Unbroken: An Exhibition of Hope and Determination
New York: May 3, 2002
A Panel Discussion to Open the Photography Display for Child Rights
Olara Otunnu, UN Special Representative, Children and Armed Conflict
Dr. Nafis Sadik, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General
Zama Coursen-Neff, Counsel, Children Rights Division, Human Rights Watch
Hari Acharya, Bhutanese youth refugee
Introduction by Nicholas Platt
President, Asia Society
Good evening. I'm Nick Platt. I'm President of the Asia Society, and I'm delighted to welcome all of you here. I'm also delighted to welcome our panelists and distinguished speakers who will speak on the critical issue of universal child rights, and the challenges and opportunities for implementation and enforcement of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that was created in 1989. This evening's panel event, and the opening night for the photo display which is in the adjoining room, is timed to coincide with the United Nation's Special Session on Children, which is scheduled to start on May 8th. Through the panel discussion and the exhibit, we hope to raise awareness among the general public of the real and urgent needs of children in poverty and without basic rights, and above all, of placing the principles of the Convention into meaningful practice. We have a distinguished set of panelists tonight. Olara Otunnu, UN Special Representative, Children and Armed Conflict, will deliver the keynote address. And this will be followed by the presentations by Dr. Nafis Sadik, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General, former head of the UN Population Fund and currently, to our great pleasure and honor, an Asia Society Trustee. She will be followed by Hari Acharya, a Bhutanese youth refugee, as well as a representative of Global Youth Connect. We also are delighted to have with us Zama Coursen-Neff from Human Rights Watch. And finally we have two visitors from Vietnam, Duc and Tranh, who happen to be the children who took some of the photos on display. They will say a few words about their photographs. Before I turn to Mr. Olara Otunnu, I want to invite all the people standing in the back to come up; there are seats in the front. Don't be shy.
I'd also like to introduce Anna Blackman, who is the Executive Director of PhotoVoice, which is a London-based, non-profit photography organization. Asia Society is grateful to them for providing the photos on display and also for bringing the children from Vietnam. She will also say a few words about the making of the exhibit and about her organization. So without further adieu, let me present Anna Blackman.
Good evening and thank you all very much for coming. It's wonderful to see so many people here. Before we move over to the panel, I'd just like to say a few words about PhotoVoice and the philosophy of our work. PhotoVoice is a small non-profit organization based in the UK. We work worldwide to train marginalized and disadvantaged groups of people in photography and documentary skills, working very much in the belief that it is they themselves who can best record and document their lives, and bring it to the attention of the local communities and the international community. Today, PhotoVoice is set up for long-term projects around the world in Nepal, Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and also in London. Next door you can see work from the two founding projects of PhotoVoice, the Rose Class, which is a project working in Bhutanese Refugees Camps in the eastern lowlands of Nepal, and also work from Street Vision, working to train young and working children in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in photographic skills. And we're very lucky tonight to have two of the young photographers here to tell us a bit about their work, and also the project manager who works for Ho Chi Minh Child Welfare Foundation in Vietnam.
Before taking up too much of your time, I'd just like to extend my huge thanks to the Asia Society for making this event possible, in particular Shyama Venkateswar, who I first met two years ago, in the vague hope that at some point she might assist us in bringing the work to New York. And she's done a huge amount to make this show possible. I'd also like to thank the two individuals who have worked in the States in a purely voluntary capacity to bring this work together and of course, Marjorie Victor, who is the US representative, and also works with a huge amount of energy to bring the work from these groups overseas. And now I'd like to pass over to Marjorie.
Well as Anna said, I'm the US Representative for PhotoVoice, and I'm really delighted to see all of you here. This exhibition is a culmination of several years of hard work, and in the wake of 911 we were forced to postpone this event, so we are doubly grateful and delighted to have all of you here tonight. My comments will be brief. I just first want to acknowledge the people who were behind this exhibition and give you a little background on why we put this together. First, I would like to say enormous thanks to our honored guests, Olara Otunnu, Dr. Sadik, Zama Coursen-Neff, and also Hari Acharya, and we're also very happy to have Duc and Tranh here. And then I would also like to extend my thanks to the Asia Society. Again, Shyama Venkateswar has been the powerhouse behind this exhibition. She believed in us and gave us the chance. Doris Bacalzo has been tremendous in coordinating logistics and putting out fires; Grace Norman, who helped us design a curriculum that will be available later, and the curriculum is going to be circulated in American and other high schools to teach children about their own rights; Josh Harris, who helped put the exhibit together; and then Sunita Mukhi who put our Saturday program together, and I cordially invite you to that as well. I'd like to recognize American Airlines and Vietnam Airlines who sponsored the trip of our Vietnamese delegation, and in particular David Cush and Amanda Jong at American Airlines. And Bill and Anne Wernau who are here from Connecticut, they provided major financial support for this. I'd like to thank them for that. And then also our core team: Thi Linh Wernau, Director of Exhibitions; Veero Der-Karabetian who is our wonderful wonderful troubleshooter; Christine Yu...I don't know if she's here yet...she's our intern; Susan Thomas, who was tremendous in putting things together; and Dick Hughes, who without whom, we wouldn't know half the people we do. So thank you.
