I read the US Supreme Court Ruling on marriage equality, legalizing same-sex marriage. I am glad to see many of my American friends happy after such a long struggle for marriage equality. The fight against legal discrimination based on sexual preference is over. Same-sex couples’ love and commitment to one another is now equally recognized by law. They will be treated by law with no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples. Societal attitudes will change accordingly giving it time. Inequality and lack of respect of same-sex couples including their children deprive them of many social and economic benefits that are provided by the States linked to marital status. In the United States, marriage, being considered as the foundation of the family and society, State places marriage institution at the core of so many facets of the legal and social order. Different State provides different benefits to opposite-sex marriage couples covering many aspects, from taxation, inheritance and property rights, spousal privilege, hospital access, medical decision-making authority, adoption rights, rights and benefits of survivors, birth and death certificate, workers’ compensation benefits, health insurance, to child custody support and visitation rules. The Court stated in this verdict that although limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of fundamental right to marry is now manifest. The law which exclude same-sex couples from the marriage right imposted stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by the basic charter in the US Constitution. As of yesterday, same-sex couples in the Unites States have rejoice in winning the legal battle in exercising the fundamental right, accorded to all American citizens to marry legally who ever they want (just like any other opposite-sex couples). This important Supreme Court Ruling will change economic and social life of the United States in a fundamental way. It is nice to see it happens in my life time.
Living creatures under the sea and ocean water are beautiful and diverse as you can see them in the few of my paintings under the theme of “Sea Life” series. I enjoy looking at them and painting them for use in promoting its’ conservation to safeguard the environment. No need really to emphasize that the health of marine lives depends on clean sea water and the healthy ocean environment. Therefore, I am concern to learn from the UN reports that marine lives are in danger not only from ocean pollution but also from being destroyed by human fishing activities and bioprospecting in the deep sea. It is worrisome to learn about the vulnerability of marine lives beyond national jurisdiction particularly in the seamounts, hydro-thermal vents and cold-water coral reefs. The United Nations General Assembly have been discussing biological diversity issues for some time now, and I also know that since 1993, when the Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force, some member states have taken some action, according to international law, in trying to stop the destructive fishing practices that have damaging impacts on marine biodiversity and ecosystem. The sustainable use of genetic resources is another issue of concern to International Community. It is good to know that governments are negotiating the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of these marine resources. This week, the Ninth UN Working Group on Marine Biodiversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction meets at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The expected outcome is to produce recommendations for a decision to be taken at the 69th Session of the General Assembly on the development of a new international instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. I think It is our duty to support this United Nations effort to protect and conserve bio-diversity of marine lives which I think is one of the most important activity in safeguarding the world’s environment.
I do not want to be subjected to arbitrary interference with my privacy, family, home or correspondence by officials of any country where I live. For I do believe that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. It has always been comforting for me to know that my right to privacy is respected and guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights. But I am also aware of the danger to my personal security living in today’s digitised World and working in social media. My privacy and personal safety could be easily compromised in just an instant because of what I write or say online in an e-mail, Facebook or Twitter accounts. And, unknowingly one day, I could get a surprise visit by any suspicious state official who then get my computer confiscated as a result of a random surveillance activity by state authority. It is easy for our human rights to be violated through electronic surveillance, governmental interception of digital communications and collection of personal data such as medical records, banking activities or financial transactions. Today, we have good news on this from that United Nations that the General Assembly just adopted, by consensus, a resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age. The representative of member states have adopted new measures to end activities that violate people’s human rights to privacy, offline and online digital communication. They agreed to comply with the obligations under the international human rights law, and to find ways to establish or maintain existing independent, transparent, and effective domestic oversight that includes accountability in the surveillance and interception of communications and the collection of personal data. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was asked to prepare and submit an official report on the protection and promotion of the right to privacy in digital age to the Human Rights Council next year at it’s 27th session in Geneva, and later to the 69th Session of the General Assembly in New York. I want to express my appreciation of the efforts of Ms. Pillay and the good work of her office at international level to defend human rights to privacy. But successful implementation of this important resolution depends on action by UN Member States. They should listen to her warning, which I totally agree with, that surveillance without adequate safeguards to protect the right to privacy actually risk impacting negatively on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. People need to be confident that their private communications are not being unduly scrutinised by the State.
