UNITED NATIONS: Fourth World Conference on Women Women from 185 countries convened in Beijing on Sept. 4, 1995, for the Fourth World Conference on Women. Among the prominent personalities in attendance were Pakistan's Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who delivered a stirring (and controversial) speech on September 5. The assembly agreed on a platform for action at the close of the conference on September 15. The platform's preamble called for improvements in the economic circumstances of women, protection from increasing levels of violence, and improvements in the status of girls; it also urged states to take steps to achieve these goals. The document aimed at empowering women by ensuring that they enjoyed all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The conferees sought to ensure women's equal access to economic resources including land, credit, science and technology, vocational training, information, communication and markets as ways of further advancing and empowering women and girls. The document asserted that women have the right to decide freely all matters relating to their sexuality and child-bearing and condemned forced abortions and sterilizations. Abhorring ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, it characterized the systematic rape of women in wartime as criminal and called for perpetrators to be tried as war criminals. It recognized domestic violence as a worldwide problem and censured domestic battering, sexual harassment at work, genital mutilation of girls, and attacks on women with small dowries. The platform claimed that girls are discriminated against throughout the world, often before birth in cultures where more value is placed on boys, and it censured such practices. It called upon governments and international lending institutions to support banking services and credit facilities for low-income women. Governments were urged to guarantee women equal rights with men to inherit, even if they may not inherit the same amount as men. The declaration called for strengthening, protecting, and supporting the family as the basic unit of society. Acknowledging various forms of family in different cultural, political, and social systems, it insisted that whatever the form, women must not suffer discrimination just because they are mothers. Efforts to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation failed to achieve a consensus because of objections by more than 30 national delegations. The conferees also failed to obtain sizable financial commitments from governments to pay for new programs for women, but they did elicit official pledges to redirect funds already appropriated. The document did not bind countries to action but gave the issues new visibility and served as a model for national policy makers. The conference asked the UN secretary-general to appoint an undersecretary-general for women's issues, but some feared that such a post might be politically vulnerable and face overpowering resistance from UN member nations. China had intended to enjoy the prestige of being the conference host, but its heavy-handed and oppressive security measures against the delegates and the press and pro-democracy and human rights campaigners called attention to the least attractive aspects of Chinese society. Many delegates were offended by China's exiling nongovernmental organization representatives to an inadequate site about 50 km (30 mi) from the main conference. (RICHARD N. SWIFT) URUGUAY A republic of eastern South America, Uruguay lies on the Atlantic Ocean. Area: 176,215 sq km (68,037 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 3,186,000. Cap.: Montevideo. Monetary unit: peso uruguayo, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of 6.60 pesos uruguayos to U.S. $1 (10.43 pesos uruguayos = 1 sterling). Presidents in 1995, Luis Alberto Lacalle and, from March 1, Julio Mara Sanguinetti. Having won the November 1994 elections with a majority of less than 1%, Julio Mara Sanguinetti of the centre-right Colorado Party took office as president of Uruguay on March 1, 1995. In one of his first acts as president, Sanguinetti proposed sweeping constitutional and economic reforms. The ley de lemas, a long-established electoral system that allows any number of candidates to run for president, was to be replaced by a party-based system of primary and national elections. Sanguinetti, along with the left-wing Broad Front and the Social Democratic New Space parties, believed that the change would reduce the legislative factionalism that had thwarted previous moves to tackle the country's trade gap and its social security burden. In June the minister of economy and finance, Luis Mosca, announced a five-year austerity budget aimed at reducing inflation, which was 45% in 1994, and cutting government spending from 35% of gross domestic product (GDP) to 30%. His policies, many of which had been unsuccessfully attempted by the outgoing National (Blanco) Party government, centred on tax increases and pension reforms since the cost of pensions had risen from 10% of GDP in 1990 to an estimated 15% in 1995. The general workers confederation staged a 24-hour strike protesting a bill that would postpone the retirement age and introduce a pension system based on personal savings. Further cuts included a reduction in public-sector employment and a privatization program. Mosca hoped to reduce Uruguay's trade deficit of $600 million by means of exports to Argentina and Brazil. Despite Uruguay's objections, the Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur), consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, became operational on Jan. 1, 1995. (CHERRY AUSTIN) UZBEKISTAN