And then now I'll say a little bit about why we put this show together. This exhibition we wanted to launch in honor of the UN Special Session on Children, which commences next week. This is a special session. It's very special in that it doesn't happen very often; the last time was about a decade ago. And at the center of this special session is a document called the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Now this is a special human rights instrument. It is not just a lofty document. It is the most universally accepted human rights instrument ever created. Today 191 countries have ratified it. Unfortunately, the United States and Somalia have not, and that might be something we go into here. This document is a landmark. Even though it seems like a lot of the things that are mentioned in the standards that are set out in the CRC seem unattainable, I would argue that they're not. If you look at the advances in child rights over the last century, it's been quite remarkable. Only in late 1800, there was actually a landmark case where children were deemed by American courts to be protected from abuse under the Protection from Cruelty to Animals. And we've gone very far in recognizing children, not only as passive recipients and passive subjects, but actually as active agents in their own future. And so, child rights, I would like to argue is like...the advances are like, the earth turning. It might seem quite gradual and imperceptible, but we're steadily making advances forward. So we have put this show together to help make the convention real. One of the main principles in the CRC is the principle of participation, which means that children have the right to have their own voices and be active agents in their own futures. We have brought the voices of a lot of disadvantaged children. It is our hope that you will, not only hear their voices, but actually listen to them. I really want to make this distinction. If you listen to them, we really feel that you will want to act. And you can act in your own way, whatever personally make sense...by writing a letter campaign to urge a speedy resolution to the Bhutanese refugee situation...from contributing funds to street children, shelters, and urging Congress to ratify the CRC...so that's all I will say and I really want to thank everyone for coming.
Dr. Nafis Sadik
Thank you very much. I've been asked to introduce Olara, but before I do that, I want to tell people that are standing there are several chairs up here. There are at least eight that I can see and they should just come up here and sit down.
Okay, Olara Otunnu, who is very modest, is telling me that one sentence is enough, but I think I'll do a few more than that. He's at present the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and therefore a very apt person to be speaking here. He's become the model of voice and advocate on behalf of war-affected children or children in conflict situations. He is really dedicated and committed to bringing those issues to the attention of the public. And he travels incessantly and he goes everywhere. And he advocates the measures that your last speaker talked about very much, but listens to the special needs of children in these conflict situations. He presents his findings to the UN Security Council and that makes a difference. He presents them to governments, to concerned organizations and to UN agencies. I don't think many of you may have heard of his name. He was ambassador here to the UN from 1980 to 1985. He was also the president of the International Peace Academy, where he also did many of the same kinds of things, promoting peace around the world. At the moment, he is also on the board of many organizations, including the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, the Aspen Institute, the Carnegie Cooperation and so on. And so I won't list any more things, but as you can see, he is a most appropriate speaker to have this afternoon. Olara...
Thank you very much Nafis. Dr. Nafis Sadik is actually my guru. When I discovered this morning that she was on the panel, I said, "That is all you need, I will be there to second whatever she says." This is a terrible reversal of roles that is being done on me. I am a great admirer of what Dr. Sadik has been doing. I can't say we miss her at the United Nations because we've made sure she doesn't leave the UN. It is a great honor to be here with you. I'm delighted to be at the Asia Society again. I appreciate enormously what Ambassador Platt and colleagues are doing. The Asia Society remains perhaps the foremost cultural, educational, intellectual resource that serves as a bridge between the United States and Asia, and especially which informs us about Asia. We can't have enough information about Asia, and so the role of Asia Society is exceedingly important, and I am delighted to be here again. I want to congratulate the young people who have provided us with these wonderful photographs, which make up the exhibition, and especially those who are here in person representing the others. This is a wonderful form of self-expression, of young people telling their own stories, and I'm just delighted and honored that you're here with us, and on behalf of the others who are not here, please accept our warm congratulations.
And to Anna Blackman and PhotoVoice, what a wonderful project! I mean the idea of providing cameras to young people and let them record their own stories, their own experiences, their own optic, the way they look at the world and how things impress them is a wonderful project, and I really congratulate what you are doing. I will make very brief remarks. Don't be worried, it won't be a keynote address as billed in the program. I'm just a panelist and it's to warm up for Dr. Sadik.
