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.