- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Hearing Vital Voices

Saisuree Chutikul had restless nights after learning she would receive a major humanitarian award for her work to protect women and children from human trafficking in Thailand.

“It was overwhelming,” she said yesterday at a luncheon at the Thai Embassy. “I got so excited I couldn’t sleep for weeks. My husband asked what was wrong, and I said, ‘Vital Voices.’ He asked, ‘What did the voices tell you?’”

After she explained that Vital Voices is a global partnership that supports women who promote democracy, human rights, strong economies and peace, her husband shared her excitement. Tonight, Mrs. Chutikul will receive the group’s Global Women Leaders award in a ceremony at the Kennedy Center.

Thai Ambassador Sakthip Krairiksh yesterday called Mrs. Chutikul a “most valuable asset to the royal Thai government.”

Mrs. Chutikul, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, is chairman of the Thai Committee on Eradication of Trafficking in Children and Women.

“She is one of [Thailands] leading champions for women and children,” Mr. Krairiksh said.

The ambassador noted that her work helped lead to the prosecution of more than 200 people charged with selling women and children into prostitution or slavery over the past two years.

Vital Voices President Theresa A. Loar, a former State Department coordinator for women’s issues, called Mrs. Chutikul “a dear person, a charming person and an incredibly effective person.”

“Allow us to shine a little light on you,” she added.

Melanne Verveer, the group’s chairman and former chief of staff to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, said she visited Thailand to see Mrs. Chutikul’s “Herculean work.”

She praised Mrs. Chutikul and the Thai government “for tackling this problem head-on.”

Mrs. Clinton, now a Democratic senator from New York, is an honorary chairman of Vital Voices, along with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, and Nancy Kassebaum Baker, a former Republican senator from Kansas.

AIDS relief for Africa

African ambassadors are thankful that Congress has acted quickly on President Bush’s $15 billion AIDS relief bill and hope that other nations will match the U.S. contribution to help fight the disease, which is wiping out generations of Africans.

“We are happy by the outcome,” Swaziland Ambassador Mary M. Kanya said yesterday.

Both houses of Congress passed the bill, and the House yesterday was expected to approve a Senate amendment to the measure. Mr. Bush hopes to sign the bill before leaving next week for the Group of Eight economic summit in France, a congressional official said.

Last week, the entire African diplomatic corps of more than 50 ambassadors endorsed an open letter to support the bill.

Ambassador Robel Olhaye, who as the most senior African diplomat organized the letter, praised Mr. Bush for “taking this initiative.”

“We hope President Bush in his meeting with the G-8 will bring this U.S. accomplishment to the attention, and I’m sure he will plead for similar commitments from his G-8 partners,” he said yesterday.

Mr. Olhaye said, “This initiative will go a long way to help eliminate this pandemic in Africa. A lot of families are suffering, a lot of lives have been lost and more will be lost unless we get an international commitment.”

In their open letter, the ambassadors noted that Africa had suffered more from the disease than any other continent.

“More than 30 million people have died from AIDS in the last two decades, nearly as many as the entire population of South Africa,” they said.

“An additional 40 million people are infected with the [AIDS] virus, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean. If nothing changes, this tragic situation will become much worse by the end of the decade.

“We need the help of the American people and the international community to turn back this disease.”

The bill will provide assistance to Botswana, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. It also will help two Caribbean countries, Guyana and Haiti.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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