Among the most vulnerable children in the whole wide world, has to be, when you think about it, children and young people who are exposed to war. Think about it, hat the kind of wars we are talking about are not wars that last a week, or two months or even a year. Think of war more than forty years in Columbia of non-stop war, close to thirty years of the present phase in Angola, maybe some twenty-five years in Sri Lanka, and so on and so forth. It is sort of decades of war. And to be born a child in that situation, to grow up in that situation, is the worst kind of nightmare one can think about. You know UNICEF estimates that the worst place for a child to be born today and to grow up, the most dangerous, the most vulnerable, is Angola, to which I go next week. Think about it... Angola happens to be one of the richest countries on the earth. It's got diamonds, oil, soil, sea ...everything. So how is it that it would be the most dangerous, the worst place for a child to be born and to grow up in? The answer is war. War turns everything upside down. And that is why the United Nations, following the very first summit (this is the second summit on children) identified this area of vulnerability as one that especially needed focus and systematic response. When we speak of children being affected by war, what in fact are the kinds of victimization that children suffer? Well they are displaced. The largest group of displaced persons within their own country, the so-called internally displaced, or those who cross borders, so-called refugees, are children. They lose out on schooling and health, things we take for granted. Increasingly we see that young people are forced and enticed, deceived and enrolled to fight the wars of adults... child soldiers, so called. Increasingly we see a very systematic use of sexual violence in situations of war directed especially at young girls. And the trauma, you know even when war has formally ended like in Sierra Leone today, maybe in Angola as we speak, or in East Timor, or in Kosovo...can you imagine the trauma that young people carry with them well after the guns have gone silent? And in many of these places, like Sierra Leon and Afghanistan today, there are barely any trained psychiatrists. In a society deeply traumatized, and within that generalized traumatization, the particularly strong traumatizaton of children, you see. The orphans, the maimed, those who step on landmines for example...I visited one village in the month of March, and in that one village on one fine morning like today in New York, eight kids were playing kites, like kids might play anywhere. And they all stepped on the landmine fields. Four of them died on the spot; four are maimed for life. In Afghanistan, it is estimated some huge number of landmines and the victims of landmines...ten thousand people...most of them children. You know this is a kind of fate to which we subject our children in situation of conflict. And that is why the United Nations decided to focus on this issue. And the kind of work we do in terms of programs, one of course is to raise greater awareness among all, so we know what we do to children, and then use the base of that awareness to mobilize for action. Second, we work with key decision-making bodies, beginning with the Security Council of the United Nations, to make the protection, the well-being of children, an integral part of the peace and security agenda of the world. How can we talk of promoting, much less maintaining, peace and security if we are not concerned by the fate of those who suffer worst when there's a breakdown of the of peace and security? And similarly, engaging the European Union, the organization of American States, the OAS, the OAU...let them bring their weight and their political influence to bear on the side of the protection of children. We have been working thirdly, to make sure that standards, norms, rules, that explicitly provide for the protection of children and women in situations of conflict are strengthened. And the latest installment in this effort is the treaty banning child soldiery. This came into force in the middle of February, after about ten year of negotiations and work, which means, as we speak now, no young person below age of 18 may be allowed to go into hostility. Period. No young people below the age of 18 may be conscripted into an army. And no insurgency group may recruit or deploy any person below the age of 18. And for national armies that have voluntary recruitment, the minimum age at which they can recruit is 16, but even then they can't send them into hostilities below 18. This is a major victory for children., a major victory for children. And then we visit situations of conflict...go to Sri Lanka, Sierra Leon, Congo, Kosovo...I am going to Angola next week as I said...and in these situations, not only to raise awareness about situation of children, but engage the parties in conflict directly. The government, the rebel groups...engage them to commit to certain measures for the protection of children...that they will not use landmines, that they won't attack schools and hospitals, locations where children predominate, that they won't recruit, and they will release abducted kids who are within their ranks, and so on and so forth. And then follow up with the building of pressure to bear on them to observe the commitments they have made. And of course, in the context of post-conflict, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leon, Kosovo, East Timor, our preoccupation is to make sure that children, to begin with, are on the peace negotiations agenda, that they are in the peace accord, and that when we begin to plan the programs for reconstruction, for healing, that the well being of children is essential, and that resource will follow accordingly. And this what we're planning to do, for example now in the context of Afghanistan. What can this group and other young people around the world do? Young people who are producing wonderful photographs? There are a number of challenges we're seeking to face together. One is, I spoke earlier about the very impressive body now of norms, of rules, of standards, of treaties...much less impressive is the application of those norms on the ground. So we have a challenge to take what has been developed internationally, agreed upon, and make them practical measures for protecting children and women exposed to conflict on the ground. And this means monitoring, reporting, naming, shaming those who continue to abuse children and women on the ground. Secondly, we've been working to see how the young people in different parts of the world learn about each other, and in particular young people in a country like the United States. If we leave aside the horrific nightmare experience of 11 September, young people in countries which are at peace, democratic, in many cases are prosperous, are learning about the experience of other young people who are not so fortunate, building solidarity among them, and making them advocates for each other. And this is why I think the exhibition that we have today is very interesting...to see the experience of young people in Vietnam and other parts of Asia, and how it compares with the experience here, and awaken the young people to reach out to each other. Just last week we launched at the United Nations a program called Global Schools for Global Peace, which is really providing materials for curriculum that teaches young people about the experience of children exposed to war in conflict situations, and making them enact those experiences, learn about them, and become advocates on behalf of those young people. We also very much promote what we call "children telling their own stories," exactly what we're seeing here today. These are children telling their own stories. We very much would like children in situations of conflict, through radio, through the camera, through photography, to tell their own stories to the world. And then let me mention that it's very important for us to ensure in everything we do the participation of young people. The Convention of the Rights of the Child speaks about participation, and this is why I am so delighted to be here for this program. And finally let me just say that I am very pleased that the theme of this program is: Unbroken: Hope and Determination. Our work, the exhibition, is about hope, and without hope there is no future. So hope and determination is what we should all strive for. Well thank you very very much. As I said, it's just to warm up for Dr. Sadik. Thank you.
