In this seemingly self-destructing world, it is refreshing to review the statement so often expressed by Dr. W. Cleon Skousen: “In the end, we win!” It’s getting from here to there that sometimes discourages many but every once in a while a miracle happens which reminds us of the Biblical proclamation that in the last days God will remember His promises. Such a miracle happened in 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey. The unlikely event was a United Nations Conference. The main figure is Professor Richard G. Wilkins of the J. Reuben Clark law School at Brigham Young University. Here is his abridged story used with his permission.
by Richard G. Wilkins
Between June 3rd and 14th, a remarkable UN Conference was convened in Istanbul, Turkey. The Conference, Habitat II, was the culmination of a decade-long series of conferences designed to develop a “blueprint” for international (and ultimately domestic) legal relations during the coming century. These Conferences have been accurately perceived as significant international law-making events. They have also followed a predictable (and extreme) ideological course primarily championed by a feminist lobby that, according to a current Rhodes Scholar, “ha[s] marginalized parents, ignored the family, denigrated cultural and religious values and enshrined reproductive and sexual health.” What made the Istanbul Conference remarkable was that it departed from this set course.
This summary sets forth how a small group of Christians, with the Lord’s guidance, played a role in changing the course of the Habitat Agenda. Instead of defining “marriage” and/or “family” in a manner that explicitly legitimates same-sex marriages and families (as did the original draft), the final Habitat Agenda defines the marital relationship as one between “husband and wife.” Instead of numerous explicit paragraphs mandating world-wide abortion on demand, only one (somewhat hedged) reference to “reproductive health” remains. The Habitat Agenda, finally, formally recognizes the “family” as “the basic unit of society” that “should be strengthened.” These developments, viewed from the perspective of current American and European legal trends, are significant.
At the outset, I want to emphasize one point: along with every other person who attended the conference, I believe it was the Hand of God, not man, that turned the tide at Istanbul. I was simply one of a number of people blessed enough to be an instrument in His Hand. I call it “The Istanbul Miracle”.
I had previously been approached by Susan Roylance, president of United Families International, to write an article for her forthcoming book called, “The Traditional Family in Peril”. She wanted me to write a short chapter describing the effect of UN conference declarations on the domestic policies of nations. She had recently attended the Beijing Women’s Conference, and reported to me that the mandates contained in that document were exceptionally troubling. I agreed to assist her, and wrote a very short paper for inclusion in her book. This experience peaked my interest for the first time in international law. I began some preliminary research and found, for example, that even though the Beijing Platform For Action had never been formally adopted by the United States Congress, it was nevertheless being implemented by a White House Task Force through mandates issued by the President to all Executive Agencies. (The Beijing Platform’s insistence on public funding of abortion, for example, may well be the actual impetus behind the federal government’s sudden insistence that federal law mandates government-funded abortions for all indigent women.)
My preliminary research indicated that — while numerous scholars were praising the developments flowing from the new UN conference agreements, virtually no-one was questioning whether these developments were a good idea for society as a whole. I became somewhat troubled. It seemed that the UN was beginning to make decisions (involving such issues as land-use planning and allocation of medical care resources) that were best made at a local level. And, perhaps most importantly, at least many of the decisions being made by UN bodies were unfortunate.
Whether the question involved the environment, world population, social development or the status of women, the answer given by the UN seemed to be the same: too many people populated the earth and the best solution was to reduce births dramatically through abortion. Furthermore, there were strong indications in the various UN Conference debates that it was (perhaps) time to begin serious consideration of additional population-reduction alternatives, such as euthanasia for those whose “lives are not worth living.”
In the first week of April, 1996, Mrs. Roylance asked me to attend the United Nations Habitat II Conference. She pointed out specific language in the proposed Habitat Agenda that might undermine the family, promote same-sex marriage, and further entrench abortion as the final solution to most of the world’s troubles. Her request hastened my research and, within a few weeks, I completed a short paper titled “The Impact Of UN Conference Declarations On International And Domestic Law.” The paper pointed out that Conference Declarations quickly became binding international law and that this international law was displacing decisions of local governments. The paper, as a result, urged caution upon the part of those drafting Conference Declarations.
At the time I drafted the paper and decided to attend Habitat II, I was hardly optimistic. I thought that, at most, by delivering a paper at the NGO Forum (an event that might be attended by at least one actual official UN Delegate), I might inspire some decision-maker to exercise caution before further undermining traditional social values. I also drafted proposed amendments to the Habitat Agenda that United Families could use to lobby delegates. These amendments addressed primarily the issues of same-sex marriage, abortion, and the family.