A republic of Central Asia, Uzbekistan borders the Aral Sea to the north, Kazakhstan to the north and west, Turkmenistan to the southwest, Afghanistan to the south, and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to the east. Area: 447,400 sq km (172,700 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 22,886,000. Cap.: Tashkent (Uzbek: Toshkent). Monetary unit: sum, with (Oct. 4, 1995) a free rate of 33.80 sumy to U.S. $1 (53.72 sumy = 1 sterling). President in 1995, Islam Karimov; prime ministers, Abdulhashim Mutalov and, from December 21, Otkir Sultonov. Throughout 1995 Uzbekistan's diplomatic representatives in the West made notable efforts to overcome the negative impression created in earlier years by their country's poor human rights record and the slow pace of market reform. Fearful of increasingly close Iranian ties with neighbouring Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan actively supported the U.S. trade embargo against Iran. In January Uzbekistan received a $74 million loan to help the country stabilize its currency and accelerate privatization. The International Monetary Fund noted that the inflation rate had been halved and the budget deficit cut to 3.5% of the gross national product, with a significant reduction in the unemployment rate. One of the major foreign deals of the year was an agreement on Japanese credits for the development of the Kokdumalak oil and gas field. Uzbekistan's new parliament, the Olii Majlis (Supreme Assembly), elected in December 1994 and January 1995, proposed a referendum on extending Pres. Islam Karimov's term in office until 2000 in order to maintain political stability. The referendum, on March 26, produced an overwhelming vote in favour of the president. A few days after the referendum, the Supreme Court sentenced several activists of the banned opposition Erk (Freedom) Democratic Party to jail terms ranging from 5 to 12 years on charges of seeking to overthrow the existing order. Protests by foreign human rights groups against the sentences and other human rights violations by the Uzbek authorities had little effect. Karimov refused to endorse Kazakh Pres. Nursultan Nazarbaev's scheme for a Eurasian Union comprising the successor states to the U.S.S.R. Although relations with Russia remained cordial, in May the Uzbek leader called for the creation of a "common Turkestan," a union of Central Asian states, to counter outside pressure on Central Asia, warning that unnamed powers could "conquer us one by one." Foreign observers concluded that his chief concern was the rise of imperialist sentiment in Russia. This concern did not prevent Karimov from expressing an interest in joining the customs union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan that went into force in 1995. Uzbekistan remained the main provider of foreign aid to civil-war-torn Tajikistan after the Russian Federation, but persistent reports throughout the year indicated that the Uzbek leadership was increasingly nervous at the presence of some 25,000 Russian troops on Tajik soil as part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping contingent stationed in that country. In early April Karimov infuriated the neocommunist government of Tajikistan when he failed to notify them that he planned to meet with the deputy head of the Tajik Islamic opposition prior to the start of talks between opposition and government representatives in Moscow. For Karimov this was a major reversal of policy, as he had been one of the chief supporters of armed CIS resistance to Islamic forces in Tajikistan since the beginning of the civil war in 1992. (BESS BROWN) This updates the article Uzbekistan. VANUATU The republic of Vanuatu, a member of the Commonwealth, comprises 12 main islands and some 60 smaller ones in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Area: 12,190 sq km (4,707 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 168,000. Cap.: Vila. Monetary unit: vatu, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of 112.30 vatu to U.S. $1 (172.53 vatu = 1 sterling). President in 1995, Jean-Marie Leye; prime ministers, Maxime Carlot Korman and, from December 21, Serge Vohor. Late in 1994 the government sought a Supreme Court ruling on controversial uses of the president's judicial power. In mid-1995 Supreme Court Judge Robert Kent resigned, claiming that the chief justice was too closely linked to the government and was acting in its interest. In 1994 the government had restructured the provincial councils, and after subsequent elections two councils each were controlled by the Unity Front (UF), the Vanuatu National United Party (VNUP), and the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP). The November elections gave no party a majority. The UF took 20 of the 50 seats, the UMP 17, and the VNUP 9. Tax issues were the subject of debate in 1995, with local businesses seeking the same tax advantages that applied to offshore companies. A 4% turnover tax went into effect on import, export, and retail businesses on April 1. When French nuclear testing resumed in September, Vanuatu refused to join the other members of the South Pacific Forum in their condemnation, on the grounds that it was France's domestic matter. (BARRIE MACDONALD) This updates the article Vanuatu. VATICAN CITY STATE The independent sovereignty of Vatican City State is surrounded by but is not part of Rome. As a state with territorial limits, it is properly distinguished from the Holy See, which constitutes the worldwide administrative and legislative body for the Roman Catholic Church. Area: 44 ha (109 ac). Pop. (1995 est.): 1,000. As sovereign pontiff, John Paul II is the chief of state. Vatican