THE EVOLUTION OF POPULATION CONTROL –PART II Bucharest: The Third United Nations Population Conference (1974)

This is the second installment of Winifride Prestwich’s historical account of world population control

The Bucharest Conference on population in 1974 marked a turning point in an international effort by a group of Western nations to impose a long-term plan to control the size of the world population, under the banner of the United Nations.  This Conference differed from the two earlier ones: Rome (1954), and Belgrade (1965).  These two earlier conferences were held by the UN in collaboration with the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP); the proceedings were purely technical and scientific; the goal was to increase knowledge of demography; there were no resolutions and none were sought.

By comparison the Bucharest Conference was the first one organized for representatives of national governments.  There were no scientific topics for discussion, and the meetings were strictly political and at government level.  The goal was to draw up policy documents of national and international scope and value “concerning national and international world targets of population.”  (More correctly this should read, targets of depopulation.)  The key issue at Bucharest was international acceptance of the World Population Plan of Action.

The most significant difference between the two earlier conferences and Bucharest is seen in a comment by Antonio Carrillo-Flores, the UN Secretary General: “…because at neither of the two earlier conferences, nor at the much earlier world meeting in 1927 [at the League of Nations] did the delegates have the authority to commit their governments.”  At Bucharest, they did.

The Population Tribune

Bucharest was also a landmark showing the growth in power of international forces which were influencing the United Nations.  Not only had they been at work in drafting the Plan of Action, but they had organized a second conference, the Population Tribune, which ran concurrently with the UN conference. Thus, while government delegations from 137 nations were meeting in committees and plenary sessions of the official Conference, another 1500 persons from NGOs (Non Government Organizations) were carrying on the population debate in The Population Tribune.  The Tribune was sponsored by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and the chief organizer, Steven Viederman, was on loan from John D. Rockefeller’s Population Council, so it is hardly surprising that the programs were geared to the pro-abortion, pro-sterilization groups.

The atmosphere at the Tribune was one of bitter hostility towards anyone who was pro-life. Despite the knowledge that his would be so, and strapped by lack of funds, a small, but highly talented group of doctors, lawyers, priests, economic-demographers, agricultural experts, etc., from around the world (including Canada), went to defend those under attack in the Plan of Action: the preborn child, the family, the women who would be injured by abortion, and the small nations who would get aid only if they toed the line in population control.

Despite all odds they had a great impact not so much on the Tribune, where most people were pro-abortion leaders, but certainly in the UN itself.  They were warmly welcomed by the African nations (excepting Nigeria and Egypt) and those of Latin America.  To the chagrin of the UN and the U.S., changes were made in the Plan.  A Population Bulletin of the United Nations (1986) states: “There were other factors that contributed to the changes made in Bucharest.  Among them were nationalistic or religious forces that militated against family planning and population policy in general.”  Another UN writer labeled pro-life opposition “the forces of intolerance.”

Charles E. Rice, Professor of Law at Notre Dame University, Indiana, was a ember of the International Pro-Life Team in Bucharest.  His Comment on the Draft World Population Plan of Action cuts through all the rhetoric of the UN’s resolutions and exposes the many contradictions and legal pitfalls in the Plan.

In the Plan it is stated that the World Population Plan of Action is conceived as only part of  “the international community’s over-all strategy for the promotion of economic development and the quality of life.” Professor Rice asks: “Who determines what ‘quality of life’ is to be promoted by the United Nations? What, in actual practice, will be the rights of those who desire a different ‘quality’ in their lives?” He warns that this “over-all strategy,” this, “all-encompassing objective confers an open-ended licence on the United Nations and participating nations to influence and implicitly control human behaviour in every phase and aspect that can be related to improvement of ‘quality of life.’”

The Plan states: “Population policies should be consistent with internationally and nationally recognized human rights of individual freedom, justice and minority groups.”  A little later, however, we read: “This Plan of Action must be sufficiently flexible in order to take into account the consequences of the rapid demographic changes in human attitudes and values.”

Rice says of these provisions that they “bear the implicit stamp of ‘legal positivism,’ the theory that the idea of natural justice is untenable, that there are no rights dictated by the natural moral law and that rights are whatever they are defined by the legislature to be at any given time.”

