Provo, Utah, got three minutes in the international spotlight Tuesday as BYU law professor Richard Wilkins addressed the United Nations on the subject of international law and the family.
Tuesday was the first time Nongovernmental Organizations have ever been allowed to address the United Nations delegates in a formal proceeding. Several of the NGO speakers said they were glad to be accorded partnership status instead of trying to corner delegates in the hallways of the conference center.There are several hundred nongovernmental organizations at the conference but only 20 were allowed to speak. The process of deciding which NGOs would speak was, according to Wilkins, one of the most acrimonious events he's witnessed.
The first five NGO representatives to address the U.N. were women, all members of the Women's Caucus, which came into being last year in Beijing at the U.N. Women's Conference.
Following the first speeches on Monday, members of various pro-life NGOs angrily criticized the process by which their organizations were excluded. One woman said it was a "corrupt" process. Another pro-life lobbyist, Gwen Landolt, took the microphone to accuse her Canadian government of contributing $40,000 to send Bella Abzug to Istanbul. The Women's Caucus is a "phantom" NGO, not a grass-roots organization as it claims to be, she said.
Later the Canadian delegation responded by saying the government did indeed give money so that women from developing countries might be able to attend but gave no money to Abzug, who has resources to come to the conference on her own.
Wilkins was among the second group of NGO representatives to address the assembly, adding a more measured and dignified tone to the debates and proving that, indeed, at least one pro-life NGO had been allowed to present a speaker.
Wilkins said he was deeply troubled by the possibility that U.N. conference documents, such as the one to come out of this Second Conference on Human Settlements, will significantly alter local law. Such documents will encourage voluntary compliance and may also direct the development of domestic law, he said.
He encouraged U.N. delegates to remember that international law and the family are inextricably linked. The family is where future citizens learn about cooperation, sacrifice, responsibility, fair play and love. "In my professional, legal opinion, the one voice not given adequate attention in these proceedings is the voice of the traditional family," he said.
He also spoke on teenage reproductive health education. "While some pragmatically turn to contraception and abortion, there are family-centered government initiatives that address the serious problems and also recognize the sanctity of life."
Wilkins, Susan Roylance and other members of United Families International had a private meeting with Melinda Kimble, head of the U.S. United Nations delegation, to talk about legal ramifications of proposed language.
Wilkin's legal advice has been sought by several lobbyists, and he has given interviews to reporters from various countries. Wilkins, who is perhaps best known in Utah for his starring role as Scrooge in the Hale Center Theater's annual production of "The Christmas Carol," had promised his wife he would avoid the spotlight, here in Istanbul.
"I broke that promise the second day," he says.
He also promised not to spend any money and has already bought three Turkish rugs.