NEW YORK, April 1, 2004 – Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, Paul Hunt, addressed the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations Monday. In an address to the commission, Hunt asserted that “The rights to sexual and reproductive health had an indispensable role to play in the struggle against poverty, HIV/AIDS, gender inequality and intolerance.” He also contended that “reproductive health”, a UN euphemism for abortion and contraception, “were among the most sensitive and controversial in international human rights law, but they were also among the most important.”

Representatives of the United States, Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia took issue with Mr. Hunt’s focus on sexual orientation as it related to health, saying the topic appeared to fall beyond his mandate, whereas Canada expressed support for Mr. Hunt’s engagement with the subject.  Hunt recommended that increased attention be devoted to a proper understanding of reproductive health, reproductive rights, sexual health and sexual rights.  U.S. representative to the commission, Richard S. Williamson, said, “The Special Rapporteur’s report appeared to promote and support abortion, which the United States did not support or promote, in particular as a method of family planning. Further,” Williamson continued, “the United States did not agree with the Special Rapporteur’s treatment of the issue of sexual orientation.”  Shaukat Umer, of Pakistan, sided with the U.S. “The report contained materials that were entirely unjustified – for example, that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was not permissible under international human rights law,” Umer said. “The Special Rapporteur was requested to cite one specific international human rights treaty that discussed sexual orientation. The Special Rapporteur was requested to explain how he justified raising such a controversial issue that fell outside his mandate,” Umer contested.  Canadian Henri-Paul Normandin said, “Canada welcomed the emphasis placed on the important linkage between sexual and reproductive health and the right to health.  How would this issue be moved forward in the coming year?  The comments on sexual orientation by Pakistan were not the view of Canada,” Normandin claimed.

Cuba’s Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios said, “It might have been desirable to place greater emphasis on a series of health issues of primordial importance to developing countries, such as the impact of malaria and the problem of access to medication.”