By Cristina Gutierrez

NEW YORK, August 5, 2011 (C-FAM) Western governments are pressuring Latin American countries to liberalize their abortion laws, by using a new UN human rights process called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

El Salvador, Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Belize, and Argentina are among the top countries recently pressured via the UPR process, as European countries recommend that these nations amend their laws concerning the “rights” to abortion and contraception.

The UPR involves an interactive dialogue among the delegations of different States concerning the human rights situations in a particular country, sometimes leading to delegations directly suggesting that a sovereign State modify its national laws to comply with their recommendations.

During the last three years, many European countries have been mainly focusing on Latin American countries. The primary concern seems to center around controversial sexual and reproductive health issues that European countries treat as rights, and interpreting these rights to include abortion. Pressuring these countries to adopt their belief that abortion is an international human right, they persistently recommend that failure to provide access to abortion under their national laws is a violation of international human rights law.

Luxemburg has recently urged El Salvador to “improve access for women to sexual and reproductive health rights and services”, while the United Kingdom demands that Costa Rica “…provide women with adequate information on how to access [services] and medical care, including permitted abortion,” and Sweden recommends that Chile further “efforts to ensure that the abortion laws are brought into line with Chile’s human rights obligations.”

However, these assertions have no support in international law, either by treaty or custom. Piero Tozzi, a senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund told the Friday Fax, “No ‘right’ to abortion exists in international law. Consistent with international treaties and customary norms, nations can (and should) protect the unborn child. UN bodies and outside actors grossly exceed their competence when they demand that sovereign nations alter their domestic laws protecting the unborn, and states should categorically reject such unwarranted claims.”

Partly due to strong economic pressure from the Western countries that condition development aid on social positions, some Latin American countries have been forced to respond to the recommendations made by the European countries. El Salvador declared that “the Government will promote a full and participatory national dialogue… on the right of women to reproductive health and on the implications of restrictive abortion laws,” and Belize stated that it will “take further concrete measures to enhance women’s access to sexual and reproductive services, as is among others, recommended by CEDAW.”

The Universal Periodic Review, created through the General Assembly by resolution 60/251 in March 2006, is a process conducted every four years to monitor and oversee human rights situations in all 192 UN Member States. Under this process, each State is required to report the actions taken within their borders to improve all human rights issues.

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