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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
AMBASSADOR TO THE UN
UNDER SECRETARY FOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS
U.N. FOURTH WORLD CONFERENCE ON WOMEN
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Q Do you see the trial as positive or negative upon her
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
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.
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
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
to the appropriate Chinese authorities?
AMBASSADOR ALBRIGHT: In my remarks, when I speak to the
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
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
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
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
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
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.
(Special briefing concluded at 12:39 p.m.)
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