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UConn to Hold Third Comparative Human Rights Conference
(Released: October 9, 2002)

By Allison Thompson, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- Though separated by geography and generations, the legal battle for reparations, the fight for civil rights in the United States, and continuing attempts to ensure human rights for people around the globe all have the same, common goal: dignity and equality for all citizens. Leaders from each of these struggles will speak at the University of Connecticut's third annual comparative human rights conference, "Effective Approaches to the Realization of Human Rights," to be held on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

Ed Fagan, the lead attorney who secured a settlement of more than $1 billion for Holocaust victims in a lawsuit against Swiss banks and who is currently leading a lawsuit seeking compensation for apartheid victims from Swiss and American banks that financed South Africa's apartheid regime, will give an address at 11:45 a.m. in the South Campus Ballroom. At 4:10 p.m., Myrlie Evers-Williams, the first African-American woman to serve as chairperson of the NAACP, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers and a civil rights activist herself, will deliver the conference's concluding speech. Other notable speakers include Curt Goering, the deputy executive director of Amnesty International, USA; Ahmed Kathrada, a former South African political prisoner and one of Nelson Mandela's closest political and personal allies; and Dikgang Ernest Moseneke, a South African high court judge and one of the framers of the country's interim constitution.

"We are most fortunate to have visit our campus so many notable participants who, through their practical involvement in the struggles that fought against violations of human rights, have expanded the scope of human rights realizations for others. Significantly too, through their work, they have become historical figures and role models for countless others," says Amii Omara-Otunnu, UNESCO Chair-holder in comparative human rights. "It will be a privilege to hear our visitors speak: their stories should inspire many people to engage in human rights work."

During the conference, sponsored by the UNESCO Chair & Institute for Comparative Human Rights at the University of Connecticut, a dozen human rights advocates and policy makers will discuss human rights abuses and triumphs around the world. The symposium will examine human rights in places such as South Africa, the Middle East, India and Europe as well as in the United States. Speakers will also explore what groups like Amnesty International and the International Society for Human Values are doing to promote human rights worldwide.

For the first time in its three-year history, the conference will include a regional meeting of UNESCO Chair-holders in human rights. Omara-Otunnu, the country's first and only UNESCO Chair-holder in human rights and a regional coordinator for UNESCO Chair-holders in human rights, has arranged for five UNESCO Chairs from the Middle East, Western Europe and North America to confer at UConn to discuss international human rights education. The chair-holders will hold an all-day planning session on Sunday, Oct. 20, and will take part in a panel at the conference on Tuesday, Oct. 22. Participants are Yaacov Iram, UNESCO Chair in education for human values, peace and tolerance at Bar-Ilan University in Israel; Ali Al-Shra'ah, UNESCO Chair for democracy and human rights at the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies in Jordan; Karl-Pieter Fritzsche, UNESCO Chair-holder in human rights education at Otto von Guericke University of Magdeburg in Germany; and Hans Werdmolder, UNESCO Chair-holder in education for peace, human rights and democracy at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Nasila Rembe, UNESCO "Oliver Tambo" Chair in Human Rights at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa will also attend.

"This is the first time that a university in the United States has convened a meeting of UNESCO chairs in human rights," says Omara-Otunnu. "It is a distinct and historic honor for the University of Connecticut to host a regional meeting of UNESCO chair-holders, who are at the forefront of human rights education internationally. I hope that this signals a deeper engagement by American universities in international human rights dialogue and collaboration."

On Monday, Oct. 21, Kathrada will give a seminar at UConn's Greater Hartford campus. Kathrada spent 26 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was also held, and in Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison. Kathrada and former South African president Mandela have been close political and intellectual allies since the 1940s.

On Tuesday, Oct. 22, Moseneke, a former South African political prisoner who helped write South Africa's new constitution, will deliver the conference's keynote address. Moseneke was detained as a political prisoner at the age of 14 and incarcerated for 10 years. After the end of apartheid, he helped draft the South African constitution and oversaw the country's first democratic elections. Before being appointed a high court judge, Moseneke successfully headed the largest black business entity in the country, New Africa Investments Ltd., and was chairman of the country's telephone company.

