The Minister for Women's and Veterans' Affairs, Mu Sochua, has sharply criticized
the United States government for imposing its moral stance on the rest of the world
and ignoring the human rights of women in developing countries.
Her comments followed a recent UN conference where the US delegation's stance forced
a vote on the wording of the Asia-Pacific region's population action plan. The US
argued that it promoted both underage sex and abortion.
The Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference was held in Bangkok in December,
and was attended by representatives from 35 countries.
"The US lost totally," Sochua said. "It was a vote that totally isolated
the US. Cambodia's stand is full protection of the rights of women and the US cannot,
just because it is a strong funder, impose its moral issues on the rest of the world."
At the conference the delegates developed an action plan that focuses on reproductive
health care and combating HIV/AIDS. It followed on from a program created at the
1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.
The US attendees tried unsuccessfully to remove terms including "reproductive
health services" and "reproductive rights" from the new plan. It felt
the terms promoted abortion and sexual activity for unmarried adolescents, a charge
that was strongly denied by other delegates including Cambodia.
Arthur E. Dewey from the US State Department, told the conference that his government's
stance on HIV/AIDS prevention included abstinence for the unmarried, and fidelity
for the married.
"We support the ABC approach ... Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use,"
he said. "We have been asked to reaffirm the entirety of the ICPD principles
and recommendations, even though we have repeatedly stated that to do so would constitute
endorsement of abortion."
Documents at UN conferences are typically produced by consensus, yet in Bangkok countries
were forced to vote on the Plan of Action. The US was the only country to vote against
the measure. Two other countries abstained, although it was eventually passed with
US reservations noted in an separate document.
MoWVA's Mu Sochua said that in order to fight poverty, it was essential to make reproductive
health services easily accessible to all Cambodian women.
"Threatening the rest of the world by eliminating funding is a power trip by
the US, and ignores the human rights of women [in Cambodia] where 36 percent of the
population live under the poverty line," she said.
The US government does not fund any organization it believes promotes abortion, and
cut its entire $34 million global funding to UNFPA when the Bush administration came
The US position in Bangkok was also criticized by the Cambodia office of the UN Population
Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health (MoH). UNFPA country representative Yoshiko
Zenda said the US decision was "really unfortunate" because of the "serious
emerging issue of HIV/AIDS for the region".
"Asia has a huge number of people entering into reproductive age ... which means
that they would all be sexually active in the next five to ten years and they should
be protected," Zenda said.
She said that pregnancy associated risks were the main danger to the lives of women
in least developed countries, and it was crucial they had the right to reproductive
Dr Chhun Long, the national reproductive health program manager at the MoH, said
the unsuccessful attempt by the US to change the language in the document was not
appropriate, but stressed his government was not at all concerned about US policies.
"We are not worried about whether the US is happy or unhappy, because we have
our own national law and it is the sovereign right of the country [to make policy],"