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Quotes from comparative human rights conference (Released: 2/4/00)

by Sherry Fisher, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- These quotes are from the Feb. 3 conference on comparative human rights, part of a comparative human rights project that stems from the University of Connecticut's partnership with the African National Congress of South Africa. The conference featured speakers who are children of human rights activists in the U.S. and South Africa. The UConn-ANC partnership makes the University the sole repository of ANC documents and historical materials which will be kept in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center on the Storrs campus. Also involved is an oral history projec t with the ANC by UConn's Center for Oral History. Photos are available on the web at http://server.pr.uconn.edu/public/anc/.

Sheila Sisulu, Ambassador to the United States from South Africa:
" I'm always mindful of the fact that the struggle for human rights continues. But to believe that we have not begun to break the back of racism and the abuse of human rights would be to deny the victories that we have notched in these past 100 years, from the end of fascism through the victory of the civil rights movement in this country in the '60s to the demise of apartheid in the '90s."

Judge Dumisa Ntsebeza, chief investigator and judge of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission:
"The law in that country (South Africa) sustained, for close on half a century, a system so evil that the whole world had condemned it as a crime against humanity."

"The interim Constitution, in its preamble, had argued that South Africa, having come out of a past that had been marked by racial strife and division and conflict, had to transcend that past in its quest for peace and reconciliation. The constitution argued for the reconstruction of South African society along lines that would promote human rights."

"In this country (United States) the race/class issue remains unresolved. And it will remain, in my view, one of the sticking points in the struggle for civil rights. And perhaps the most dramatic way, and the most dramatic reminder of race-based failure of justice in this country is coming to you via Hollywood in the form of The Hurricane."

Nontombi Naomi Tutu, educator, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
"Our oppression was your oppression...Your freedom was our freedom, and there wasn't any way to disentangle them."

Nkosinathi Biko, journalist, consultant, son of Steve Biko, South African student leader who was murdered in jail in 1977:
"When my father closed his eyes for the last time, my childhood evaporated."

"We remember them as icons, but they were ordinary human beings. They were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, people whose lives had meaning beyond just the political."

Paula Young Shelton, educator, activist, daughter of former Ambassador Andrew Young:
"There were always a lot of people sleeping on our floor because black people couldn't stay in hotels...we had a very extended family. Martin King was my Uncle Martin to me...This was the family I grew up in... it gave us a security that the political environment would not allow."

"There is no more important issue on the world's agenda than children."

Paul Robeson Jr., writer, activist, son of Paul Robeson, civil rights activist, attorney:
"This is a society that is obsessed with icons. Icons are designed to confuse and to demobilize. Nothing could be a greater insult to my father, to Martin Luther King, to Nelson Mandela...than to make icons of them. Icons in this country serve...to demobilize the consciousness of the oppressed by giving them feel-good, sanitized history."