Okay, thank you. I will also be not very long. I think that Olara made a very wonderful case, but I just want to make a few points. First of all, I would like to start by congratulating Anna Blackman and Marjorie Victor, and all of the young people, and the photographers, and the project manager, and those who couldn't come here, for the wonderful exhibition that you have put on. I recently saw another exhibition of Afghanistan, and you know, again the same kind of images come through. And I hope these images are going to inspire people to really think about our future, our future which is our young children. And as Olara says, hope and determination is really a wonderful theme, but my point is that we really should...you know we look at this 21st century, we haven't had major wars yet like we had in the last century...but all around the world, as Olara pointed out, there are pockets of conflict and conflict that has been there for long time, and 24 of these conflicts are really violent. In all these armed conflicts, the majority of the people that suffer in today's kinds of wars are really civilians, who really are not the people actually fighting, so the majority of these people who suffer and are affected are women and children. They're sometimes the targets of warring groups. I mean we've seen women abducted, children abducted, and violated and so on. And children lose their homes, their schools, they often lose their parents, they become orphans and often they lose hope. I mean, you do see that. And the resulting trauma...we look at some of the physical things we do for them, but the psychological and the trauma to the spirit is something that we also have worry about. As Olara said, for those who have been in conflict situations for all their lives, and in fact perhaps even die with the conflict situation, from childhood to adulthood, and the rights of the vulnerable groups, they're now the focus of attention, but they still continue to be violated. I looked up some estimates. I don't know, the estimates vary from 31million refugees to 50 million refugees, mostly women and children in conflicts situations. The number of children...I was trying to get figures of the number of children that have died in conflict situations, and I really couldn't get it. It just said, "millions have died," and I'm sure they have, but there were no figures for them. There were figures for the number of children affected by landmines, and it was only 6000, and somehow I thought that that's a very understated figure. I don't think that that could be the figure. I mean you think of the millions of landmines in Afghanistan alone, or in Vietnam, or in these other places. So in fact, the data is so, so poor on the effects on children, so the number that you get from various sources is very underestimated. In fact the real situation is much much worse. I was shocked to find that there were 300,000 children known to be serving in armed forces in various parts of the world. That's a huge number. I thought that would be a lower number, but this as Olara has pointed out, I think it's a landmark that we finally got agreement that children under 18 will not be allowed to go to war. I hope that we can find a way to actually make sure, ensure, that this convention is really respected by all of the countries. I did get some figures of the number of children displaced in conflicts and it was 20 million. So you know of that 31 million refugees, and 20 million of these are children, so it's a huge number of children that we have to worry about. The needs of children are really very much multifaceted. I think we take care often, of as I said, of the physical needs and you know medicines and so on. But the nurturing and the love and so on that children need during the time of development and growing up, the parental support system, those...how do we find a way to provide those to children? The emotional development of children is as important as the physical development, and even the intellectual, I think emotional is as important in the future of a child. So most vulnerable of the children have deep emotional and spiritual needs, and these are not enlisted in any Convention or in any report. And you know, most of the reports, I looked at a few reports of visits to war-torn areas, nobody talks about the emotional needs and the spiritual trauma. It's not easy to measure. It's not easy to find out and people are not skilled in doing that. But how do you pick up the pieces of your life shattered by war? Children are not in a position, or not able to even express their emotions on many occasions. They do that in normal situations. So in abnormal situations they're even more helpless. So the tragedy of war cannot be any worse than when it affects children because sometimes it really crushes the heart of the child. But I think there's always light in all the darkness we have seen and we have been talking about. There are many many agencies around the world that are there to help the children. I'm please to note that so many now are working together, not everybody working in different directions. And I think Olara has a lot to do with that, to make sure that the programs that are undertaken are much more coordinated and really reflect all the needs that exist in that particular group. I also want to make the observation that where there are women and mothers, we need to also take special care of them because many children lose both parents, but there are many children who have at least the mother there. And the needs of mother in conflict and refugee situations are not always recognized. I think that we have to address the needs of the mother as well, in terms of also providing support to her, to educate her, to inform her, and provide other support for her, because after all she was not the head of the household in most of our developing countries. She's suddenly been forced to become that. Adolescent needs are particularly great. They're our most vulnerable group in conflict and disaster situations, and particularly in refugees' camps. I think Madam Ogata, when she was the High Commissioner for Refugee recognized this...they're especially vulnerable to rape and violence in refugee situations...and she then provided special security protection for young girls in particular, but young people in these refugees camp situations. And they have reproductive health needs, which you know is a subject which is so sensitive. It's not discussed anywhere, and even less discussed in these refugees camps and other situations. But children of all ages need protection. They need care and we need to be concerned about them. Many scars are visible, they're physical, but many of