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CNN Diplomatic License

U.N. Hosts Special Session on Children's Rights

Aired May 11, 2002 - 04:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is it that you see how good we are at leading if we are not given the chances today. I cannot just wake up being a good president tomorrow whereas I've never seen what a president does.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is virtually opposition to every semicolon, but they -- you know you negotiate and it was negotiated and agreed upon.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I can say is that James Bond could not have done it better.



The U.N. took...


The United Nations was the place this week.

ROTH: Wait a minute. Hey, this is my show. What are your credentials?

ZHITNAKOVA: I'm Margarita Zhitnakova, reporter for Children's Pressline covering the United Nations Special Session on Children.

ROTH: What's that about, this conference?

ZHITNAKOVA: This is the first time that children are allowed to come to the Special Session and they're actually heard and their opinions count.

ROTH: All right. Well, let me at least do the lead here. Instead of stodgy government leaders, well there were still lots of those there, youngsters told the rich and powerful to pay attention, and they didn't always use speeches to deliver their message.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I told you this is the way it must go. You can't put the world together like that. No, I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not -- you're so stubborn. You don't know how to do it. You don't know all the answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me, who's got the larger portion here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, no.


ROTH: The skit reveals how different global groups of adults leave the children behind as they squabble over issues. More than 60 of those country's leaders appeared at the summit. A lot of other countries sent lower ranking health or education department leaders. The goal of the conference, well, to review promises made at a 1990 Children's Summit in New York and set a better course for the world's future when I will be old and gray. Well I'm halfway there now.


KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: To a world fit for children.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with 15 children. I don't know whether they're aware of the 15 children. Come here. Come here. With your permission, Mr. President, come, come. This is a conference for children, that's what you said. Come, come. This is my delegation.




BILL GATES, CO-FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, MICROSOFT: Let's recommit ourselves to developing and deploying vaccines against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. If we do this, we will change people's view of what's possible.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My government is concerned about the trafficking here and exploitation of children to prostitution and pornography.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You expect parliament not to use children as pawns, the media to provide more analysis and discussion about children and armed conflicts.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two of our speakers said that we are the future, but let us not forget that we can make an impact today and that is where our influence lies. Today is the day, not tomorrow.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through interpreter): We are children whose voices are not being heard. It is time we are taken into account. We want a world fit for children because a world fit for us is a world fit for everyone.


ROTH: One of the most dramatic moments of this children's conference occurred Tuesday when a 16-year-old youth appeared before the United Nations Security Council, extremely rare for that to happen. Wilmot from the African nation of Liberia told of how his homeland has been devastated by war.

Wilmot is here with me in the studio along with Margarita, and at the CNN U.N. office over at the U.N. is a 17-year-old delegate from Azerbaijan, Sevinj, who has seen conflict during war with neighboring Armenia. She's an advocate for children's causes.

Wilmot, what do you think about this children's conference, is it just a lot of words by people in suits and fancy dresses? What do you think?

WILMOT, LIBERIA: Well this Children's Forum you know is the -- is the situation is the place where children from all around the world come together to get their views across and to come together and brainstorm to know how far the promises made by government leaders and officials of -- you know of the delegation at the time in 1990 how far they've come (ph).

ROTH: But you like -- do you like this summit? Do you think it's worthwhile? WILMOT: Yes, I think it's worthwhile. I think its timing (ph) because the rights of the children has come to a point in time that it must be respected. Is it -- you know it has not reached that time where it should be respected, it has reached where it must be respected.

ROTH: All right, well...

WILMOT: And I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I think this conference is at a point in time right here (ph).

ROTH: All right -- Margarita.

ZHITNAKOVA: Why are you so sure that the children will be listened to and it's not just for show and tell?

ROTH: Do you think it's all show and tell or do you think they really mean what they say, the leaders here?

WILMOT: Well they really mean what they say because from my own experience, and I had the opportunity to meet the security Council on Tuesday, and after the talk, after the discussion, I realized that they were paying attention to me and not only me, but the other two of us who were there, you know they were paying attention to us and that they really listened to us. So I think that it's not a time where they're going to just be listening to speeches and no actions, I think this is a time that they're going to actions.

ROTH: All right, well let's bring Sevinj in at the U.N. there. She's from Azerbaijan, certainly a land that has seen a lot of war and trouble. What do you think of this children's conference? What are you going to get out of it?

SEVINJ, AZERBAIJAN: OK, I liked it very much because we are -- we are -- children of the world need to meet each other and to discuss our problems together. I think that we in these three days we spent our days good and we discussed each other problems and tried to find the ways how to solve them.

