Sun, Feb 08, 2009 - Page 1 News List

China defiant ahead of key UN panel on human rights


Days before China’s human rights record comes under scrutiny before a UN panel, the government’s grip on dissent seems as firm as ever.

Government critics have been rounded up and some imprisoned on vaguely defined state security charges. Corruption whistleblowers have been bundled away, while discussion of sensitive political and social topics on the Internet remains tightly policed.

On Friday, officers stationed outside a government building in Beijing took away at least eight people — members of a loosely organized group of 30 who had traveled to the capital from around the country seeking redress for various problems, almost all of them involving local corruption.

One member of the group, Li Fengxian, from Henan Province, held up a sign with the character for “injustice” painted on it.

Li, 65, said she spent years fighting officials in her village who she said gave away a poverty allowance allotted to her family to other officials.

Police response underscored the government’s determination to keep control — even in the face of a UN meeting to examine China’s human rights record.

The review by the UN Human Rights Council, which begins tomorrow, is part of a new process that evaluates member countries in an effort to prompt improvements and address violations. The council, which replaced the discredited UN Human Rights Commission, has no enforcement powers, but is supposed to act as the world’s moral conscience on human rights.

Following the review, the three-nation working group composed of Canada, India and Nigeria will submit a report of their findings.

The stakes are high for China, which wants to be seen as a responsible player. At the same time, the leadership in Beijing is worried about its grip on power slipping as the economic downturn and rising unemployment threaten to aggravate social unrest.

The government is especially sensitive this year, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests and the subsequent military crackdown. On Thursday, four months before the anniversary, two events commemorating a milestone modern Chinese art exhibition whose iconoclastic spirit fed into the rebellious mood of the times were shut down.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said last week that China was looking forward to “constructive dialogue” at the UN panel.

“It is normal that countries would have differences of opinion on human rights issues and we hope, on the basis of dialogue, to narrow our differences and expand our consensus,” Jiang said.

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