Is high-tech and digitized hospital an answer to having a quality health care for people living in today’s world? It is the question that I have after reading about new Hight-Tech Hospital recently opened in Bangkok, the Ramkhamhaeng . The aim of this private hospital is to give efficient and faster services to patients and paid customers. The hospital’s administration proudly made announcements that they are equipped with the most modern computer network system for registration of patients, robots to dispense drugs. They give to patients smart identification card which include a guide containing data and barcode. They would inform the patients, as they enter the hospital compound, to use this ID card at every step of the way when they get treatment and service inside. The hospital officials also use barcode scanner to guarantee the right identification of each patient, and the matching of the name with the right record on the right file. After diagnosis of each case by doctors, who make an input of the result into the computer memory to make sure of the accuracy of the disease of each patient, the right treatment and the right prescription of medications for the patient. This is my question. Is this kind of fast, impersonal service what most of the patients want? A large number of patients in Thailand have no working knowledge of computer technology. They are not yet “into” the digital age. Many of them can barely read or write. Some have real fear of technology. Before duplicate this kind of a high-tech hospital, I suggest that a “focus group” be conducted with potential users of hospital service. My guest is that many of them would prefer to have a “human friendly” hospital rather than dealing with robots and computer touch screen and keyboard. I have nothing against high-tech hospital, but when I don’t feel well or sick walking into a hospital, I will be more comfortable to see and talk to a human person rather than insert a card into a cold machine.
Before the Bangkok Flood of 2011, I did not realize that the rising flood water could force me to look seriously at the clean water supply and the scarcity of drinking water problems. I often take it for granted that water will always be there, available for me to use whenever I want. During the period of flood in the city, dirty flood water got mix-up with the municipality’s canal system which provide clean water for most households use. We were warned by the government not to use contaminated water for cooking and drinking. I had to go to the neighborhood store to buy bottled-drinking water, but I found out that the shelfs were all emptied. People began to stockpile cases of bottled-water at the first warning of flood. I was too late, and ended-up having to buy several bottles of soda water and beer to drink instead. Hard to believe that this could happen in the capital city of Thailand when we used to have plenty of water from the rain six month yearly. I never thought that it could happen to me when I came from New York to visit my ailing mother. That was a hard lesson for me to learn. Luckily the major part of that flood did not reach Sukhumvit areas where my mother lives. So I survived the crisis. But I know that many people in other flooding areas had suffered a lot. No one can survive without clean drinking for a day. And the Thai government emergency water distribution did not reach people fast enough. The experience have made me pay a particular attention to all discussions on the subject relating to clean water. The dialogues among government officials and water experts at the 2nd Asian and Pacific Water Summit held last month in Chiangmai provided valuable information on the problems of water resources management, and the distribution of drinking water when disaster hit. Asia and Pacific leaders came together to share their country’s experiences and to set a new policy on the establishment of water information system. They also focused on the inter-connectedness of clean water supply, food security, and sanitation, especially when a disaster strikes. Water availability at community level is most important for the survival of people, especially those who live in urban areas. In Thailand, we used to store rain water in earth jars or aluminium tanks for household use, but people don’t do that any more. They all rely on water coming out of the government water-pipe. I am glad that leaders in the Asia and Pacific region were aware of this problem. They unanimously agreed on the Chiangmai Declaration committed to promote efficient use of water resources, reduce water pollution, improve water quality, and protect sources of fresh water. The urban water security was included in the effort to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal of universal access to water and sanitation by 2025. With climate change that we are facing today, nobody can wait that long. Scarcity of drinking water is a survival issues for most of us right now. For me, it is personal security and human rights issues.
It is a good time at the beginning of this year to take stock of good news in safeguarding our world’s environment. In Spring, this year the World Resource Institute will launch a website that gives us high-resolution near real-time images and statistics to monitor the disappearing of world’s forest. Two countries, Indonesia and Brazil, should be proud of themselves for making progress in the decline of deforestation. But a lot of work still needs to be done to grow more trees and to maintain good condition of existing forests for the health of our planet. We have to do more than just “hugging a tree” or making a rhetoric statement about how the forest is so important to the green economy. We have been warned that more than half of the world’s original mangrove forest are disappearing at the same time as the rising of sea-water due to the melting Icecaps in the North and the South poles. Progress have been made in other countries to better managing the oceans and the coastal eco-system. The Blue Carbon Community is one group that gets support from the United Nations Environment Programme. Together they have created new website to share experiences among members of the network and the rest of us in the world. This new portal will be a source of useful information on the coordinated activities in sustainable development. This significant new initiative can stop the degradation of the coastal ecosystem. The Blue Carbon Community will use information from the portal to maintain carbon storage to avoid accumulation of the greenhouse gas emission into the world’s atmosphere which is one of the main causes of climate change. To follow-up the Rio Environment Summit outcome last year, the “future that I want” is the future that an individual is able to cooperative in common action with members of governments and non-governmental organizations to deal with the problem of climate change in a comprehensive way. Climate change must be treated seriously as the danger which can bring disaster to all life on earth. No matter which continent that we live in, we have to get ourselves involved in taking urgent “time-framed” action during the following months of 2013.