ROTH: Have you been -- have you been impressed by the people you've met there, Sevinj, or do you not really feel that in awe or scared of all of these people? Are you comfortable at this type of summit?


ROTH: OK, those are the short answers we'd like the adults to give on this show -- Margarita.

ZHITNAKOVA: What issues are you here to represent, Sevinj?

SEVINJ: Protect children from war.

ROTH: And what -- tell us what you've seen back home.

SEVINJ: As you know, our country is living in vorcertation (ph) about 15 years and we have one million refugees, and there is among of them refugee children which are facing with a lot of problems. They are living in IDP (ph) camps and they have problems such as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) health system or information.

ROTH: Thank you, Sevinj.

Wilmot, I -- you were seen in these so-called intergenerational meetings and you mingled with all these people. I know the children have all of these messages, we are the victims, we are street children, children of war. Do -- Sevinj or Wilmot, you can answer this, do you think there's too many messages here? We want to see an end to war, health care, education, end of AIDS, I mean how is the U.N. going to do all of this?

WILMOT: It's not too much messages. But all of these things come under the CRC, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that convention which was put into play in 1990 the United World Summit on Children, there government leaders, delegates from all around the world came together and started fitting (ph) that at least it's time now that children's rights must be respected. And so all of these things we want, our rights to be respected, I want to be protected from violence, from war, I want to be educated. All of these things, they are not things that have just come into play, they are not too much as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) been saying. They are all one because they are all the rights of the children.

ZHITNAKOVA: Can you tell us a little bit about your country and what the problems there are?

WILMOT: Well the major problem in my country is war. You know that do (ph) in that -- in that beautiful land on the west coast of Africa is -- you know has been going through war a very long time now. I call it a very long time because from 1990 we had war up until 1997 when people went to elections and from 1999-2000, you know, it began again. And so the children at that -- and at that point in time they are very much suffering in that. Since 1990 the amount -- you know the amount of street children has been increasing two and half (ph) and not been going to school. And so that is the major problem in my country now, war.

ROTH: And there's heavy fighting there this past week. I mean should...

WILMOT: Yes, yes, yes.

ROTH: ... President Taylor go? Should he leave office?

WILMOT: Well I can't say because I don't study politics and I'm a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- I'm a child, and according to the CRC, it says that children should not be politicized. But I can talk of -- from the point of view of the children, I know that the children are suffering because of the war. I can't say who is responsible for the war, but I know that everyone is responsible for peace and it's everyone's business to talk about peace, that I know very well.

And one thing I want to add is that people have seen that -- you know that children must be educated first they know (ph) before going farther (ph) you know in preventing war and things like that. But I think is that if there is no war and you know then we can move forward to education, because in the presence of war, even if you have all the fascinating (ph) and the some (ph) plans for education, you're not going to have them.

ROTH: Well you've got a lot of adults though...


ROTH: ... who are -- who have other agendas and are pushing guns and local economy issues such as diamonds...

WILMOT: Diamonds.

ROTH: ... and it's too profitable.


ROTH: They don't seem to care about the children.

ZHITNAKOVA: Do you think that people here in front of the United Nations are expecting too much from you or do they want you to know more than you know or you think you should know?

WILMOT: Well I can't say that it has been too much for me, you know, because we are children and we almost have equal participation and that. But I think they are expecting the highest output from me as rep (ph) from Liberia in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from my child's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You know and the issue affecting the Liberian children at least you know I think that how much they expect from me.

ROTH: All right, Sevinj, what do you want the outcome of this conference to be? If you looked at the videotape of this program 10 years from now, maybe I'll still be around, what do you expect the plight of the world's children to be by then? What would you hope to have accomplished here by this summit?

SEVINJ: OK, I think that we, children of the world, we shouldn't wait for adults for to do something for us. We must be as one. We must help each other. We must support each other and to try to solve our problems together, and of course I believe that just everything will be -- will be OK. And we are together with all children in the world to also with adults we'll build a peaceful and a better future.

ROTH: All right. Margarita, let me ask you a question now, what do you think of this conference?

ZHITNAKOVA: Well, I don't think that the children are being taken very seriously. I think they're just there for show because when we talked to like some of the delegates, they said that they're not being like listened to well enough and that they're just like that we heard that everything was decided for HIV/AIDS and education and there was basically no point of going on with those two groups so.

ROTH: OK. Wilmot, your final thoughts as you go back to Liberia. I mean the Security Council, we talked to one ambassador there who said, and I don't want to get into politics, but they said that the Security Council, which you spoke in front of so eloquently, is treating Liberia really or throwing away Liberia to help Sierra Leone that that -- the goal is to preserve a strong Sierra Leone. What do you think of the reception at the Security Council, do you think you got through to them?

