- News and Notes
NED Honors Chinese Dissidents
On February 4, the National Endowment for Democracy presented its 1998 Democracy Award to Chinese dissidents Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan at a public ceremony in Washington, D.C. Wei, recently paroled from a Chinese prison on medical grounds and then exiled to the United States, was present to accept his award personally from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese government is still holding Wang, whose award was presented by Congressman Christopher Cox and accepted on Wang’s behalf by exiled physicist and prodemocracy figure Li Shuxian. Also speaking at the ceremony were Senator Richard Lugar and Representatives Dick Armey, David Bonior, Benjamin Gilman, Sam Gejdenson, John Edward Porter, Christopher Smith, and Dana Rohrabacher.
An electrician by training and a leading voice for freedom and human rights since the “Democracy Wall” movement of 1978–79, Wei has spent 18 years behind bars for his beliefs. Among the fruits of his detention is his recently published volume of prison letters, The Courage to Stand Alone (Viking, 1997). Wang was a student at Beijing University when he helped to lead the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989. He served his first prison term from 1989 to 1993. Rearrested in 1995, he is now serving an 11-year prison sentence.
Speaking to an audience of several hundred at the Capitol Hill ceremony, Wei thanked the people of the United States for their “selfless assistance and sincere support,” as well as for their “encouragement to the countless Chinese who are sacrificing their youth or their lives in their fight for their inalienable rights and for the [End Page 193] establishment of democracy.” Warning against the danger of “a passive and perfunctory attitude” toward the Beijing regime’s human rights violations, he denounced the idea of applying different standards to China and the West, and expressed concern that the spread of such a mindset could “negate the support and assistance given to the Chinese people by decent Americans.”
Turkish Lawyers Honored at RFK Award Ceremony
On November 20 in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy presented the 1997 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award to Sezgin Tanrikulu and Senal Sarihan. Established in 1984, the award honors individuals who have fought against overwhelming odds to increase respect for human rights. Sezgin Tanrikulu, a prominent human rights lawyer, is secretary-general of the Bar Association in Diyarbakir and founder of the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association. Senal Sarihan, president of the Contemporary Women’s Association, has worked on a number of difficult human rights cases and has been a courageous defender of women’s rights in Turkey.
In announcing the award, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, founder of the RFK Center for Human Rights, declared, “Turkey needs lawyers like Sezgin Tanrikulu and Senal Sarihan, who have dedicated their careers to strengthening the rule of law, building civil society, and improving respect for human rights.”
Association of Asian Election Authorities Formed
On February 8–10 in Manila, the Philippine Commission on Elections and the International Foundation for Election Systems co-sponsored the “Conference for the Founding of the Association of Asian Election Authorities (AAEA).” Conference participants included representatives from election bodies, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions from 21 Asian countries. Discussions focused on the draft charter and future activities of the AAEA, but also included a number of professional workshops dealing with campaign and election financing. The final Charter was signed at a ceremony on February 10 attended by guest of honor Fidel V. Ramos, president of the Republic of the Philippines.
The AAEA will seek to promote and to help institu-tionalize both open and transparent elections and independent and impartial election authorities. It will also encourage citizen participation in the electoral process and the development of resources for election-related information sharing and research. Bishnu Pratap Shah, chief election commissioner from the Election [End Page 194] Commission of Nepal, stated that his goal as AAEA chair is to “help establish an environment where elections are conducted professionally, and . . . ideas and observations are shared freely.”
OAS Celebrates Fiftieth Anniversary
On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the Organization of American States (OAS) hosted the “Conference of the Americas” on March 5 and 6 in...