But, despite writing a paper and drafting amendments, I merely intended to deliver that paper, do what I could to further the work of United Families, and watch further social deterioration — at which point I would come back and write a scholarly paper criticizing the continuing trend. On June 1st, 1996, I left for Istanbul. By June 6th, five days later, my limited intentions had been drastically altered.
When I arrived in Istanbul, I found that 36 representatives of United Families had registered as guests in the Ulubat Hotel — hardly the epitome of luxury accommodations. But, whatever the beds and toilet facilities lacked was more than made up for by the spirit and enthusiasm of the group. Most of them were there to participate in what was known as the NGO Forum portion of the Habitat II UN Conference.
The NGO Forum was composed of booths and workshops put on by various (literally thousands) of non-governmental entities who wished to influence the outcome of the UN Conference. The forum was a marketplace, often raucous, of competing views. It was into this turbulent world that most of the residents of the Ulubat Hotel plunged.
My roommate at the Ulubat was Bradford C. Stone, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Homeowners Plus Financial Services, as well as CEO and Chairman of the Board of United Families. He had decided to come — at the last minute — to assist the Steven and Claudia Goodman family who, with nine of their 12 children, were in Istanbul to perform a family-values-oriented concert written for them by Kenneth Cope, a well-known composer and artist.
During the first week of Habitat II, the Goodman Family and Kenneth Cope took Istanbul by storm. They performed at the NGO Forum, at a large university theater, gave a huge public performance in the main public park in Istanbul, and — ultimately — sang before the opening ceremonies on the next-to-the-last day of the high-level plenary session of the Conference. The work of the Goodmans, Kenneth Cope and Bradford Stone in spreading the love and spirit of the Gospel would be hard to estimate. An American paper in Istanbul, for example, reported that they had “outdone” the Habitat Conference itself. The Goodmans were on Turkish television and radio numerous times, and 5,000 tapes of their concert were distributed.
In addition to working strenuously to move the Goodman’s concert equipment from venue to venue, Mr. Stone, as Chairman of the Board of United Families, made numerous contacts with representatives from over 60 countries who were interested in United Families. Many of these persons, moreover, expressed interest in the religious beliefs that motivated the organization.
United Families had set up two booths at the NGO Forum — one for United Families itself and the Second to distribute materials from the Thrasher Foundation. These booths were manned 10 hours a day and distributed various pro-family materials and became a magnet for people from around the world, who would come back many times to discuss family issues. Young people from Islamic nations were particularly interested in the booth.
Representatives from United Families also presented numerous workshops at the NGO Forum. These workshops covered topics such as How To Build Sustainable Families, by Dr. Edward Fila, How Two-Parent Families Can Benefit the Community, by Roberta Stapley, a Christian marriage and family counselor, The Bountiful Gift, by Elaine McKay, and The Rural-Urban Linkage, by Carol Ubochukwu, President of United Families of Africa. These workshops, many of which were repeated multiple times, were attended by hundreds of NGO participants.
For my part, I delivered my paper regarding the effect of UN Conferences on local and international law. While it was clear that the various concerts and activities at the NGO Forum booths and workshops were having a positive impact on numerous non-governmental actors and individuals, I had little (or no) illusions that anyone’s efforts would have much influence (let alone a positive one) on the Delegates actually drafting the Habitat Agenda.
I was wrong.
A few days after delivering my paper, I became a little surprised that a 26-page paper dashed off by a law professor and a student assistant would cause any stir in Istanbul.
The head of the US Delegation, Melinda Kimble, told Sister Roylance that she was unaware that the decisions made at UN Conferences could have such a wide impact. She asked for several copies of the article, and said that most of the US Delegation had read it with interest. Other delegates from other nations asked for copies, and I engaged in several formal and informal discussions of the topic.
Throughout the first week, we spent a lot of time passing out proposed amendments to the Habitat Agenda and various fliers explaining why these amendments were “good ideas.” Mrs. Roylance, whose energy and stamina at times seemed inexhaustible, often stayed up most of the night composing and printing these fliers.