WILMOT: Well, if they're saying that then it will surely mean that they are not applying what the CRC says. Because according to the Convention on the Rights of a Child, which is a constitution for the rights of the children, it says that all children must be treated equally and you know and children must have equal protection, equal rights respected. And so if the Liberian children who are going on a war even though -- even though they would be saying that, it is because of this person that a war is going on and because of that a person don't want to agree and that's -- that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they're not going to do, you know, bring any help to Liberia. They should understand that it is the children who are suffering.

One thing that I realized from the Children's Forum is that there was this statement that was made by someone, it really touched me. It said war and politics are the games of the adults but the children are always a victim. And that's true. I realized that because we have found that these big people, you know officials of government of the diplomatic area and of the United Nations, will be arguing on one thing and you and I agree, I'm not agreeing this or that, but they should understand that the children are the victim in today (ph) and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the children will be left (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and they'll be left without a proper education, no future.

So I think it is that -- one thing is that they should not be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) future on one side of the issue and you know not looking at other. Children must be, you know -- you know, treated equally. And if that should be done, that means that the children's plight in Liberia at present it must be taken into consideration.

ROTH: Wilmot, thank you for handling the political, the social, the children's questions, very well done. Thank you very much for being here on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE.

WILMOT: Thank you.

ROTH: Good luck to you back home in Africa in Liberia.

And also at the United Nations, thank you, Sevinj from Azerbaijan, Baku here at the U.N. for the first time. Get to -- don't get too comfortable in that reporter's seat over there, but good luck back home. Thank you.

SEVINJ: Thank you.

ROTH: This Children's Summit was spearheaded by UNICEF. This agency knows how to use celebrities for the benefit of children's causes. If you're thinking of the late actress Audrey Hepburn, so am I and so did UNICEF and other goodwill ambassadors who gathered to honor Hepburn at the Children's Summit with the unveiling of a bronze statue called "The Spirit of Audrey."


ROGER MOORE, UNICEF GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: We are here to celebrate the life of our friend Audrey Hepburn and her second and greatest career as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and what a career it was. We are celebrating with a wonderful new sculpture,"The Spirit of Audrey."



HARRY BELAFONTE, UNICEF GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: The statue will now be available for everyone to be able to come and to see and to remember the remarkable woman who did remarkable things for all of us.



AUDREY HEPBURN, UNICEF GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: And this is what happens if you learn to read and write. OK.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Audrey served UNICEF and the children of the world as a goodwill ambassador from 1988 until her unfortunate death in 1993.



CAROL BELLAMY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UNICEF: Audrey saw her role as an ambassador very clearly, to speak out on behalf of children who cannot speak for themselves. That's what our ambassadors do. They don't just sit around saying oh I do some work for UNICEF, you know, that's kids. They go out there, they visit, they go to really difficult places.



BELAFONTE: And as UNICEF goodwill ambassadors, our role is not only to show what the world is but to show what the world should be.



NANE ANNAN: Audrey Hepburn is a role model for all of us and her legacy lives on through the tireless work of all those who give from themselves so generously of their time and their talent in the course of a better world for children.



HEPBURN: OK. Bye-bye.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I just end on a note of exasperation. These are important matters. We should not be taking action on matters which, for many of us, we're having to confront at 10 or 15 minutes or half an hour's notice. We have rules of procedure for a good reason, and I very much hope that in considering such matters in future we can find a way of working where we can proceed, you know, in a better way. Thank you very much.


ROTH: That's Australia's deputy ambassador as tensions ran high in the U.N. General Assembly and it was not because all the children were around.

Well, joining us now from the CNN U.N. office is Afsane Bassir Pour.

Afsane, inside that General Assembly, Russia forced 20 or more votes on a resolution that the Palestinians and the Arab group were interested in because they didn't get satisfaction on the Jenin fact- finding panel from Secretary-General Annan, more specifically, from the Security Council. In other words, no panel according to the Security Council.

What do they get out of the General Assembly and why was everybody angry in there?

AFSANE BASSIR POUR, LE MONDE: Well, you know what they got was a nibbling a little more at U.N.'s credibility. I mean you called to vote, they voted paragraph by paragraph. It was really ridiculous. And they got a sort of a condemnation of Israel for refusing the panel. They came back, it happened...

ROTH: This came hours after the...

POUR: Exactly.

ROTH: ... terror attack on a pool hall.

POUR: Absolutely.

ROTH: They voted to condemn Israel for attacks on the Palestinians,... POUR: Even (ph) voted...

ROTH: ... but they called for an investigation of Jenin.

POUR: They did. Fifty-four countries abstained, 74 countries voted. And as you mentioned, they voted paragraph by paragraph. This doesn't mean anything really. Now what is important is that indeed the commission to investigate in Jenin is not going to happen.

