Lawmakers spar over UN funding at China human-rights hearing

Republican and Democratic lawmakers clashed Tuesday over the effects of a United Nations program for women's health on China's repressive single-child policy.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Human Rights, called the UN Population Fund an “enabler” of forced abortions and sterilizations. Smith made the remarks at a hearing on blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and his campaign against Chinese human-rights abuses.

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“The United Nations Population Fund has for over 30 years supported, defended and whitewashed the crimes against women and children Chen has struggled to expose,” he said.

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) countered that the U.S. should work with the United Nations to “effect positive change in China.”

"It is important to note, in fact, that the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in China was among the first organizations to raise Mr. Chen’s rights and the abusive practices in [his home prefecture] Linyi with Chinese government officials."

Carnahan's statement was immediately applauded on Twitter by a group called Friends of UNFPA.

“Thank you@Repcarnahan  for supporting@UNFPA !,” they wrote.

Chen's escape from house arrest last month is drawing renewed attention to the program, which a Republican-controlled House panel voted last week to defund in their annual spending bill for foreign aid. The United States has refused to fund the program under Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, but reinstated funding under President Obama.

Democrats say the U.N. Population Fund enables millions of women around the world to have access to contraception, prenatal care and screenings. The program, however, is controversial because it operates in China, whose single-child policy is seen as incompatible with U.S. notions of human rights.