Thus the United Nations, in its Plan of Action, claims that our fundamental human rights (which we had thought were inalienable) are only ours if they are recognized as such by our legislatures, nationally and internationally (i.e. the UN).  Moreover, our rights are not necessarily permanent.  If “human attitudes and values” change, nationally or internationally, we could lose the ones we still hold. The United Nations has already demonstrated how rights are removed.  The UN Declaration of Rights of the Child (1959) entitled the child in the womb full protection of the law; fifteen years later, in 1974, the Plan of Action implicitly sanctions abortion as a method of birth control.

Professor Rice warns his readers that it is not overstating the case to say that the 1974 Plan of Action is “a summons to the creation of an international population control apparatus.”  He added that this control would extend into the intimacies of private life, and would not be bound by any notions of morality.  The Plan affirms the rights of national governments to decide their own population policies but expresses the hope that “recommended policies be formulated and implemented without violating, and with due promotion of, universally accepted standards of human rights.”

Fertility control

The Plan of Action’s theme is “fertility control,” and there can be no doubt that “what it envisions is an aggressive official promotion of birth control including abortion as well as contraception and sterilization.”  It calls for national and international action in measures to reduce the number of births: research into new and more effective ways of contraception; improved production and delivery methods of contraceptives; the spread of information by ass media, hospital and other health workers, government officials, etc., and by sex education in schools.

Even from the point of view of the depopulators the Plan is flawed.  It creates a conflict: on the one hand it says that family planning is the right of spouses; on the  other hand it says that governments have the power to establish population policies.  In 1967, Professor Kingsley Davis said: “The things that make family planning acceptable are the very things that make it ineffective for population control.” In this conflict, it is the government that has the power, and it can choose to override the parents’ freedom of choice by outright coercion and even force, or it can curtail that freedom by disincentives, e.g. cutting family benefits.

There is a further conflict when the population policies of a particular government do not suit the United Nations and countries such as Sweden and the United States.  The weapon used to bring recalcitrant countries into line is money.  The UN, the World Bank, and USAID tie their aid in development in Third World countries to acceptance of population control.  The powerful blackmail the weak.

The UN Conference: 1974

It was clear from the very beginning that the Draft off the World Plan of Action was not acceptable to a large group of nations.  The UN Conference became polarized: on the one hand were the Malthusians led by the U.S., and supported by the Scandinavian countries, and Britain; on the other side were the nations of Latin America and most of Africa, plus allies.

Casper Weinberger, the US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, said that the foundation of the Draft Plan of Action was the US recommendation that the UN have universal family services and information, world-wide, by 1985.  Moreover, the US delegation would suggest that the Plan would have as a world goal the reduction of population growth to replacement level by the year 2000.

Argentina launched an opening salvo for the other side with 105 amendments to the Plan of Action.  (Over 300 amendments were put forward during the debates.  Many more were tabled because of insufficient time.)  Algeria led the African dissent.  It was one Algerian representative who said: “Let Bucharest mark the end of the International Planned Parenthood Federation generation.”  Amongst the countries which rejected the anti-life philosophy of the Plan were Brazil, Chad, Australia, Israel, Mongolia, Panama, Peru and the Vatican.

France insisted that the sovereign rights of each nation must be respected by the United Nations.  The French delegate flatly rejected the imposition of foreign models as the answer to developing nations’ problems, and he urged that there be greater respect for fundamental human rights.

The family also came under attack.  Some delegates did not support the idea that the family is the basic unit in society; some claimed the individual is the basic unit; J.P. Plonk of the Netherlands thought the family should be redefined to accommodate “new life styles and unions”, Placide de Palpe, the Belgian Minister of Social Affairs, insisted that “the family was the fundamental element of social equilibrium.” His government would support measures to maintain and develop the basic family unit. The traditional family survived the debate.

In retrospect

The UN delegates rejected the Draft Plan of Action, and the population controllers had to accept a watered-down version.  This was not a total victory for the pro-life side for the final version, though somewhat improved, was still flawed.

Did the international pro-life team do any good, for all their efforts?  The members of the team were all professionals and realists.  They knew they had a virtually impossible task, but reading through the lines of their reports, they had a greater than hoped for success.

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