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Therese Gastaut Human rights Conf. 22Apr 1993

THE EARTH TIMES

APRIL 22, 1993

The media has a key role in Vienna at the UN Human Rights Conference

BY ASHALI VARMA

UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali appointed Therese Gastaut as Director of the United Nations Information Service at Geneva last December, and as the spokeswoman of the Secretary General based in Geneva.  Before her current assignment, Gastaut had been seconded to the World Health Organization (WHO) for three years as spokeswoman of the Director-General and manager of the World Health Organization Information Program.  Gastaut will be the chief spokesperson for the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna next June.

Born in Paris, Gastaut obtained a diploma from  the Institut d’Etudes Propitious de Paris in 1964 and the degree in Master of International Affairs from Columbia University, New York, in 1966.  She joined the Secretariat of the United Nations in January 1967, Gastaut spoke recently with Ashali Varma of The Earth Times Excerpts:

How is the UN’s information service supporting the Vienna Conference?

The United Nations has mobilized its vast information machinery to support the World Conference on Human Rights.  The Department of Public Information, along with the wide-ranging UN Information Centers around the world are undertaking a range of print, radio and television activities.  These include the release of a wide array of special press features on human rights issues, a substantive press kit, the development of a pro-active slogan (“Human Rights: Know Them, Demand Them, Defend Them”), the design of attractive public service advertisements, the production of compelling video public service announcements by eminent figures in the world of human rights, and the publication of a bi-weekly newsletter in English and French on Conference issues.

Of special interest is a “State of the Human Rights in the World, 1993” press feature for wide distribution, with a video newsreel to accompany it, both of which have just been distributed around the world.  In addition, another special video newsreel is being prepared for release to the media prior to the Conference.  Other products include a set of “notes for speakers” with details of the Conference; a media seminar for developing country journalists at the Conference; special projects being coordinated with the media; the coordination of a series of informative exhibits by UN agencies; and last but not least, collaboration with such special newspapers as The Earth Times.  All in all a broad and effective program that is already generating results.

What role do you see for the media at the Conference?

The world media will play a crucial role at the World Conference, bringing to all corners of the globe news of this important event in a host of languages and with an almost infinite array of viewpoints.  Already, there has been widespread media interest in the Conference, and a number of important media from different continents and regions have asked for advance accreditation and information.  Two Conference newspapers will be published in English and French. The UN will disseminate the news from the Conference in diverse languages throughout the world. Major news networks are already planning special programming for the meeting, and video reports on the Conference will be available around the world.  Clearly, the media will play a crucial role, both in bring the news of the Conference to a global audience, and stimulating public awareness and debate about human rights at this important time in world history.

When will the UN be in a position to take action faster on human rights violations?

In its 48 years of existence, the UN has sought to create what the Secretary General has called a “world structure” of human rights, which will carry out the mandate of the UN Charter “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small. Much has been accomplished since those eloquent words were drafted, but much remains to be done.  The groups in need of protection must be more sharply defined, including refugees, indigenous peoples, women, and children.  At the same time, the UN mandate is being expanded to include the right to development and the right to live in good health.  As the Secretary General has said, the UN must be in a position to assist populations in distress, protect minorities, and prevent harm before it occurs.  Thus a more effective organization is needed, and it is to be hoped that this World Conference will accomplish that.

What role will NGOs have at the Conference? What is the place of women on the agenda?

As always, NGOs are the “bedrock” of any human rights agenda, and thus they play a vital role in the planning preparation and realization of the Conference goals.  More than 500  NGOs are to attend the Conference, either to speak or to observe.  So, it is clear that NGOs provide support, stimulus and oversight that will be essential to the success of the Conference.

Regarding the role of women, I will be short and to the point: Through the work of US organizations, member states and NGOs, this half of the world population is going to get its due attention at the World Conference.  Many eminent women will play a leading role at the Conference, speaking, working and networking.  Thus, I can assure you, the importance of this issue is second to none.