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U.S. Department of State
95/08/24 Special briefing on World Conference on Women
Office of the Spokesman



                        U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
                         ON-THE-RECORD BRIEFING
                                    BY
                         AMBASSADOR TO THE UN
                          MADELEINE ALBRIGHT
                                   AND
                    UNDER SECRETARY FOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS 
                                TIM WIRTH
                                    ON
                   U.N. FOURTH WORLD CONFERENCE ON WOMEN

                             Washington, D.C.
                             August 24, 1995
                             
                             

MR. DINGER: Good afternoon. I'm delighted that the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, and Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, Tim Wirth, join us today to discuss U.S. participation in the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women.

Ambassador Albright is Chair and head of the United States delegation. Under Secretary Wirth is Alternate Chair and alternate head.

The Conference and an associated NGO forum will gather an estimated 45,000 people from around the world in Beijing September 4-15. Ambassador Albright will make a few introductory remarks. She and Under Secretary Wirth will then be pleased to take your questions.

Madam Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. I am very pleased to be with you all this morning on this subject.

At the end of next week, the United States delegation will be leaving for Beijing to attend the Fourth World Conference on Women. As head of the delegation, I want to take just a few minutes to list our goals for that conference and to explain why we believe it's both important and appropriate that we participate.

First, with respect to our goals. We want to promote and protect the human rights of women. We want to end violence against women. We want to expand women's participation in political and economic decision- making. We want to assure equal access for women to education and health care throughout our lives, and we want to strengthen families through efforts to balance the work and family responsibilities of women and men.

These goals reflect the views and concerns expressed by Americans in regional meetings. They are relevant both domestically and overseas. At the heart of each is a commitment to equal opportunity which is the foundation of our own philosophy of government.

The need to make progress towards these goals should not be in dispute. There is an abundance of evidence that despite recent gains women remain under-valued and an underdeveloped resource. Too often, in too many places women are denied equal access to education, health care, financial credit, and an opportunity to participate in the political life of a nation.

Too often, in too many places women are denied equality under the law in terms of what we can own, what kind of decisions we are empowered to make, and what we can inherit. Too often, in too many places appalling abuses are being committed against women. These include coerced abortions and sterilizations, children sold into prostitution, ritual mutilations, dowry murders, and official indifference to violence.

The Clinton Administration will use the Women's Conference to underline the truth that violence against women is not cultural; it is criminal, and we all have a responsibility to stop it.

There are some who still suggest that we should not participate in the Women's Conference because China has a poor human rights record and because of the arrest of Harry Wu. Those sentiments are understandable, but it just does not make sense in the name of human rights to boycott a conference that has, as a primary purpose, the promotion of human rights. Nor should we underestimate the impact a conference such as this can have on the host country itself.

Conference preparations have heightened awareness within China of women's issues. There is public discussion of previously taboo subjects, including violence against women. It matters a great deal that more than 5,000 Chinese women will participate in the NGO forum. The Chinese Government has already responded to the spotlight by announcing new, albeit not yet tested, policies in support of women's rights.

Open discussion about the status of women makes a difference not only in China but everywhere. Countries in which women have a fair share of power tend to be more stable, prosperous, and just than those in which women are marginalized and repressed.

Before closing, I would like to comment on a few of the more specific issues that have arisen in connection with this conference. An event like this attracts the attention of a wide range of non- governmental organizations and individuals with strong and diverse opinions. This is healthy, and it underlines the fact that the non- governmental organizations -- the NGOs -- will play a critical role both at the conference and in its follow up.

That is why the United States has campaigned so hard and with much success to encourage and ensure participation at the conference by the NGOs.

At our instigation, and that of other nations, the accreditation process for the World Conference was reopened in April with the result that more than 750 additional groups were accredited, including many from the United States.

Groups sending observers to the conference will hail from across the political and social spectrum. A total of more than 3,500 NGOs have been approved to send observers to the conference, the highest total ever for a United Nations meeting.

