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Large international human rights conference on in Byron in July


12 June 2003
Issues such as paedophilia, war, terrorism and refugees will be tackled in the only international human rights conference in Australia this year, being hosted by Southern Cross University (SCU) in Byron Bay early next month.

More than 115 speakers from around Australia and overseas, including Ireland, England, Singapore, Indonesia and South Africa, will address the ‘Activating Human Rights & Diversity Conference, Local and Global Voices’, to be held in the Byron Bay Community Centre from Tuesday, July 1 to Friday, July 4.

The conference is hosted by SCU’s inter-disciplinary Centre for Law, Politics and Culture. The Convenor is Dr Baden Offord, a Principal Researcher in the Centre, and a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at SCU.

Keynote speakers include:
· Monica McWilliams, leader of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (party), a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Professor of Women's Studies and Social Policy at the University of Ulster, and a frequent international speaker, who will speak on human rights and conflict resolution;

· Prize-winning author Raimond Gaita, and Professor of Moral Philosophy at King's College, London, and Foundation Professor of Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University, who will speak on calling crimes by their right name: genocide;

· Leader of the Singapore Democratic Party and Opposition Leader, Dr Chee Soon Juan, who was sacked from his job as a university lecturer for standing for a by-election and forced to pay US$300,000 (about A$480,000) in damages, who will speak on ‘Human rights: dirty words in Singapore’. Dr Chee has been awarded the 2003 Defender of Democracy Award by the Parliamentarians for Global Action;

· Dita Indah Sari, a labour, political and women's rights activist in Indonesia who was jailed for three years for defending workers’ rights, who will speak on human rights in Indonesia;

· Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Sev Ozdowski, who will speak on the relevance of human rights in contemporary Australia; and

· Head of the Law School at Reading University in the UK, Professor Carl Stychin, who will speak on the globalisation of human rights claims.

“The aim of this conference is to bring together activists, scholars, Non Government Organisations (NGOs), and health care and community workers who represent a diversity of viewpoints,” Dr Offord said.

“The conference will seek local and global responses to the essential need for justice in the world today in relation to the fields of law, culture, politics and health,” he said.

There will be a Special (Women’s) Forum, on Tuesday July 1, 5pm-7pm, ‘Women, Human Rights, Globalisation and Terrorism’, including such high-profile women Speakers as former Democrats leader Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja, Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, Indigenous elder and Director of Melbourne University’s Centre for Indigenous Education Lillian Holt, and Professor McWilliams. Best-selling author Di Morrissey will be the MC. The forum is also open to the public and free.

The conference will be opened by the Honourable Justice John Dowd AO, Chancellor of Southern Cross University and a NSW Supreme Court judge on Tuesday, July 1, at 2.30pm. Justice Dowd has long held an interest in and been involved in human rights issues, including as a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists.

Federal Minister for Youth and Community Affairs Larry Anthony will attend the final session of the conference on Friday, 4 July, 5.45pm-6.30pm, to receive youth resolutions arising out of the Youth on Justice program (see below).

NSW Governor, Professor Marie Bashir AC, and The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG, are among those who have given messages of support to the conference. AusAID has also provided $43,000 in funding to cover the attendance costs of seven speakers from developing countries, including Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

There are several events occurring in conjunction with the conference. They include:

· Activating Human Rights Film Festival, which has been organised for the first time in regional Australia to highlight and promote human rights issues around the world. The festival begins on the last night of the conference, Friday at 8pm, and continues over Saturday and Sunday. Opening night features the world premiere of a documentary by NSW north coast filmmaker Cathy Henkel, ‘Face to Face’, about violence and her search for justice for her mother in South Africa. Conference speaker, former South African Woman of the Year, prominent activist, journalist and author Charlene Smith, will open the film festival. Ms Smith, who is in the film, will also speak at the conference on confronting the world’s highest rates of sexual violence and HIV in South Africa. The film festival is open to the public: opening night $15/$12, festival pass $40/$35, day pass $25/$20, session $6;

· Youth on Justice Program, involving youth from the region and beyond in workshops during the conference. They will produce a set of Youth Resolutions, which will be formally handed to Minister Larry Anthony at the end of the conference. The resolutions will be written in the language of the UN in the hope of supporting the Australian Government’s position on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is up for review in 2004, and which Australia is a signatory to. The youth will also give brief multi-media presentations before each plenary session;

· A Local Voices Singing Global A Concert of Human Rights Songs, at the Byron Bay Beach Hotel on Thursday, 3 July, from 7.30pm, which is a free public event. It will feature SCU lecturers and singers Dr Janie Conway-Herron and Leigh Carriage, and several leading local acts such as the Hottentots and Manuhiri;

· Six students from the Amnesty International Queensland Schools Network, which also includes northern NSW, will present a panel on a range of student activism for human rights, including their personal involvement with refugees.

For more information contact Sara Crowe in the Southern Cross University media unit Ph: 02 6620 3144.