN involvement to FAWCO’s global committees and the committees to the individual FAWCO members. Given the strong mandates included in FAWCO’s Resolutions and Recommendations, we must continue our advocacy on the issues of women and children’s rights, the environment, health, aging and education and promote the responsibility of our members and the international community as a whole to ensure the achievement of a social and international order in which human rights become a reality.
In September 2004 I attended the DPI/NGO Conference in NY, entitled “Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action”. The 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set a powerful agenda for a global partnership in a shared vision for a better world by the year 2015. They are the result of the 2000 UN Millennium Summit and its Millennium Declaration adopted by 191 countries. These goals represent a powerful framework for action unlike anything the world has ever before attempted and they focus on the most critical problems that are the cause of tensions in today’s world. I would like to see FAWCO members around the world join others in the NGO community to promote the MDGs. Awareness-raising has always been our strength and civil society needs to promote awareness of these goals, be it briefings, talks and handouts for schools, community groups or businesses. “We the Peoples, a Call to Action for the UN Millennium Declaration” is the report on civil society engagement with the MDGs, to which FAWCO contributed, and it should serve as an action plan for us all.
We live in a world where the universality of human rights remains elusive; a world of poverty, ignorance, disease, conflict, terrorism, violence, prejudice and bad governance; a world where inequalities and injustices against women and children are commonplace. Yet NGOs and the United Nations believe that we can improve on this world and that goals can be set and actually achieved. I would like to challenge FAWCO at this Conference to adopt one MDG as ours and to use our network, our members and our American ingenuity and dedication to volunteerism to make a significant difference. What if FAWCO could be responsible for saving the lives of thousands of children by committing to just one MDG that is doable for us? Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking to me and other NGOs said, “it is people mobilized as you are, more than any government initiative or scientific breakthrough, who can overcome the obstacles to a better world”.
Goal 6 of the MDGs takes aim at malaria. Malaria kills up to 2.7 million people each year, about 7,400 a day and the majority of the victims are children (putting it on a scale close to HIV/AIDS). With acute malaria a child may die within 24 hours of contracting the disease. Malaria kills a child every 20 seconds. Over 30% of school absenteeism in Africa is attributed to malaria. The mosquito that transmits malaria bites exclusively at night, primarily between 23:00 and 5:00. Day biting mosquitoes do not transmit malaria, so something as simple as sleeping with a chemically treated mosquito net will save lives. Pregnant women and children under 5 are at most risk because of their weakened or undeveloped immune systems. A mosquito net cost approximately $5 - an unaffordable price for people living in poverty. So, what if FAWCO could save the lives of thousands of children every year by supplying mosquito nets? What if we tried to encourage all our Member Clubs to do one mosquito net project a year? What if we dedicated a DG or a special award to malaria prevention in education, environmental projects or buying nets? What if we got people to give the donation of mosquito nets as birthday, anniversary or Christmas gifts with a certificate? What if we could mobilize the children of our members to do school projects on malaria? What if FAWCO could contribute to wiping out malaria? Then at least one of the Millennium Development Goals could become a reality!
The Millennium Development Goals
I am pleased to report an important change to my conference report, which was submitted in mid February. Under the section on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), I mention the death penalty for children as one of the points blocking US ratification of this important human rights treaty. The CRC expressly prohibits juvenile executions.
In a landmark decision announced on March 1, 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that state laws authorizing capital punishment for 16- and 17-year-olds, violate the Eighth Amendment and are henceforth unconstitutional. The action reverses the death sentences of 72 convicted murderers who committed their crimes as juveniles. The majority decision, which acknowledged the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. It declared that prohibiting the execution of juvenile killers is a natural and logical conclusion to the court's 6-to-3 ruling in 2002 that executing mentally retarded offenders is categorically unconstitutional.
Justice Kennedy was joined in his opinion by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. The four dissenters were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O'Connor.
"Only seven countries other than the United States have executed juvenile offenders since 1990," Kennedy writes. "Since then each of these countries has either abolished capital punishment for juveniles or made public disavowal of the practice." Kennedy adds, "The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions."
The European Union issued a statement applauding the ruling. So did former President Jimmy Carter, who said, "With this ruling, the United States acknowledges the national trend against juvenile capital punishment and joins the community of nations, which uniformly renounces this practice."
With this decision one obstacle to US ratification of the CRC has been removed, but the contentious issues remaining are sexual reproductive rights and the inherent rights of the child. Every country in the world, as well as the Holy See, has ratified the CRC with the exception of the United States and Somalia. The CRC is of major importance in ensuring children’s rights in the US and elsewhere.
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