I am sure that you've read -- in fact, some of you may have written -- about the logistical difficulties that could face those attending the conference. We share that concern, and I have talked to the Secretary General about the issue a number of times.

The logistics are a real challenge to the Chinese. The U.S. view is that we understand the complexity of hosting such a conference but we could not excuse a deliberate effort to deny visas to participants who are peaceful but who happen to embrace policies that the Chinese Government does not. At issue is China's reputation as a host.

Finally, no one should interpret our decision to participate in the Women's Conference as a sign of indifference or acquiescence in the continued detention by the Chinese Government of Mr. Harry Wu. We have called upon the Government of China to release Mr. Wu immediately and unharmed. This is a top priority of the United States.

We do not, however, have any reason to believe that a decision to withdraw from the Conference or to make our participation conditional on Mr. Wu's release would have a positive effect on China's decision in this area..

Now, I would be happy to take your questions.

Q Do you have any update on Mr. Wu's situation? Can you tell us what you know from the Chinese Government in terms of his imminent or non-imminent expulsion?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: I have nothing new on that. Obviously, he has been sentenced, and you know that. We are pressing to have him released and sent out of the country as soon as possible. That has been our highest priority and continues to be our highest priority.

Q Mr. McCurry said a couple of days ago that he felt Mr. Wu would be tried prior to the Women's Conference and would, in fact, be expelled. Did he have some advance notice? Was there some sort of a deal struck between the United States and China for this sentence? Did you have advance notice that this sentence would be handed down?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: No, we did not. No. We knew that the trial was taking place, but there has been, to the best of my knowledge, no deal or anything the way that you describe it. No. We knew that there was going to be a trial, obviously. We have been pressing very hard to get Mr. Wu released. That's the sequence of it.

Q Will the trial have any effect upon Mrs. Clinton's decision whether or not to attend the Beijing Conference?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: Mrs. Clinton has not decided yet what to do. That decision will be coming out of the White House. There are any number of factors affecting that decision, and we'll have to see what she --

Q Do you see the trial as positive or negative upon her decision?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to speculate about that. I think the issue here is that getting Mr. Wu released and out of China has been our priority and continues to be our priority. Obviously, the whole situation, as I've described it in my opening remarks, is part of the atmosphere of the conference. But the decision about Mrs. Clinton's attendance is one that is going to be made on the basis of a number of factors.

Q Madam Ambassador, Harry Wu decided not to appeal this ruling. Do you know if there is any other judicial step which needs to be taken before his actual incarceration or release?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: I do not know that specifically. It's obviously a decision that the Chinese Government will make. I don't have any further information on that.

John.

Q Apparently, 20 percent of the delegates at the U.N. Conference and the other peripheral conference will be American. Can you explain why a massive boycott of one of the most influential countries with that many delegates would not have a profound impact on Chinese behavior on human rights if, in fact, the Administration is unhappy with the way the Wu case is being handled?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: Obviously, we took many of these issues into consideration as we talked about the conference as a whole. First of all, I think you all know this but let me restate it. The decision to have the conference in China was made in 1992. It was done because of the way that U.N. conferences are set up. They change from region to region. As you know, the Women's Conferences had been held in other regions and it was now Asia's turn.

China was the only country that came forward to host the conference and remained the only country that was willing to host the conference. We believe that the goals of the Women's Conference -- these women's conferences do not take place very often, and they set a high standard or an international standard for behavior towards women that we believe is very important and plays a very important role vis-a-vis the goals that I have said are America's goals for this conference.

We think that the presence of American women -- 20 percent as you have stated within the NGO Conference as well as the government delegation -- is a very strong voice and is an important one to be heard, and we decided that it was important for us to go to the conference to state our views. As I said in my remarks, it seemed kind of counter-productive to us to boycott a human rights conference because of human rights. That's one part.

