CAPPD: This year the international community is celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action. Given your previous experience as a Canadian diplomat, lawyer, judge and community activist, what does the 1994 ICPD Programme of Action mean to you?
Sen. Andreychuk: The ICPD Programme of Action articulates the clearest and most comprehensive global commitment to issues of population and development. Accompanied by a set of demographic and social goals, it has been the cornerstone of our global efforts to address basic needs of individuals and families around the world over the past 20 years.
Placed in a historical context, however, the ICPD Programme of Action represents much more than an ambitious development agenda. At the time of its adoption in 1994, governments around the world were struggling to identify appropriate responses to new challenges related to rapid population growth. The ICPD Programme of Action was critical in broadening an understanding that demographic objectives can be achieved through a focus on individual rights and needs.
By positioning sexual and reproductive health issues and goals within a human rights and development framework – reinforced by clear statements about the relationship between sexual and reproductive health and social, economic and environmental concerns – the ICPD Programme of Action helped put people, and their basic concerns and wellbeing, at the centre of a range of longstanding policy debates that until then had been largely conducted in the abstract.
CAPPD: In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing challenges and issues facing the realization of the commitments made in 1994? What is required to address these beyond 2014?
Sen. Andreychuk: International processes are by nature incremental, and political economies are cyclical. The ICPD does a great deal to help stabilize cyclical fluctuations in the interest of a more consistent global progression on issues of population and development, but there are always unforeseen setbacks.
Take, for example, troubling measures in some countries to restrict the freedoms of LGBTQI people. It is important that we continue to work with these countries to ensure they live up to their international human rights commitments and, simultaneously, to promote measures to ensure restrictions on LGBTQI communities are prevented from undoing progress in other areas, such as the fight against HIV/AIDS.
A related concern, from a foreign policy perspective, is that progress on development indicators can be very rapidly undone where there is a deterioration of governance or the onset of conflict. No matter how capable the civil society, or how present international organizations are in a country or region, experience shows that progress on any set of development and human rights indicators is short lived where government stability falters. Governments are beginning to recognize this link, and to reflect it in their international development and foreign policy, which have typically been pursued in parallel but separate silos.
Looking forward, I think we are more aware now than ever that the greatest gains are often made at the intersection of leading agendas. It is no coincidence that some of the greatest progress has been on priorities advocated by both the ICPD and the Millennium Development Goals. This is happening again as both the ICPD and the MDGs reach their 2015 target date. This puts us at a kind of crossroads in the most significant development push in history. It is imperative that we seize the opportunities this presents to reflect on the conditions that have delivered the greatest successes, take stock of the results that are now within reach, agree on means for addressing outstanding obstacles, and renew our commitment to the universalization of the Cairo agenda. Sustained advocacy for these issues in the immediate term will be critical to ensure they feature prominently in the post-2015 development agenda.
CAPPD: As a former lawyer and judge, what legal and policy changes are required to bring about greater respect, protection and fulfillment of individuals’ right to the highest attainable standards of health? How do accountability mechanisms, including voice accountability, figure into advancements in this area?
Sen. Andreychuk: The ICPD states that we need to improve relevant domestic laws, policies and programmes on population and development to reflect the principles of the Cairo Declaration. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, however, and parliaments must constantly review their countries’ human rights legislation and development policies to ensure they live up to changing social conditions and needs.
Take, for example, the issue of gender identity. It is only relatively recently that the concept of gender identity became a matter of public debate. With the help of research and advocacy, gender identity was eventually understood as a deeply-felt and indivisible personal experience, as well as a basis upon which many Canadians were subjected to discrimination. There is now a widely-supported Bill before Parliament that would integrate gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act as a prohibited ground of discrimination, and as a distinguishing characteristic and aggravating circumstance under the Criminal Code. The Bill provides straightforward means to have the issue of gender identity reflected in Canadian legislative frameworks. This will help formalize Canada’s public recognition of the issue, and prompt updates in many areas of Canadian public policy.
This sort of progression from individual and group awareness to public debate and legislative and policy responses is typical of human rights issues. It also bears important lessons about the range of accountability mechanisms that are involved in bringing about democratic social change. Interest groups and communities, human rights activists, lawyers and individual citizens all play a role in bringing these types of issues out from the shadows and into public discourse. By working with parliamentarians and putting a human face on the gender identity issue, for example, the LGBTQI community provided very clear signals to parliamentarians about the seriousness of the issue at hand, and the need for government to act accordingly. They were supported in this task by the initiatives of various other organizations and individuals, including letters and editorials, television and radio appearances, and various outreach and advocacy events. International linkages also played a role, as examples from like-minded countries abroad were brought into the debate to help build the case for legislative change here in Canada.
Another well-known example is the Muskoka Initiative. The Muskoka Initiative is central to helping the world meet Millennium Development Goals number 4, 5 and 6, respectively, on reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combatting major diseases.
CAPPD: As a Parliamentarian, what role can you, and other members of the CAPPD, play in holding governments accountable to their commitments under the Cairo Declaration and follow-up commitments?
Sen. Andreychuk: Besides the shift in global thinking I spoke about earlier, the ICPD Programme of Action’s adoption by acclamation by 179 countries helped establish it as a universally applicable mechanism for sustained advocacy and mutual accountability around issues of population and development.
The usefulness of this sort of mechanism plays out on several levels. In international affairs, the ICPD Programme of Action provides a common frame of reference diplomats and international human rights organizations can use engage their counterparts around the world, and to encourage them to fulfil their responsibilities toward the realization of a set of common objectives. At the domestic level, it provides a tool for civil society organizations, activists, lawyers and parliamentarians to use when working with their governments to ensure they live up to their commitments.
Parliamentarians’ role in this regard is critical. After all, a main preoccupation of Parliamentarians is to hold their governments to account. This is greatly facilitated when Parliamentarians are equipped with a legitimate frame of reference. When dealing with global issues, that legitimacy is best established through international endorsement by elected representatives.
Against this backdrop, it goes without saying that the parliamentary system is adversarial by definition.
The strength of all-party parliamentary groups is their ability to work towards constructive recommendations for the government. This approach can be extremely effective in identifying policies that are likely to succeed, precisely because they are non-partisan in nature.
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