Rights groups urge Clinton to take stand on Beijing

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Feb 15, 2009 - Page 1

Seven leading human rights groups urged in a joint statement US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to make human rights a prominent topic in her upcoming trip to Beijing.

Clinton will leave today for her first overseas trip in her capacity as Washington’s top diplomat. She is to visit Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China on her week-long tour.

In a letter signed by Amnesty International USA, Reporters without Borders, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights in China, International Campaign of Tibet and Human Rights First, the groups urged the US to send a signal to China that “the quality of its relationship with the US will depend in part on whether it lives by universally accepted human rights norms in its domestic and foreign policies.”

“Sending such a signal in Beijing will be especially important given the US’ unfortunate absence from China’s Universal Periodic Review on Feb. 9 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva,” said the letter, dated Thursday.

Holding Clinton to her own pledges, the groups said 13 years ago in Beijing she spoke about the “duty of all governments to respect the fundamental human rights of women and men,” the groups said, adding that contrary to public opinion, China does respond to external pressure on improving its human rights record. They said authorities agreed to move Chinese dissident Hu Jia (胡佳) to a prison closer to his family because of US intervention.

“We strongly urge that you raise these issues early in your tenure as Secretary. We are acutely aware that the US’ agenda with China is a broad one, but we believe that the desired economic, security and diplomatic progress can be reinforced through more vigorous and public defense of human rights,” the letter said.

Speaking at the Asia Society in New York on Friday, Clinton said relations with the countries she will be visiting and those in Asia and the Pacific are vital to US security and interests and that the administration is keen to strengthen ties with the region.

Recent reports from Washington showed that Beijing was ready to pounce on Clinton over arms sales to Taiwan and to use possible greenhouse gas emission reductions to further its position on the Tibet and Taiwan issues.