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Women see gains from international human rights conference

United in mind and purpose, women are emerging as the only lobbying group likely to go home better protected, with words if not deeds, from the bitterly divided U.N. Conference on Human Rights.

Bolstered by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher's strong endorsement of their cause Monday, women's groups are pressing for a special international criminal court to protect their rights, a stronger U.N. role in preventing abuses and recognition of the "gender perspective" in all human rights treaties.

Establishment of such a special court seems beyond their grasp here at this conference. But recognition of women's rights as an integral part of human rights and a stronger U.N. hand in protecting them already are all but formally accomplished.

Wednesday, the conference's steering committee voted to exclude all non-governmental organizations from the key drafting committee, having already relegated the 2,889 representatives from 935 such groups officially registered here to the basement of the conference building.

But for the Global Campaign for Women's Human Rights, a coalition of 900 groups from 24 countries, the decision made relatively little difference because the draft of the final Vienna Declaration on human rights already includes most of their demands.

While the rest of the draft is littered with brackets, marking bitter differences over wording, the section devoted to the "Equal Status and Human Rights of Women" goes on for two pages with only four short disputed phrases.

Similarly, while hopes are fast fading for this conference to endorse the creation of a U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, the draft declaration already "welcomes" that of a special U.N. monitor of violence against women to observe and report on their treatment worldwide.

"Considering where we were two years ago, I consider it an enormous advance that they have devoted several pages to the status of women," said Charlotte Bunch, director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership and a leading figure in preparations for the conference here.

"Women come out of this conference with several pages from the declaration acknowledging for the first time that violence against women and other abuses are indeed human rights issues."

Spokeswomen for the women's campaign said that one key to their success in publicizing their cause here was agreement beforehand to concentrate on just one overarching issue _ violence against women _ and to highlight the various forms it is taking around the globe.

Tuesday, women stole the show among the non-governmental groups by staging an all-day Tribunal on Violations of Women's Human Rights at which 25 wom-en from countries around the world presented gripping personal testimony of rape, torture and general mistreatment.

After listening to Korea's Bok Dong Kim recount her life as a sex slave for eight years in "comfort houses" serving Japanese soldiers during and after World War II, a tearful Aida Daidzic began her testimony about the "genocidal rape" of Muslim women by Serbian soldiers in Bosnia by saying, "What happened in World War II is still happening to women today in Bosnia."

The conference, already deadlocked over the universality of human rights across different cultures and countries, has been an eye-opener to women about the difficult task of diplomacy that lies ahead for them at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Bejing.

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