Following Moseneke's speech, there will be a plenary session on South Africa. Participants include Kathrada; Shirley Gunn, an advocate for reparations in South Africa and executive director of the Human Rights Media Center, an oral history project; and Charlotte McClain, a commissioner on the South African Human Rights Commission. Before lunch, Fagan will give an address.

After lunch, there will be two simultaneous panel discussions on international human rights issues. One panel will consist of UNESCO chair-holders in human rights and will focus on international strategies to promote a culture of human rights and democracy through education. The other panel, composed of human rights advocates from around the world, will discuss methods of promoting international human rights. Participants include: Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International, USA; Rajagopalan Sampatkumar, secretary general of the International Society for Human Values in Geneva; and Martin Macwan, convener of the National Campaign for Human Rights of the Dalit ("The Untouchables") in India.

Evers-Williams' speech will follow the afternoon's plenary sessions. In 1954, Medgar Evers became the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP and established an office in Jackson. His wife worked as his secretary. The couple worked tirelessly for racial equality until Evers, because of his role as a civil rights leader, was assassinated in June 1963. After her husband's death, Evers-Williams continued the work the couple had begun together, eventually becoming the first African-American woman to serve as chairperson of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She also continued her fight to have her husband's killer brought to justice. In 1994, Byron De La Beckwith was convicted of Evers' murder and sentenced to life in prison.

"Through this year's conference, we hope to explore and suggest practical ways of translating the ideals of human rights into reality in order to make a positive difference in people's lives," says Omara-Otunnu. "We also hope that the conference will inspire people to engage in human rights activities. Any work for human rights advances human welfare and fosters a global sense of our common humanity."

The UNESCO Chair & Institute in Comparative Human Rights, which organized the conference, is a key element in the University's goal to foster international education and research in the area of human rights. The Chair at the University of Connecticut is the first and to date only UNESCO Human Rights Chair in the United States.

Third Annual Comparative Human Rights Conference
Sunday, October 20 - Tuesday, October 22

Sunday, October 20
Regional meeting of UNESCO Chairs from Western Europe, the Middle East and North America
Noon-2:15 p.m. UNESCO Chairs meeting, Foundation Building
2:15 p.m. Break
2:30-4:45 p.m. UNESCO Chairs meeting, Foundation Building

Monday, October 21
1-2 p.m. Lecture by Ahmed Kathrada, former political prisoner on Robben Island and a close political ally of Nelson Mandela, UConn Greater Hartford Campus

Tuesday, October 22
8:30 a.m. Registration, South Campus Ballroom

8:50 a.m. Selection by Windsor High School Gospel Choir

9:10 a.m. Welcoming remarks by Amii Omara-Otunnu, UNESCO Chair in Comparative Human Rights
Greetings and introduction of keynote speaker by Philip E. Austin, UConn president

9:15 a.m. Keynote address by Dikgang Ernest Moseneke, South African high court judge

10:15 a.m. Break

10:30-11:45 a.m. Plenary session I: South Africa
Participants: Shirley Gunn, advocate for reparations in South Africa and executive director of the Human Rights Media Center; Ahmed Kathrada, former political prisoner on Robben Island and a close political ally of Nelson Mandela; Charlotte McClain, South Africa Human Rights Commission

11:45 a.m. Address by Ed Fagan, lead lawyer in the Jewish Holocaust Reparations class action lawsuit

2:15-4 p.m. Concurrent Session A: Global Issues
Participants: Curt Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International, USA; Martin Macwan, convener and spokesperson of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights in India; Rajagopalan Sampatkumar, secretary general of the International Society for Human Values, Geneva
Concurrent Session B: UNESCO Chairs' panel
Participants: UNESCO Chairs from Western Europe, Israel and North America

4:10 p.m. Concluding address by Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams, civil rights activist



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