The other part, John, is that the NGOs were determined to go, and, if the government delegation had decided not to go, we would have in fact left the American NGOs without a linkage with their government delegation, which I think we all decided was very important.

We have a very strong message to deliver there. We will deliver it. We do not want to see 130 million American women unrepresented at a conference which is considering such important issues as the role of women in political and economic decision-making, the economic empowerment of women, life span, health issues for women, the education of women, the end of violence against women.

So that is the decision, and I know we made the right decision because I think that when we go and we speak out, there is no way that our voices will not be heard and that it will be more effective in pursuing our human rights cause than if we had not gone.

Q Are there any preparations being made on the China end for a woman who may in desperation board a plane without her visa in hand, although she has all of her other documentation? There are some fears that some women may not be able to enter the country if they don't have the visa or don't have that proper documentation.

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: We are working on everything we can to do with the visas. If I might pursue this a little bit, I specifically have been very concerned about the slow bureaucratic processes of the Chinese Government in the whole visa issue.

I have demarched the Chinese Permanent Representative a number of times, and I will do it again. I have spoken to the Secretary General about it, as have other countries. So we will pursue that in hopes that the Chinese will realize that their reputation as a good host is very much at stake in this. They wanted the conference; and they wanted it in order to show, I think, that they could be good hosts. We are counting on them to do that.

As far as the question you've asked, we will have to work with that contingency.

Q Well, they came out with a fairly strong statement just the other day saying, "We are the host country, and this is our prerogative to be able to turn whoever we want to turn away." And, as I say, I've talked to many American women who are even today waiting to board planes on Saturday, and they don't have their visas.

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: I realize that, and we are turning lots of names over to the Chinese and trying to make sure that those people that do not have visas, that they know how strongly we feel about this. The thing you need to know also is that it isn't just Americans that are having this problem. This is a worldwide issue. A number of countries are having problems.

I think that the Chinese need to understand from a variety of sources that this is an obligation that they took up when they put themselves forward as host country.

But let me say I think that we understand the problems. We are doing everything we can to mitigate them. No question that there are going to be difficulties; but we are pressing very, very hard, and we will continue to do that.

Q Have you proposed that they admit people who arrive at the airport with documents to attend the conference but without visas?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: I haven't done that specifically.

Q Ambassador Albright, will you be raising the specific women's issues -- forced abortion, forced sterilization, gender discrimination and mandatory one-child family, as you discussed, I think, with Representative Chris Smith on the 2nd of August? Will you be taking that to the appropriate Chinese authorities?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: In my remarks, when I speak to the conference, I will raise those issues.

Q By the way, if I may refer to the subject of visas, I talked to some NGOs on the way from the conference we just had at the Press Club, and they said they had just received their visas, and that others were expected soon, and that primarily the primary problem was with those who had not had hotel reservations and paid their hotel reservations. Can you --

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: I think there's a circular problem, which is something that I did discuss with the Chinese Permanent Representative. They have a rule that if you don't have hotel rooms you can't get a visa, and the hotel room bureaucracy has been slow. I pointed that out as a specific problem, and we were trying to see if they could disconnect the hotel prerequisite from the visa. But we have to see. Those are the kinds of things that I raised with them -- specifically, that this was ridiculous. I also said that there are lots of -- speaking, obviously, on behalf of American women, many of whom I know -- American women who are spending their own money to go. As we all know, airlines have various kinds of deposit rules, and this is causing hardship on ordinary people who have put up their money to go and are expecting to go, and they need to understand how important this is to a large group of women from a variety of places in the United States. I'm going to do that again tomorrow.

Q But is it fair to say the problem is not simply one of bureaucracy, is it? I mean, there's a suggestion that the Chinese are using the visa issue and delays to exclude, and you suggest that in you remarks -- to exclude women for political reasons.

