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Release: April 21, 2000

UN human rights expert Shashi Tharoor to speak April 26

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Shashi Tharoor, an international human rights expert and executive assistant to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, will give a public lecture at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 26 in 106 Gilmore Hall on the University of Iowa campus.

Tharoor's lecture will focus on the question, "Are human rights universal?" The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Iowa City Human Rights Commission, the University of Iowa School of Religion, South Asian Studies Program, College of Law, College of Education and the UI Center for Human Rights.

Earlier in the day, Tharoor will speak to and meet with students, faculty and staff in the College of Education. On Thursday, April 27, he will visit with select classes and members of the UI community.

The visit was organized by Krishna Das, international liaison in the UI Office of International Education. Das said Tharoor's visit presents a rare opportunity for the Iowa City community to hear one of the world's leading experts explain human rights from a global perspective.

"The concept of human rights seems to be extremely elusive," Das said. "Even after working in this area I am still confused as to what it actually means. Is human rights truly what we in the western world advocate or is it different? Is it truly universal? Shashi's visit and lecture, I believe, may enlighten us and make us probe a little deeper into this concept."

Born in London in 1956, Tharoor was educated in Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi (where he received a bachelor's degree in history at St. Stephen's College), and the United States. He received his Ph.D. at the age of 22 from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Since 1978, he has worked for the United Nations, serving with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, whose Singapore office he headed during the "boat people" crisis. Since October 1989, he has been a senior official at UN headquarters in New York, where, until late1996, he was responsible for peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. In January 1997, he was appointed executive assistant to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Tharoor is the author of numerous articles, short stories and commentaries in Indian and Western publications, and the winner of several journalism and literary awards, including a Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Tharoor's visit is being funded by the UI provost's office with Ida Beam funds. Idea Beam, a native of Vinton, willed her farm to the UI Foundation in 1977. Her only university connection was a relative who graduated from the College of Medicine. With proceeds from the sale of the farm, the UI established a fund to bring top scholars in a variety of disciplines to the university for lectures and discussions.

For more information, e-mail Krishna Das,, or call (319) 335-6289.