City is administered by a pontifical commission of five cardinals headed by the secretary of state, in 1995 Angelo Cardinal Sodano. The year 1995 began with a powerful expression of support for Pope John Paul II during his visit to the Philippines, where half a million faithful gathered for mass with the Holy Father. This titanic display of sympathy belied troubled relations with Asia's largest Roman Catholic country, which had implemented family-planning methods that were in contrast with the teachings of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Concern for moral issues punctuated the entire year, and even at home the Holy See felt compelled to require that its 1,350 lay employees endorse a code allowing them to be sacked for such moral lapses as abortion and divorce. Another doctrinal issue was the ordination of women, on which the pope's ban was reasserted. The Vatican maintained a high profile in world affairs, including visits by the pope to the U.S., Sri Lanka, Slovakia, and a host of other countries. After the slaying of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see OBITUARIES) in November, the pontiff received Rabin's widow, as well as the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in order to discuss problems for peace in the Middle East. It was another positive financial year for the Holy See, which continued the recent trend of operating in the black after years of budgetary worries. (GREGORY O. SMITH) See also RELIGION: Roman Catholic Church. This updates the article VATICAN CITY. VENEZUELA A republic of northern South America, Venezuela lies on the Caribbean Sea. Area: 912,050 sq km (352,144 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 21,844,000. Cap.: Caracas. Monetary unit: bolvar, with (Oct. 6, 1995) an official (fixed) rate of 170 bolivares to U.S. $1 (268.75 bolivares = 1 sterling). President in 1995 Rafael Caldera. The year 1995 began as 1994 had ended; following the collapse of a major financial group, Grupo Latino Americano, in December, January saw the failure of three more banks, leading to state intervention in Banco Italo-Venezolano, Banco Profesional, and Banco Principal. Two other banks, Banco Unin and Banco Federal, almost collapsed at the same time but were rescued by private bailout packages. By the end of August, 18 of the 41 private banks that had existed at the beginning of 1994 had been taken over by the government, and an estimated 70% of commercial bank deposits were under government control. In early February, Finance Minister Julio Sosa Rodrguez resigned, and Pres. Rafael Caldera appointed Luis Ral Matos Azcar as his replacement. Although a recent political opponent of Caldera, Azcar supported the president in the face of growing Cabinet divisions over economic policy. Not only did the president win support for the retention of government controls, but he also won greater-than-normal powers from Congress with three new bills. The new exchange regime bill imposed severe penalties for breaking exchange controls; the consumer protection law established price controls and state intervention in the affairs of private business; and the finance emergency law allowed direct control of the banking system. These laws also allowed Caldera to restore the constitutional rights that had been suspended at the end of June 1994 in an attempt to prevent capital flight and seize assets from fugitive bankers. Although inflation figures for the first seven months of 1995 were an improvement on the previous year--25.5% compared with 37.6%--inflationary pressure remained high owing to price controls. The government's target of 40% annual inflation looked increasingly unrealistic, and by September the annual figure had been set at 57%. An anti-inflation pact agreed to between government, unions, and the main employers confederation fell apart when it became apparent that the government's revised budget proposals would prove inadequate to reduce the growing deficit. Ocepre, the government's budget office, forecast a 1995 deficit of $5.4 billion, or 6.9% of gross domestic product (GDP), but only $3.8 billion was allocated for debt servicing in the 1995 budget plan. Some efforts were made to cut government expenditure, namely, by not increasing public-sector wages in line with inflation. Two weeks before unions were asked to accept a pay freeze, however, Congress voted itself a 46% pay increase, which only encouraged unions to demand a doubling of the minimum wage. Labour tensions grew steadily throughout the year. A strike by air traffic controllers was ended by military intervention, and court employees paralyzed the entire judicial system for weeks during an industrial action that ended in August. Social unrest grew, and disturbances became a frequent occurrence in all major cities as a consequence of rising food prices and shortages of basic goods. On September 10 the government risked further public disquiet when it raised gasoline prices. The average cost more than doubled but was still below production cost of 10.5 bolvares per litre (26 cents per gallon). Revenue from the state-owned oil company, Petrleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), fell sharply as a percentage of GDP despite stronger-than-expected world oil prices and output volumes. This was due to the fact that most of PDVSA's income was in U.S. dollars and the bolvar had appreciated in real terms because of the fixed exchange rate. The government's efforts to attract foreign investments through privatization continued to prove unsuccessful. Then, in July, Venezuela allowed foreign equity and investment in oil exploration and production for the first time since the nationalization of the petroleum