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: To be fair, I think some of it is bureaucratic, because these are huge numbers of people. Also I have to say that when we were going through the whole accreditation process, I said in my remarks we tried to get them to open it up, and they did. And we looked at some of the forms that the NGOs had filled out; and, again to be fair, some of them were not filled out completely. Some of them had answers that didn't fit the question, etc. So there have been some bureaucratic problems.

I do think, however, again that there are certain types of groups that they don't want in there, and we have agreed with the fact that basically the NGOs that go should have a connection with women's issues -- that is what this conference is about -- and that women's groups, no matter which kind or from what country, have a right to go, but that it is an issue of making sure that this is a women's conference.

Frankly, in the past what has happened at a lot of the U.N. conferences is they get kind of bogged down in a lot of political issues that are not related to the issue at hand. So we would like to see the subject --

Q (Inaudible)

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: I mean, if it's only a political group. But we have been working very hard for women's groups, no matter where they are from.

Q Do you hope that Mr. Wu would be released into the custody of Mr. Tarnoff this weekend in China, and do you think that's a possibility?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: I really don't think it's productive for me to speculate on the timing of everything. The point here is that we have said from the very beginning that it's important for the Chinese to free Mr. Wu unharmed and to let him leave China. And that is a point that we have pressed through a variety of channels in the last weeks. It's clearly something as part of what Mr. Tarnoff is going to be talking about. We want Harry Wu to be able to come home to America.

Q Ambassador Albright, some of the conservative Islamic -- I wouldn't say countries, but the forces within those countries -- whether it be al-Azhar University in Egypt or -- have opposed the idea of the conference, saying that it's going to promote promiscuity or it's going to destroy the value of the family. Conservatives in this country have also opposed this. Could you address this issue?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: I know that one of the issues has been whether this is a pro-family conference; and it is my belief from having participated in the document itself and in dealing with a number of people on this, that this is a pro-family conference. What it does is talk about women's roles within the family and other women's roles. I think this is the issue.

I can speak for myself. I'm the mother of three daughters, all of whom also happen to work and have families, and one is not mutually exclusive from the other. What this conference is about is the ability of women to have more than one role, to have the ability of being a mother and also to have the ability to be part of the economic framework of a country, to be able to get low-interest loans, to be able to have an education equal to their husbands or their brothers; and that is what this conference is about.

To me, that is a pro-family, pro-humane, pro-human rights agenda, where people are able to live up to their potential, whatever gender they are, whether they are male or female, and are able to really participate fully in the workings of their economic and political systems.

I think it is wrong to see this as a conference that is out to undermine other countries' cultures. All we're trying to do is -- when we think that something is criminal, such as violence against women, that cannot in our view be viewed as a cultural matter but as a criminal matter. But basically what we're trying to do is to make sure that women have the opportunities that they are entitled to within their own societies.

Q Ambassador Albright, when you arrive in Beijing, are you planning to be a good guest and refrain from criticizing the Chinese, or will you be ready to criticize the Chinese over human rights, over Harry Wu and other matters?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT When I go to Beijing, I am representing the United States and everything that we stand for. As I have said, this is a conference about human rights for women, and human rights is something that I believe in very strongly.

I think those of you that know me know that I usually speak my mind, and that is what I intend to do.

Q I don't have the details, but the press reports say that there are some more Americans who are in the custody of China. What do you think about those people?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT I'm sorry, I have no details on that. I don't know the answer to that.

Q There has been a roundup of additional human rights activists over the last few weeks, and in fact today a woman was arrested in Beijing. Do you have any comment on the general attitude the Chinese apparently have in preparation for this by arresting all these people?

AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT Obviously we are concerned about their definition of security. We believe that the conference is one that in no way should make -- it's important for people to have access to each other. We plan to spend a lot of time with the NGOs talking about this issue. But I think one would wish that the Chinese would not take that kind of action. It is counter-productive.

Thank you.

(Special briefing concluded at 12:39 p.m.)

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