The proposed amendments and their supporting fliers emphasized that families were the essential components of any stable community, that “traditional” (not same-sex) marriages and families should be fostered, and that preserving a measure of local sovereignty regarding the issues covered in Habitat II was a good idea. While we had many cordial talks with Delegates, and seemed to be making some headway with representatives from African and Islamic nations, things did not look too bright by the end of the first week.
On Thursday, June 6th of the first week, a Christian man from Nairobi, who happened to be attending the NGO Forum, passed by the United Families booth when it was unmanned. He nevertheless paused because he determined that it would be a good idea to have someone speak in favor of the family before the official UN Conference.
This man, Johnson N. Mwaura, was a member of the selection committee who would choose a mere 12 NGO voices to address the Delegates drafting the Habitat Agenda. He returned to the booth later in the afternoon and, sensing the spirit of our work, urged the group to nominate someone to speak. I was nominated.
I will not lengthen this summary by detailing here the circumstances of how I was eventually selected. The details of those events, which clearly evidence the intervention of Heavenly Father, are set out in the longer report. But, upon hearing that I had been nominated for a speaking opportunity that no-one in our group even knew about before Johnson Mwaura appeared (because non-governmental representatives had never addressed an official UN body before), I knew that I would be selected to speak and that the time between the nomination and my address would be one of the most difficult periods of my life.
After the Adversary had exhausted every possible tool to keep me from the podium, I was finally allowed to address an official UN drafting committee for four minutes on the importance of considering the family when making international lawmaking decisions. In that effort, I tried to get across the spirit of the Proclamation on the Family, authored by Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and James E. Faust. Indeed, on the Sunday that I drafted the address — in the midst of extremely adverse circumstances — the only text I had open before me was a copy of that Proclamation. My constant prayer was that the message of that Declaration would touch some hearts.
As I went to the podium on Monday morning, June 10, a few of the women on the platform who had spoken before me hissed. But the message was given. And, after the meeting, several Delegates (and a couple of Ambassadors) from various nations came up to thank me (some with tears in their eyes) for saying things they had always believed.
Two days after my address, the “Heads And Members Of Arab Delegations Participating In The UN Conference” issued a statement — first in Arabic and then in English — which stated that they would sign no Agenda that did not recognize the value of religious and cultural heritage, that did not recognize the family as the basic unit of society, that did not acknowledge that marriage consisted of a union between men and women (not individuals of the same sex), and that failed to clarify that no nation had the obligation to provide abortion services because the “fetus have [has] the full night [right] to live and be raised according to religious and local norms.”
The next day, the G-77 nations, consisting of 139 African, Asian, and Pacific Rim States, plus China, took a similar stand: they would sign no Agenda that did not preserve important local sovereign flexibility in implementing Agenda goals, would not sign an Agenda that recognized same-sex marriage and failed to recognize the importance of traditional families, and would not sign any Agenda that required abortion on demand. That same day, the United Kingdom, through its Secretary of State for the Environment, issued a strong statement urging the Conference to reject the “culture of death.”
It is impossible, of course, to attach any direct causal connection to any event — or series of events — and the outcome of a UN Conference. There is no way of even knowing whether the Goodmans’ concerts, the discussions at the NGO Forum booths, the workshops or my remarks on June 10 had any impact at all. But, what is clear is that, by Wednesday of the second week, the entire Conference had been turned upside down. What had looked, from the beginning, like another total victory for the traditional feminist agenda was — instead — looking something like a total defeat.
Delegates stayed up through the night on various occasions between Wednesday and Friday, trying to come to some agreement on the important issues of sovereignty, family, homosexuality and abortion. I simply testify that I personally felt the Power of Heaven between Monday June 10 and Saturday June 16 in a manner I have never known before. I have no doubt — nor does any member of our little group — that the final Habitat Agenda language was crafted because the Spirit operated so convincingly on so many people.
If anyone would have told me, a mere month ago, that an important international conference would reaffirm the centrality of the family, reject homosexual unions, and retreat significantly from former world-wide commitments to abortion, I would have called that person either an inexperienced optimist or a fool. That person, however, would have been neither. He simply would have been a person who knew that, “with God all things are possible.” Matt. 19:26.
Thank you, Dr. Wilkins, for your great example. May God grant us all the strength to do all we can, so He will make up the difference to accomplish all.
I look forward to reporting to you about our week-long Citizenship Seminar in July. The enthusiasm for such events seems to have sparked a growing interest in expanding such activities into other places in the nation in coming months. Thank you all for your continuing support of our NCCS efforts.