REPUBLICAN lawmakers are as enthusiastic about sending an American delegation to the upcoming United Nations women's conference in China as they are about hurricane Felix. One reason: China's abysmal human rights record.
But at a Monitor breakfast yesterday, the head of the United States delegation to the Fourth UN Conference on Women, UN Ambassador Madeline Albright, said boycotting the conference to punish China could prove counterproductive.
"It's ironic to think that a conference about human rights would be boycotted because of human rights," Ambassador Albright said.
Far from legitimizing China's human rights practices, she says, the conference could become a bully pulpit for delegates to criticize human rights violations in China and other countries.
"We're not going there to limit our freedom of speech," says the UN envoy. "Nothing will stop the delegates from speaking out on human rights."
Albright says a series of UN women's conferences dating back to 1975 has heightened the salience of women's issues.
At a different level, providing a forum for women to discuss common concerns has had the effect of breaking down the isolation felt by millions of women. Albright compares the conferences to the historic first visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland in 1979, which drew huge crowds, catalyzing latent discontents with decades of communist rule.
"There has been a sense of isolation before," she said. "There is a certain bonding aspect to this."