World women's rights blueprint agreed

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The Independent Online

of Reuters

Peking - An 11th-hour compromise on sexual freedom early today broke a deadlock that had bogged down a 10-year blueprint on women's rights at the UN World Conference on Women.

The breakthrough enabled proponents and opponents of new sexual rights to claim victory on the Platform for Action and its shorter preamble, the Peking Declaration.

Compromise was won in the final hours of the conference when conservative Islamic nations agreed to drop a phrase on cultural differences that opponents said could undermine or weaken the universal nature of human rights in the document, a UN official said.

For its part, a European Union bloc gave up a demand to enshrine sexual freedoms in the declaration, which is regarded by delegates as a vital rallying cry for sexual equality and women's rights into the next century, delegates said.

Signatories agree to "ensure the full enjoyment by women and girls of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and take effective action against violations of those rights and freedoms," the compromise preamble says.

But they retained a phrase in the main Platform that underlines that human rights of women include the rights to control and decide matters related to their sexuality - language that opens the door to homosexuality. Conservative Islamic countries, including Iran and Sudan, had opposed that definition of rights, which can be interpreted to safeguard single parents or same-sex parents.

A senior UN official said the bargain resolved virtually all outstanding disputes over language of the two documents. "It is a package," the official said this morning, on the 12th and last day of the biggest ever UN conference.

"Paragraph 97 is the greatest success of this conference," the Irish delegation chief, Avril Doyle, said of the rights clause.

"This is because, for the first time ever in the United Nations, it's been recognised that sexual rights are human rights,'' she said. "The Islamics can sell this agreement in their countries with their own nuances and we can sell it to our countries in Europe."

An Iranian negotiator, Ziaran Borzgmehr, agreed, saying the Platform and the shorter Declaration, stripped of all references to sex, were now acceptable to his government.

The Vatican was described as conspicuously silent in the final negotiations after a week of strong public statements against establishment of "sexual rights". As a European diplomat put it, "The Vatican was helpful by saying nothing".

Sudan's government found a way to deal with issues it does not like. It pledged to implement no part of a blueprint on women's lives that conflicted with its fundamentalist interpretation of the Muslim faith.

Of the 189 countries at the conference, at least 22 planned to append formal reservations to the Platform, officials said.

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