them are not. And I want to underscore that point and that we need to address them. I think probably projects like these, which allow them to express their thoughts, may be a way of catharsis. I hope that this will help them to say the things that maybe they're not always able to say. You know to get a child to speak and express what he or she feels is not always very easy. I believe that the international community has to do a lot more to assist. The first instance, we have to stop wars. I mean, there's no question. Why should we always have to look at the effects of and then protect people? We have to protect people from the scourge of war. And look at the amount of money we spend on the wars...one-twentieth of that money, if we spent in the peace times to prevent the wars, would go so much further, and I think the world would be a much much healthier, and happier, and a place where everyone had a future, had an option, had a life. So once again, I don't want to belabor the point, but I want to also underscore the need for all kinds of attention, but including the attention to try to prevent these situations from happening. And since we're dealing here with children and our future, maybe we should put into their minds also these thoughts of how and what they could do to promote peace between people and nations around the world. So what ever we can do to help children in conflict situations, I know that we will, at least those of us assembled here today, for those who are the youngest amongst us, you will end up carrying the banner of hope for generations yet to come. You are our future and we have to make sure that we do the best for you future. So I congratulate all of you. I congratulate the children, and I congratulate our other partners in this enterprise who are going to speak after us. And I want to introduce to you Hari Acharya from the Bhtutanese youth refugee group. I am not sure whether he is still a Bhutanese, but he came here as a refugee from Bhutan. He was given asylum in the United States before asylum became more difficult to get. He worked with the Association of Human Rights (AHURA)-BHUTAN, and soon after his arrival from Nepal in Bhutan, he was actively involved in the appeal movement coordinating Council Peace March. He has been in the United States since 1999. And since March, Hari has been working with the Global Youth Connect as a speaker in the Youth Action Campaign for Peace in Bhutan. He's spoken in high schools, at colleges, at universities, all over this country. He's helped to organize and lead a youth delegation from New York City to the refugee camps in Nepal in summer last year. His parents, both of them were born in Bhutan, and siblings still live in one of the refugees camps in Bhutan. So I hope that you will hear what Hari has to say, and I hope you can find a way to help him and the refugees in Bhutan. Hari you have the floor.
Thank you very much Dr. Sadik. I would like to start with reinforcing that I am still very much Bhutanese. I have not been given citizenship by any other country. Nepal couldn't, they have too many. And the US is pretty busy with war right now. What I will talk about may pale in significance compared to what Otunnu and Dr. Sadik have been doing for ages compared to what I have been doing. But I will try to bring down the brutal aspects that they talked about, to a particular situation that I have undergone. Many of you might have been surprised when you saw "Bhutanese youth refugee" beside my name in the paper that you got. For many of us, Bhutan is a very very wonderful, peaceful unspoiled country where everything is at peace with everything else. It's the mystic country where we go to seek peace when you are tired with problems and situations in cities like New York. It is a very, very beautiful country, but I also bring to you today another aspect of Bhutan that many, many people in this room don't know about. And you might be wondering how this connects to child rights. And it does because every decision that we as parents make ultimately affects the future of the children. And to the level that any government and any situation impacts the decision-making capacity of the parent will directly affect the life and future of the child. Having said that, I will try to relate what I say to the criticism of Bhutan's first State Party report to the Committee on Child Rights of the UN, and the observations and recommendations of the Committee of the Rights of the Child on Bhutan's first report, and the initial criticism brought forth by the NGO, which is I think called the NGO Response to the paper. The NGO Response was prepared by a Bhutanese refugees support group, which is based in the UK, and it was also sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation. The other thing that I will try to relate to what I say would be the human rights report that Bhutan gave to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in April 1999. So the reason to bring this report in front of you today is, what you see in papers, what you see in government speeches, what you see in observations by sometimes independent observers, sometimes government reports, is always what is actually happening. For instance, in Bhutan education is universal. The child does not have to pay for education. The child doesn't have to pay for health. They have access to health. Education is free of course. The parents even don't have to pay a penny. And the international community looks at that...everything is free...so everything is good. But we don't see the compartmentalization that occurs within the society. Who is getting it is something that international organizations don't look into. And that's why people who are in the minority, people who are victimized suffer. They don't have ways to let it be known to the international community as to what's happening. For instance, there are UNDP Projects in Bhutan. There are UNFP projects in Bhutan. There are UNICEF projects in Bhutan. UNICEF gives money to Bhutan for particular projects, say drinking water or say a small school. And a school is built. The school is being used, money is well-utilized, donors are satisfied. Then after that Bhutan comes and asks for money for, say health facilities from the same donor. "We gave money for school. It was well-utilized, so we'll give money for health facilities." The money goes to the same area. The same area is developed. The people of the same area, same part of the country benefit. We don't see that there is discrimination in the implementation of the project. That's what we fail to notice. So for example, UNICEF's website on Bhutan...UNICEF's Bhutan office has a website on the Internet of about 