industry in 1976. Congress approved a model profit-sharing contract under which PDVSA would be able to call for international tenders on exploring and developing 10 areas containing light and medium crude reserves. This agreement would allow the establishment of joint ventures with private companies to develop and produce from these areas. The December 3 elections reflected the unpopularity of the Caldera government, with 13 of the 22 governorships and half the mayoralties at stake going to the opposition party, Democratic Action. The government responded by devaluing the bolvar by 41%, from 170 to the dollar to 290. Finance Minister Azcar said he hoped this action would help Venezuela secure $3 billion in financial support from the International Monetary Fund. (ALAN MURPHY) VIETNAM The socialist republic of Vietnam occupies the eastern part of the Indochinese Peninsula in Southeast Asia and is bounded on the south and east by the South China Sea. Area: 331,041 sq km (127,816 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 74,545,000. Cap.: Hanoi. Monetary unit: dong, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of 11,014 dong to U.S. $1 (17,412 dong = 1 sterling). President in 1995, Le Duc Anh; prime minister, Vo Van Kiet. A series of milestones made 1995 a pivotal year for Vietnam as it continued to undo its decades of isolation. On January 28 Vietnam and the U.S. opened liaison offices in each other's capital, and on August 5 they formally established diplomatic relations. Warren Christopher, the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Hanoi, attended the opening of the U.S. embassy. This was a clear sign that the former adversaries were putting some 40 years of animosity behind them. Pres. Bill Clinton, however, reiterated the U.S. concern that about 2,200 American soldiers still considered missing in action in Southeast Asia had not yet been accounted for. Perhaps of greater immediate significance to the nation was Vietnam's admission as a full member into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on July 28. Ironically, the all-capitalist grouping of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand was formed in 1967 partly to counter what were perceived to be expansionist threats posed by the communist nation. Vietnam was expected to have enhanced opportunities for investment and trade with ASEAN, which already accounted for about a quarter of its trade. Vietnam also signed a historic multilateral pact on the management of the Mekong River. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand--with China and Myanmar (Burma) as observers--signed the Agreement on Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin in April. Among other things, the 42-clause accord outlined mechanisms for settling disputes on how to develop and share the resources of the strategically located river. Vietnam marked two important anniversaries. The country looked back to April 30, 1975, when communist forces from the north marched into Saigon, effectively ending the Vietnam War, in which millions of Vietnamese died. Former U.S. defense secretary Robert McNamara said in his 1995 memoirs that he and other U.S. officials had been "terribly wrong" in key decisions affecting the war. The Vietnamese government, however, placed far greater emphasis on the nation's 50th anniversary of independence. On September 2 the country commemorated nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh's 1945 declaration of independence. During the celebration Pres. Le Duc Anh remarked, "All of our great victories in the wars of resistance and all important achievements of the reform process demonstrate that our way is right and our future is bright." The economy continued on its expansionist path, growing at a 9.5% annual rate. Among new joint ventures, the largest was a $1.2 billion pledge by the South Korean conglomerate Daewoo to build an industrial park near Hanoi. Still, business complaints about official corruption and complicated bureaucracy became so widespread they were reported to have scared potential investors away. In one typical case in September, Total SA of France said it would pull out of a proposed oil-refinery project north of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon. Businessmen, however, saw the adoption of a landmark civil code as an indication that Vietnam was moving away from government by decree and toward the rule of law. The code was due to come into effect on July 1, 1996. Though the country had taken huge strides toward liberalizing its central-command economy since it began the doi moi (economic renovation) process in 1986, there was no complementary movement toward political reform. The Communist Party, which remained the only legal political entity, continued to crack down on individuals who openly supported political or religious pluralism. While calling for more openness, President Anh remarked that "hostile forces" compelled the party to strengthen its leadership over the "government, over the entire political system, and over the renovation process." One of the high-profile instances in which the government demonstrated its iron grip was the case of Thich Quang Do, a leader of the outlawed United Buddhist Church of Vietnam. He and five others were arrested in January and later sentenced to as much as five years in prison for "sabotaging religious solidarity" by organizing a flood-relief mission without government permission. (STEVEN FRANK) This updates the article vietnam, history of.
YEAR IN REVIEW 1996: WORLD-AFFAIRS: UNITED NATIONS
Meaning of YEAR IN REVIEW 1996: WORLD-AFFAIRS: UNITED NATIONS in English
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