The US State Department’s move on April 3, 2017, to block funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) endangers key health and protection services for some of the world’s most marginalized women and girls, Human Rights Watch said today. The US is one of the agency’s largest donors, providing US$69 million annually, allocated globally for its core funding and humanitarian emergency responses.
The State Department’s determination is based on the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, enacted initially in 1985, which prohibits US foreign assistance to any organization that the administration determines is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. The administration cites UNFPA’s presence in China and US concerns about the government of China’s restrictive reproductive health policies. The State Department determination provides no evidence that the agency favors or directly supports coercive abortions or involuntary sterilizations.
“The UN Population Fund provides leadership in working against restrictive environments around the world for women’s rights, from addressing preventable maternal deaths to fighting against female genital mutilation and child marriage,” said Amanda Klasing, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Trump administration is making a decision that will cost women their lives.”
In 2002, the Bush administration sent an independent assessment team to investigate whether there was evidence that the Population Fund supported coercive policies. That assessment concluded, “based on what we heard, saw, and read, we find no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC [People’s Republic of China]. Indeed, UNFPA has registered its strong opposition to such practices.”
Despite these findings, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell cut the agency’s funding because they work with the Chinese government and continued to have operations in China.
Unlike the 2002 determination, the new determination by Under Secretary Tom Shannon does not appear to be based on an independent assessment, an analysis of statutory language, or presentation of evidence linking the Population Fund to abuses. Instead, the State Department asserts that “while there is no evidence that UNFPA directly engages in coercive abortions or involuntary sterilizations in China, the agency continues to partner with the NHFPC [National Health and Family Planning Commission] on family planning, and thus can be found to support, or participate in the management of China’s coercive policies…” Currently, the US government discounts its contribution by a dollar for every dollar the UNFPA spends in China. However, a cut of all US funding to the agency’s overall budget will have an impact not just on women in China, but on women everywhere.
UNFPA is a United Nations agency operating in more than 150 countries globally, supporting programs to end female genital mutilation and child marriage, to reduce preventable maternal deaths through technical support and training of skilled birth attendants, and to promote voluntary family planning. The agency also supports sexual and reproductive health services in humanitarian emergencies and works to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.
The Population Fund has responded to allegations of complicity in China by saying it does not promote coercion or birth quotas of any kind anywhere in the world and that all of its programs are vetted and monitored by an executive board, of which the US is a member.
Human Rights Watch works around the world against restrictive laws and policies on reproductive rights. Human Rights Watch has long expressed concern about restrictions and coercive reproductive health policies in China and their implementation.
“Around the world, the UN Population Fund commits itself to a human-rights approach to women’s reproductive health and services,” Klasing said. “Cutting its funding undermines an important resource for women to get urgently needed care, get information and exercise choice.”
Published on HRW's website on April 5, 2017.