Fri, Feb 13, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Human rights in China under the spotlight

NO PROGRESS A US official said China had offered nothing but `radio silence' despite being prompted to improve its horrendous rights record ahead of a UN rights summit


The US is likely to call for international criticism of China's human rights record at the upcoming meeting of the UN's top human rights body, a senior US official said.

The Bush administration is moving toward introducing a resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission condemning China because last year "it was radio silence from Beijing" in addressing human rights concerns, the official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

At last year's session, the US decided not to introduce a China resolution because Beijing took some significant steps on human rights in 2002: It invited the Dalai Lama's representative to visit for the first time in 20 years, it talked to the US special representative on Tibet and it released more political prisoners than in any year in the 1990s, the official said.

China routinely rejects scrutiny of its human rights record as interference in its affairs. But the communist government has begun in recent years to acknowledge a need for change -- albeit on Chinese terms -- and to accept foreign technical advice on improving its courts and some other institutions, which includes guidance aimed at improving respect for human rights.

Washington is concerned that more and more Chinese are being arrested, that in several cases lawyers trying to defend clients are ending up in jail and that only two prominent prisoners were released last year, the official said.

The US is also concerned that Beijing did not keep its promise to allow the UN investigators on religion and torture and a working group on international detention into the country last year, the official said.

Beijing also broke a promise to allow the US commissioner on international freedom to visit.

China's human rights record was the subject of a lengthy discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Jan. 29. According to a transcript, Lorne Craner, the US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, raised the possibility of introducing a resolution criticizing China.

"As a result of our concern about backsliding across a range of key human rights issue, the US is seriously considering sponsoring a resolution on human rights in China at this spring's UN commission -- a decision that will be made at the highest levels of our government," Craner said.

In the past, China has blocked US attempts to get the 53-member UN Human Rights Commission to pass critical resolutions. The US official said Beijing would likely try to thwart any resolution introduced this year, but it wouldn't matter because Washington's aim is to raise the issues.

China is trying to persuade the world that its human rights practices are on the way to meeting the standards of democratic countries, the official said, "but the fact is they're a long way from that and we haven't seen the progress over the past year that gets us to that."

The six-week annual session of the Human Rights Commission starts March 15 in Geneva.

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