30-40 pages. If you go through that, you'll find that all the development projects which are named in that website are in the northern part of the country, which are most of the rich districts from where the ruling community comes. And a little bit of projects are pushed towards the east. In the whole website, you'll find the name of one southern Bhutanese person, a person who is trying to get distance education in teacher training. That is the only thing the whole website notes. But there is reference to a water supply caretaker in the northern part of country, where another community lives. I am taking this for granted, because so many of you are interested in Asia, that you do have some aspects of ideas about what Bhutan is, culturally or ethnically. If you don't have, you can ask me later and I can clarify that. That kind of discrimination doesn't come out in reports. That's why I'm trying to relate what I say to these reports. Bhutan's report to the UNHCR says that, paragraph 9 says the spiritual and emotional well-being of the people, and preservation of Bhutan's culture heritage and its rich and varied natural resources, is its main national goal and policy. Bhutan has Hindus in the south whom the government says makes up about 25% of the population, but who claim to be about 50% of the population. There are people in the eastern part of the country, which are one of the three main ethnic groups, who follow a sect of Mahayana Buddhism. The people in the north-western part of the country follow a different sect of Mahayana Buddhism. These people are of a different culture. So if we are trying to safeguard the culture heritage of the country, do we safeguard one culture, one heritage? Or do we safeguard all the cultures and all the heritages of the country? Do we try to accommodate diversity? Bhutan does not. Bhutan tries to promote one culture, one tradition, and all the people have to wear the same dress. So that's not what Bhutan is doing, but that's what Bhutan is saying in its report. The next thing that I would like to talk about is the National Assembly. From many of Bhutan's people you will hear about elections...in the U.S. somebody's whose 18 gets to cast a vote. Somebody who wants to get elected gets an opportunity to go out and canvas, and spread his or her policies and ideas to the people. We get to campaign. That's an election. Bhutan doesn't not have that. (Of) 150 members in the National Assembly, the Unicameral Legislature, 105 are elected and the rest are appointed by the King and the clergy. How do elections happen at the villages and the local level, at the constituency level? The district administrator and the sub-divisional administrator, who are appointed by the King, will pick up two to three persons from the village, put them out there in front of the villagers for consensus voting. They have to choose out of these three guys. The people who are voting for these people don't know what these people are going to advocate. They don't' know what they stand for. And each family gets a vote. And in many cases, the votes don't count because counting does not take place in front of an election commission's oversight. There is no election commission there. So that's how elections happen. So these elected members go to the National Assembly and then they will elect the Ministers of the country. So this election of Ministers started in 1980, and with a big reform, which made many western countries say, like radio stations like CBS and 60 Minutes, they talked about a country, an absolute monarchy where the King is willingly devolving power to the people even if they don't want it. So that's what our King did in 1998. What actually happened was...five Ministrial posts were there. The King nominated five people. The National Assembly had to choose five people out of the five people nominated for five Ministerial positions. Those who are the Ministers who are running the country right now. Bhutan's national...there is only one weekly newspaper and they have a discussion forum on their website, where there are these guys inside Bhutan, the people who are working with the Bhutanese Government, are discussing about the election coming up because in November their term expires, and now they again have to be elected. So they are wondering, "why don't we see if we can find as many candidates as possible, and why don't we vote for them?" These are your own people discussing within the country, where as the government says that the country's heading toward gross national happiness. That's what the people are discussing. And those who want to contradict what I say may say that this could be anybody posting anything on the Internet. It's possible to do that from here...I could have done it. No. The service provider they use is the only service provider you can find in Bhutan. So these are the people working in the government who are saying this. So now what's happening is the parents who are voting are not getting any chance to make decisions that are going to affect their children in the future. Another thing is, at one point, (the report) talks about the district development committees and the block developmental committees. There are members from different villages and different districts, where they go together and they make decisions for what kinds of developmental projects that we are going to come up with. What exactly happened is...I've been there...I've seen people who represented me in those forums. These people go, when they go from the village to the meeting, they say I am going to "hear" a meeting. They go, they hear what is said, and they bring it back to the people and say this is what we have to do. They don't go and discuss. There are no priorities being set for the people in a particular village which are taken to the district committee by their representatives. So that is the kind of democracy that we have in Bhutan.
How are you a refugee? I think that's what they want to hear.
Should I get to that instead?
I think so, yes, because we are talking about children in conflict situations.
Yes that's what I was going to get to later...I want to get to this because that's what happens...these are the reports that come to the UN. That's how the international community sees Bhutan, and what I wanted to do today is just to let you know that these are not the reports that my country goes by. My story...I have been repeating over and over again...and it makes for tears. It does not make for laughter. It does not make for hope. Every time I read those pictures out there, whatever is written below them...I actually don't want to talk about it...I'm sorry. I'll just finish this and I'll go to that though.