The number of youth in Today’s world is growing fast. There are 1.8 billions of them, and up to 43 per cent of the world’s population is under the age of 25 as estimated by the United Nations. This rapid increase of this age group in the population is of particular concern to many people working in national and international organizations, namely, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Realizing that youth of both sexes in all developing countries are key actors influencing the population growth rate, for decades, UNFPA has developed successful advocacy programs to encourage adolescents and youth groups to behave responsibly in their sexual and reproductive activities. These programs have made a lot of differences to the achievement of world sustainable development. Peer-group discussions on prevention of HIV/AIDS and safe-sex help to guarantee success. All through the nineties, UNFPA has organized, with governments and non-governmental organizations, roundtable discussion on various population issues to ensure reproductive rights, to review the effectiveness of sexual and reproductive health programs, to equally involve young women and men in family planning communication and the distribution of condoms and other contraceptives to those in need. At the end of this year, from 4-6 December, UNFPA is a key sponsor of the Global Youth Forum to be held in Bali, Indonesia. It is expected that 900 young women and men will come together to brain storm and further strategize new priorities for action in population, reproductive rights, health and family planning as set out in the ICPD Program of Action, ICPD Beyond 2014. Application is still opened for youth around the world who wish to participate.
In 1994, I ran into Joan Dunlop in Egypt when I attended the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo. When I walked from the Plenary hall into the exhibition area, my eyes caught Joan kneeling down to talk with Bella Abzug in front of her chair. The two of them were surrounded by Catholic priests and the “Right to Life” activists displayed a box of fetus and women’s womb that made of plastic to delegates and other Conference participants. A part of their publicity campaign against abortion and women’s right to be in charge of their own body and reproductive health. I took the pictures of what I saw that day because it showed us how difficult it was then in advocacy for women’s health and safe motherhood. This group of church-supported activists, combined with the representatives of conservative male-dominated governments and non-governmental organizations, were the main obstacles to the inclusion of women’s rights and reproductive health into the Cairo Programme of Action. By fighting against safe-abortion for women’s health, they were promoting a “forced pregnancy” on women and prevent them of reproductive choice.
Joan Dunlop, former President of the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Bella Abzug, former USA Congresswoman and many other key women’s right activists fought this kind of battle for us in many other venues not just in Cairo to put women’s right issues on international agendas.Now that both of them are no longer with us, and with Joan recent passing, I want to honor them by putting my 1994 photographs online. Both Joan and Bella were two of my friends who have gone through a lot of troubles to fight for our rights especially the right to be in control of our own health and well-being.
We owed it to them that since 1994, women have these rights guaranteed by the United Nations and at world level as written in the ICPD Programme of Action adopted in Cairo. That Conference had made a shift to the framework of reproductive rights and reproductive health in addressing population and family planning policies. Joan and Bella lobbied very hard among NGOs and government delegations to get there. They did succeed in reconfirming the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so. The ICPD Programme of Action also guaranteed the rights of women to make decisions concerning reproduction, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.
I remember well the many discussions I had with Joan on women’s rights/development throughout the 70s and the 80s, starting in Mexico at the first UN Conference on Women (1975), then at the Wellesley Women and Development (1976), and other follow-up of WID international meetings in Washington D.C. I have a happy memory of my lunch, at her invitation, at the restaurant for executives high above the clouds on top of the J.D.Rockefeller Foundation in New York City. It is my honor to join in the celebration of her life and the various important contributions that she had made to women’s rights and health globally.
Social Media was wonderfully active this week in connecting people around the World to join discussions and seminars on the “future we want”, the theme of the ongoing United Nations Conference on Environment and Sustainable Development (Rio+20) holds in Brazil. I don’t have to pay for a trip to Rio de Janeiro to join in the these discussions or express my opinions on safeguarding the environment human rights to clean water. Sitting in my own apartment in New York City, I can join the various social media networks and become part of the most important global dialogues at this point in time. There are so many sites available via Internet Livestreams, Facebook, and Twitters as access to participate in naming: the United News Centre; #@UN_Women; #Rioplus20; #WomenRio; #GreenEconomy; #Rioplussocial; #RightsRio; #FutureWeWant. There are special websites on #water and #Waterday to link the issues of water and sanitation to the environment and sustainable development discussions. My participation in the Rio+20 Conference, through these social media and networks, has made me aware that we live in today’s World that really divides its population into two groups: those that are electronically connected and those that are not. Information technology is still out of reached by millions of people around the World. We need to put more efforts soon to close these communication gaps. The follow-up to the action plans for the future we want when agreed in Rio+20 Conference requires a full participation of every human being living on this Earth.