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Shadow Summit In Geneva Focusing On Neglected Rights Issues

Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer is one of the featured guests in Geneva.

Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer is one of the featured guests in Geneva.

(RFE/RL) -- Dissidents, diplomats, and NGO representatives from around the world have gathered in Geneva for a two-day summit aimed at giving voice to victims of the world’s worst human rights abuses.

The Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance, and Democracy, organized by an international coalition of human rights NGOs, is taking place as a parallel event to the UN Human Rights Council’s ongoing session. The summit organizers say they will focus on issues the UN session – under pressure by its powerful members – has not included on its agenda.

Speakers and guests of the Geneva summit include activists from Afghanistan, Iran, China, and North Korea. Among them are prominent figures such as exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer and Afghanistan’s former women’s minister and 2004 presidential candidate, Massouda Jalal.

Jalal’s speech -- appropriately for International Women's Day -- focused on women’s rights in Afghanistan and the problems they face in their everyday lives, such as a lack of security, limited access to health care and education, as well as cultural and religious pressures in the deeply conservative society.

Massouda Jalal
"The real factor that makes it difficult for females to acquire education is a lack of security in the school and in the roads," Jalal said. "There were a lot of incidents of threatening or throwing acid on the faces of girls. These are enough reasons for parents to stop their girls from going to school.

"Another factor," she continued, "is that schools are remotely located from residences. There are usually poor toilet facilities in the schools. And there is an acute shortage of female teachers. In addition, families do not appreciate much the value of female education."

'Holes In The Great Firewalls'

The human rights situation in China, including government pressure on minorities in Tibet as well as Internet censorship by the authorities in Beijing, were high on agenda of the summit.

Yang Jianly, an activist in China's 1989 Tiananmen protest and a former political prisoner, said that, despite all the efforts by the government, it is impossible to control the Internet or the "will of 1 billion" people forever.

"Soon there will be so many holes in the great firewalls that, like the proverbial dike, it will be impossible to maintain," Yang said. "Without the ability to control the Internet, China will not be able to control the will of 1 billion Chinese citizens.

"As [that] day approaches, a crisis of confidence will emerge during which the power elite will be thrown off balance and 1 billion citizens of China will realize that they are no longer slaves. It will not be a Green or Velvet Revolution, but perhaps it will be called the Cyber Revolution."

The summit will focus on human rights issues in Iran among other topics on its second day on March 9.

The program of speakers that day includes Caspian Makan, the fiancé of Neda Agha Soltan, the young Iranian woman who became a symbol of Iran's postelection protests after her death by gunfire last June was captured on amateur video and posted on YouTube. Makan, who was briefly arrested in Iran, has since left the country.

The summit organizers have criticized the UN Human Rights Council for "failing to live up to its mission to stop" human rights abuses in countries like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

"Strong politicization of the council, driven by bloc-based voting patterns, has led to inaction in the face of atrocity and abuse," they said in a statement.

The Geneva summit is being held in the Center International de Conferences Geneve, next door to the UN Human Rights Council. It's designed to educate and empower human rights activists around the world. Training sessions and workshops for rights activists will take place on the second day of the summit. It also intends to use the Internet more effectively to promote human rights campaigns globally.