NGO Response says that the circumstances leading to the flight of refugees from Bhutan are replete with well-documented violations of Bhutan's obligation under the CRC. And the failure so far to seek here a durable solution for the refugees represents an ongoing obstacle to Bhutan's fulfillment of these obligations. Bhutan signed the CRC and ratified it in 1990. I was thrown out of Bhutan in 1992. Bhutan came here to the UN and ratified this thing. On the other hand, continuously children, along with their families, were being thrown out. So what happened was my dad opposed the policies that were going on. He got arrested. He was hung upside-down, thrown, beaten up. I protested. I was 19 then. And my father, my family, along with 24 other families who supported us, were bundled out of the country. I was thrown out because my father signed for me. He was forced to sign for it. So the government says that parents are required to feed their children, clothe the children, give them education, they're responsible. When my father pleaded with the officer who was throwing him out, his constant refrain was, "where am I gonna go with this bunch of children?" I have six, seven siblings, younger than me. "How am I going to feed them? Where shall I take them now? I have no home, nowhere...I don't want to go. I want to stay." That was his constant refrain. Bhutan comes up with this report to the UN, and signs and ratifies the CRC, and then here, two years after that...when Bhutan was...this report was due in 1992. It came in 1999. Bhutan was supposed to be drafting this report. It was busy with throwing out kids like me. So that's how I became a refugee. And...I...I've got it here that I have only two minutes more. In two minutes...the things that I have undergone are really long and I will not be able to finish. I will try to summarize this by saying that, of the various things that Bhutan has violated as far as children are concerned, it has violated the non-discrimination, Article 2, of the CRC. Because people in the southern part of the country, who are of Nepalese descendant, are not treated at par with children in other parts of the country. The existence of more than 30,000 children of Bhutan as refugees in the refugee camps in Nepal is itself a huge violation. UNICEF's website cites data of Bangladesh about child mortality. It cites data from Sri Lanka about child mortality, and tries to contrast that saying how good Bhutan is doing. That's not right! Bhutan is not at all good. Bhutan is good if we don't take into account the number of children it has made homeless, it has made stateless, and which it declines to own. If you need more information, I'll put flyers out there by the table, there are websites which you could look at and get more information. For conclusion's sake, I'd just like to finish with this...on September 10th, 1990, the King of Bhutan said, "We do not need priests. Priests do not help us. We need criticism and advice. It is a question of national survival and we must not be adverse to criticism. We are an adaptable people." When I am speaking about what he has done so far to my people, I'm upholding his own principle. And he had made us refugees, thrown us out of the country, for upholding his own principle. And I implore that people like you, with conscience, should pressure the government of Bhutan and your own governments to make sure that the king, the most benevolent king of this century, lives up to his principles. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you very much, Hari. You can see, even though he's been a refugee, he hasn't lost his spirit, and hasn't lost his hope, and not his determination to do something about it. And I hope that some people will listen to what you have to say. Our next speaker is going to be Zama Coursen-Neff, counsel on Children Rights' division at Human Rights Watch. She is a lawyer by profession. She researches and documents violations of children's human rights. She's gone on field missions to Malaysia, Israel and India, and is the author of reports on refugee protection and discrimination, particularly in education. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, she worked for a federal judge, and has worked for various immigration non-profit organizations and with a development organization in Honduras. She is a graduate of New York University of Law and of Davidson College. And she is obviously a very dedicated and determined young woman, who is determined to change the world.
Thank you very much. First of all, I want to thank you so much for having me here. It's certainly a pleasure to be with you, and I appreciate the opportunity to see such a beautiful collection of photographs taken by children like the guests that we have here. I was particularly interested to see photographs of children studying in Bhutanese refugees camps because that is the issue that I would like to talk about today, and that is discrimination in education, understanding one of the four issues that the photographs deal with is discrimination.
The right to education is one of the most protected rights in international law. It is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Articles 28 and 29, and also a variety of other conventions, including the Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention On Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and what I think is an under-appreciated, but a particularly favorite convention of mine, the Convention Against Discrimination in Education, which has been signed by 90 countries. And if you haven't heard of it, I encourage you to go home tonight to take a look at it. Fundamental to the right to education is the prohibition on discrimination. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides for a right to education without discrimination of any kind on the basis of equal opportunity. And it's important to note that while the right to education itself is a progressive right, meaning that countries have committed to implement the Right to Education as their resources allow them to, the prohibition on discrimination is not a progressive right. That means that regardless of the resources that a country has, it must provide education in a form that is non-discriminatory. This prohibition is extremely important. Discrimination against children in the right to education is cumulative. When children are discriminated against even at the ages of 5 and 6 and 7, that discrimination is reflected at each stage in the educational process. And it is difficult to repair. When you go back to try to fix discrimination that happened as a child, in many cases the child is never able to catch up. This affects children's performance in school, if in fact they have been able to reach school. And you see higher rates of dropping out and lower performance rates on standardized examinations. Finally discriminations is cyclical. It is passed on from generation to generation, so that when one generation of children is discriminated against in education, they grow up and have lower economic opportunities, if that community itself is providing its own education, those teachers are less well-educated. And it is a cycle that perpetuates itself until governments take action to stop it.
