As the sixth committee of the UN General Assembly vote on cloning approached, support for a Costa Rican resolution for a comprehensive ban on all forms of human cloning swelled to over 60 official co-sponsors, as compared to only 13 co-sponsors of a Belgian resolution for a partial ban on reproductive cloning only. Victory seemed nearer with every new pledge of support for the total-ban proposal. Unfortunately, there was no victory. Actually, there wasn’t really even a defeat either.

On Nov. 4, the sixth committee of the UN General Assembly narrowly passed a procedural motion that effectively deferred the discussion for a convention on human cloning for two years. The motion passed by a single vote, with 80 in favour, 79 against and 15 abstentions.

The United Nations started discussions for a ban on cloning at the suggestion of Germany and France in 2000. Over the past two years, two camps emerged – those in favour of a partial ban on reproductive cloning only and those in favour of a comprehensive ban on all forms of human cloning. Negotiations to come to a consensus on the issue had only produced a deadlock within the working group.

After the last round of meetings in October, delegates could only agree to disagree. It was then decided by the UN to put the issue to a vote.

Despite strong, broad-based support for the Costa Rican proposal, the pro-life coalition at the UN expressed dismay that many Muslim nations had yet to endorse the total ban resolution, especially since these countries had traditionally supported pro-life initiatives. Lobbying efforts on the part of Costa Rica, the United States and the Holy See failed to secure any support from the larger Muslim states.

Much to the shock and dismay of supporters of the Costa Rican resolution and of the pro-life coalition, it was the Organization of Islamic Countries that introduced the procedural motion to defer the matter for two years, only two weeks before the vote was scheduled to take place in the sixth committee. The OIC stated that the proposal was introduced to give more time for Muslim experts to study the issue.

The supporters of a partial ban on cloning, notably Belgium, Germany and France, were quick to throw support behind the OIC motion. Speculation immediately arose as to the motives of these countries. Many wondered whether their decision to delay was a poorly disguised attempt to avoid a vote they were increasingly likely to lose.

In an interview with the Friday Fax, the weekly e-newsletter circulated by the Catholic, Family and Human Rights Institute, a Ugandan representative poignantly asked why they were informed that the cloning issue had to be arrested before it got out of hand by the same countries who were now actively advocating for a deferral.

The issue of a cloning ban is expected to come up again for discussion in the United Nations General Assembly in 2005.