So now the U.N. has a new mandate which is to write a report -- to come up with a report based on the available information which is information from non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch, information from the Secretary-General's special representative Terje Roed-Larsen who was there, from U.N. relief agencies. So to compile a lot of information and come up with a new report on not just what happened in Jenin but basically what happened during this period of fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Now one important point I wanted to make is that the information will also be based on the U.N. development program who came up with a report talking of hundreds of millions of dollars of destruction. And now who's going to pay for that? I bet there won't be much debate on that one.

ROTH: This is similar to what happened in 1997 when there was another settlement issue and dispute where the U.N. was ordered to come up with a fact-finding report. But the bang is kind out of this story, isn't it though?

POUR: Oh definitely. I mean you know we had on Thursday Israel's Justice Minister here kind of throwing in a red herring. I mean I -- personally, I kind of understand why Israel didn't want this mission because they have no confidence in the U.N....

ROTH: Well what are the...

POUR: ... because of these votes in the General Assembly.

ROTH: What's the red herring?

POUR: The red herring is he was speaking as if he'd just come out of the Secretary-General's office with a new fact-finding mission, one that would be acceptable to Israel. But when I spoke on Thursday to, you know, U.N. people, they say there's no talk of a mission because what the -- what Israel wants is basically to choose its own members of a new commission which is not going to happen. That commission is water under the bridge...

ROTH: All right.

POUR: ... and they're just going to work on a report.

ROTH: And what happens with the Security Council and Iraq, in 20 seconds, a topic we keep talking about, regarding sanctions? POUR: Well they're supposed to vote on Monday a set of kind of overhauling the economic sanctions that, as you know, have been in place since 1991. They're not quite what we called intelligent sanctions, which is what Colin Powell, Secretary of State, when he came to power wanted, because he wanted not only easing of humanitarian goods into Iraq but he also wanted a closing of the borders...

ROTH: All right.

POUR: ... so that illegal oil wouldn't go out but that is not happening.

ROTH: All right. I've got to close you down. I don't like to do that, but we've got -- we've got to let children come first here.

POUR: Sure.

ROTH: Thank you, Afsane.

I've got to go to someone younger here, by the way.

POUR: Slightly.

ROTH: Yes, all right.

Have you seen any movies lately?


ROTH: What'd you see?

ZHITNAKOVA: "Spider-Man" and "Harry Potter."

ROTH: Which was better?

ZHITNAKOVA: "Harry Potter."

ROTH: All right, well we're talking about movies. With all the children in the U.N. house, the U.N. was one big happy family this week, Margarita, but it was kind of this dysfunctional, bizarre, flamboyant family portrayed in the movie "Royal Tenenbaums." Did you see that movie?

ZHITNAKOVA: No, I didn't hear of it yet.

ROTH: You never heard of it. Well I'm going to tell you about it. It included Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress, Gene Hackman and another man who was a friend of the U.N. and apparently a bit of a problem for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.


ANNAN: Ever since the release of the film "The Royal Tenenbaums," people don't seem to know the difference between who is Kofi and who is Danny. (LAUGHTER)




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is my personal deep hope that we will change something in the world since today will change for better. Thank you for your attention and say yes. Say yes. Say yes. Say yes. Thank you.


ROTH: Parents usually give in to this Say Yes campaign for allowance money or grilled cheese sandwiches, but this is a very different Say Yes demand. The children want everyone to listen to children, protect children from war, fight poverty, all part of saying yes. More than 94 million children have pledged to support these key ways to improve the world for children. This all started on the Internet, and the pledges were presented at the Children's Special Session. I think I heard 94 million of them, Margarita.

If this children's conference has shown one thing, it has demonstrated that children are suffering in large numbers around the world and in particular, during conflict. This week at U.N. headquarters in New York, a special photo exhibit was launched to draw attention to a growing problem.


OLARA OTUNNU, U.N. SPECIAL REP. ON CHILDREN AND WAR: One of the most unacceptable aspects of war and the impact of war on young people is what war does to girls. When you go to the displaced camps, the largest numbers tend to be the young girls.


ROTH: The exhibit, "The Impact of Armed Conflict on Girls, ran only this week in New York. The reality, unfortunately, runs on.

Well listen, Margarita, thank you very much for being here with us on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE.

ZHITNAKOVA: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

ROTH: Well you're welcome back anytime.

ZHITNAKOVA: I'll be back.

ROTH: And hopefully not 10 years from the last summit.

That's DIPLOMATIC LICENSE for all ages. I'm Richard Roth with Margarita Zhitnakova in New York. Thanks for watching.