By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A U.S. threat to veto U.N. Security Council action on sexual violence in conflict was averted on Tuesday after a long-agreed phrase was removed because President Donald Trump’s administration sees it as code for abortion, diplomats said.
A German-drafted resolution was adopted after a reference was cut referring to the need for U.N. bodies and donors to give timely “sexual and reproductive health” assistance to survivors of sexual violence in conflict.
The U.S. veto threat was the latest in a string of policy reversals that some U.N. diplomats say has been driven by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, a conservative Christian who staunchly opposes abortion rights.
Pence was not involved in directing U.S. diplomats during the negotiations, a White House aide said, but added that the adopted text “ended up in a place that is closer in line with the White House’s priorities.”
Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen did not speak after the council vote.
After the vote French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told the 15-member body: “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict – and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant – should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”
The language promoting sexual and reproductive health is long-agreed internationally, including in resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 2009 and 2013 and several resolutions adopted annually by the 193-member General Assembly.
The text adopted on Tuesday simply reaffirms the council’s commitment to the 2009 and 2013 resolutions. A reference to the work of the International Criminal Court in fighting the most serious crimes against women and girls was also watered-down to win over Washington, which is not a member of the institution.
RUSSIA, CHINA ABSTAIN
Before the vote, Cohen told the Security Council: “None of us can turn our backs on this issue.”
“It requires the engagement of all member states and of the United Nations to support the efforts of those fighting to protect women, provide accountability, and support survivors,” Cohen said.
Thirteen council members voted in favor of the resolution, while Russia and China abstained over a number of concerns – including a German push for expanded U.N. monitoring of sexual violence in conflict – and even circulated their own rival draft text, which they did not put to a vote.
“Please do not even try to paint us as opponents of the fight against sexual violence in conflict. Our stance on this issue remains firm and unyielding, this scourge has to be eliminated,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.
The council voted after hearing briefings from Nobel Peace Prize winners Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was held as a sex slave by Islamic State militants, Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, who treats rape victims, Libyan rights activist Inas Miloud, and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.
The Trump administration cut U.S. funding in 2017 for the U.N. Population Fund because it “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The United Nations said that was an inaccurate perception.
In 2018 the administration unsuccessfully tried to remove language on sexual and reproductive health from several General Assembly resolutions, then failed in a similar campaign last month during the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington’; Editing by Susan Thomas and Howard Goller)