Explanation of Position on a Third Committee Resolution on Violence Against Women

Courtney Nemroff
Deputy U.S. Representative to ECOSOC
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 19, 2018


Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The United States believes that women should have equal access to reproductive health care. We remain committed to the commitments laid out in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and in the ICPD Program of Action. As has been made clear over many years, there was international consensus that these documents do not create new international rights, including any “right” to abortion. The United States fully supports the principle of voluntary choice regarding maternal and child health and family planning. We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance. We also note that the United States is the largest bilateral donor of reproductive health and family planning assistance.

My delegation was not given the opportunity to have side group discussions to resolve our differences in these two paragraphs, even after our repeated requests. Therefore, offering amendments was the only option remaining to improve the text. We regret that the U.S. amendments to OP 8(d) and OP 11 did not pass. Wording that is problematic for us remains in the resolution. The United States therefore disassociates from OP 8(d) and OP 11 because we want to make clear that the terms “sexual and reproductive health” and “sexual and reproductive health-care services” do not include abortion as a method of family planning.

The United States supports the condemnation of both sexual harassment and violence and assault against women, but believes it is necessary to define the terms appropriately, consistent with U.S. law and our international obligations. In particular, any measures to combat these very serious problems should be consistent with our international human rights obligations, including freedom of expression.

An overarching concern is that this resolution conflates physical violence against women with sexual harassment, which, while absolutely condemnable, may not always constitute violence, although in some cases it may. Specifically, OP 2 defines sexual harassment as a “form of violence” against women, and OP 3 defines sexual harassment as a broad range of unwelcome behaviors and practices, including “sexual suggestions or demands, requests for sexual favours and sexual, verbal or physical conduct or gesture, that are or might reasonably be perceived as offensive or humiliating.” While reprehensible, the acts referenced in OP 3 are not all violent acts as defined by U.S. law. In U.S. law, the term violence refers to physical force or the threat of physical force. Calling all of the acts listed in OP 3 “violence” equates such acts with assault, rape, sex trafficking, and female genital mutilation, FGM. That is neither legally accurate nor logically coherent.

To reflect these concerns, the United States would have preferred that the phrase “violence,” “abuse,” and “harassment,” or “sexual harassment,” be used in appropriate places throughout the resolution to be precise about what acts are covered by the relevant language. These terms are not interchangeable with each other for both analytical and practical reasons. For example, sexual harassment, as defined in the resolution, is, as a general matter, addressed through civil remedies in the U.S. justice system in contrast to sexual abuse and other violent acts, which are punished under criminal law.

The United States understands that General Assembly resolutions do not change the current state of conventional or customary international law. We do not read this resolution to imply that states must join or implement obligations under international instruments to which they are not a party, and any reaffirmation of such Convention applies only to those States that are party to it.

The United States made similar points during our Explanation of Position on the Commission on the Status of Women 2018 Agreed Conclusions.

For these reasons, the United States disassociates from Paragraph OP 2.

We also note that potential action to address school-related violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, needs to be consistent with domestic law, including applicable due process protections.

We note that in the United States, curricular and other education policies, materials, and programs are taken as appropriate and consistent with our respective federal, state, or local authorities.

Thank you.