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Vatican can live with Johannesburg's plan of action

The Vatican has not expressed reservations regarding the plan of action adopted by the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

But Archbishop Renato Martino, who led the Vatican delegation at the recent summit in South Africa, regretted the elimination of the first principle declared by the 1992 Rio de Janeiro conference. That principle placed the human being at the centre of development.

Also, a debate on topics including contraception and abortion threatened to undermine a global agreement at the 26 August-4 September gathering.

A paragraph in the 70-page plan of action called for "reinforcing the means available in public health systems to offer all efficient basic health services (...) respecting national legislations and cultural and religious values."

Canada requested that the conferees re-examine the paragraph, arguing that it had been hastily approved during a preparatory meeting. Eventually, the Canadians, supported by the European Union, simply requested the following addition: "and in keeping with all human rights and basic liberties."

The move helped achieve a consensus. Some delegations contended the text could be interpreted as to include access to abortion. But others noted that the wording makes no mention of such access.

Meanwhile a statement from the Jesuit Refugee Service enthusiastically welcomed agreements reached at the summit, given that mass movements of people often flow from environmental problems such as extreme climatic conditions, poor water supply or sanitation.

"While these problems are sometimes out of our control, there are steps we can take," said a statment from the Brussels-based JRS Europe office. "The Kyoto protocol is a good example of such a step and we welcome the widespread political agreement on it. It is a huge step forward."

But JRS Europe Director Fr John Dardis said insufficient progress was made on other issues, and it's necessary for rich nations to look at trade policies especially where they concern agriculture.

Johannesburg Summit | Sustainable Development Summit Concludes in Johannesburg: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan Says It's Just the Beginning
JRS Europe
Archbishop Renato Raffaele Martino (


9 Sep 2002