What is discrimination? I think we're all familiar with some of the basic grounds, espeically if you coming from an American framework, but the international law enshrines even a wider range of protected grounds, including protection from discrimination against the basis of race, colors, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth. And the Convention on Discrimination describes discrimination in education as including: depriving children of access to education, of limiting children to education of an inferior standard, of confining children to separate educational systems except under certain circumstances, or of inflicting on them conditions of education which are incompatible with their own dignity. Human Rights Watch has documented examples of violations against the prohibition on discrimination in education throughout the world. And I want to highlight a few of those examples, understanding that you will be able to fill in other examples as well.
Violence and harassment-violence and harassment is a form of discrimination in schools that affects children's performance, and that in many cases bars children altogether from being able to access schools. One form of violation and discrimination takes the form of caste-based discrimination. For example, untouchable children in India, if they study in schools, study in government schools that tend to be of an inferior quality. Children report physical abuse and harassment by upper class children, poor treatment by teachers, and being confined to sit in the back of the classroom. As a result, we see a huge gap in literacy rates between untouchables and the rest of the population in India, and also much higher drop-out rates in school. Similar effects of caste-based discrimination have been documented also in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Japan, where there was poor performance and higher dropout rates by lower caste. I also note that there is a picture of boys of different castes from Bhutan back in the exhibit, and I appreciate my colleague, Mr. Hari Acharya, highlighting the impact of discrimination in Bhutan as well. There are other forms of discrimination that take the form of violence and harassment against children. These include violence and harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gendered children in American schools, and violence and harassment against girls in South African schools. Gender-based discrimination is important, and it's something that I assume that you are very familiar with. I think it's also important to note that the physical location of schools has a disparate impact on girls. I just returned from India where I was talking with children who are in an innovated night school run by the government to provide education for kids who are working all day. And one of the first questions I had was, "where are the girls?" This was a school of about 50 kids and there were about three girls there. And there were a variety of responses, including that the girls are embarrassed to show that they didn't know the alphabet in front of the boys. But when I interviewed the girls...the few that there were...what they said was, " I can only come here because my brother comes with me. The school meets at night, and otherwise I'm not able to come." The physical location of schools can have a direct impact on all children, but especially girls. We also documented this with the location of schools in the southern desert region of Israel, and how better [it is] when girls are often prevented from making the transition to high school because the distances are simply far enough that parents won't send their girls to school. A third form of gender-discrimination is certainly a total ban on girls attending school, as we have seen up until now in Afghanistan. Another form of discrimination that affects kid's ability to access schools is discrimination on the basis of national origin. And this can take the form of discrimination against refugees, migrant children, and also stateless children. One of the things that is often required to attend a school is legal documents. And we found that in the situation of Burmese refugees in Malaysia, who are not recognized as citizens of Burma but also not granted legal permission to be in Malaysia, that they were being thrown out of schools, or not allowed to enroll at all, simply because they didn't have the documents. And when I was there, parents brought me their children's birth certificates and said, "these are the documents that I have and my child has just sent home from the school and told not to come back because he doesn't have permission to be here." We also found the Bedouin children in Kuwait were not allowed to enroll in schools because they lacked legal status, even though citizens of the state received subsidized education and foreign workers who had legal status were at least able to enroll in private schools. And finally, you'll be hearing more about the situation of unaccompanied Moroccan children in Spain, where even though all children have the right to attend schools, that protest by parents against Moroccan children attending those schools, led to local officials not admitting children on the basis of national origin into their schools.
Another aspect of discrimination on education is confining children to an inferior standard of education. And we have documented this in schools that are separate but unequal, which is the situation of Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel in Israeli schools...that Israel runs two separate school systems, one for Jewish children and one for Palestinian-Arab citizen children. And we found that in every respect, Palestinian-Arab children receive an inferior education and that they have higher dropout rates and performance rates. Another example is tracking...and this has been very well documented by the European Roma Rights Center, which found that Roma kids, for example in the Czech Republic, were fifteen times more likely to be placed in remedial education than were other children in the population. And finally, an inferior form of education can be found for children in detention, and Human Rights Watch has documented, for example, in the case of Pakistan, that prisons almost uniformly did not provide education to juvenile wards, with the exception of a few institutions. And in Kenya, that some juvenile institutions provided no secondary education, or provided secondary education only to boys. And in the United States, where we did investigations in Maryland and the state of Louisiana, and found that children had inferior or no access to education.
The right to education is important on several grounds as you can see in these different examples. It is important because when the right to education is denied, children are not able to access other rights that enshrined both in the Convention on The Rights of the Child and other international law conventions. But, at the same time, when children's rights are violated, those affect the right to education. So it works both ways. And I think that's something that we have found as we have worked more on the right to education, that when we work on violations of children's rights, these touch on education in both ways, which makes it incredible important. At the UN special session next week, education is one the issues that will be debated by the heads of states. And I hope that some of these issues that relate to discrimination will be part of that discussion, and something that governments find important to address. Thank you.
Thank you very much. I think you've touched on a very very important issue for the future of children. Education is what provides autonomy, the right to make other decisions and the right to everything else in life. So I hope that the convention will look at this. Thank you all the speakers and the children and thank you all the participants. I think it has been a very interesting evening. And you still have opportunities to ask more questions and debate with Hari Acharya during the reception.