'No Country's Rights Record Should Be Above Review,' U.S. Says Of China
London (CNSNews.com) - The United States Wednesday urged the top United Nations human rights body to back a resolution critical of China, saying that no country should be considered exempt from having its record reviewed.
The 53-member U.N. Commission on Human Rights, in session in Geneva, is voting on whether to debate China's human rights record.
The U.S. has regularly presented similar resolutions at the UNCHR meeting, only to be stymied on nine previous occasions when China gathered sufficient support from allies and developing countries to avoid having the matter fully debated.
Last year's vote on China's "no action motion" was supported by 22 members and opposed by 18. Twelve members abstained, while one representative left the chamber without voting.
Addressing the gathering Wednesday, U.S. ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli called Washington's resolution "fair and balanced."
It recognized the improvements made in recent years and Beijing's commitment to ratify international rights documents, but also highlighted the "shortcomings in China's human rights practices."
The resolution decried restrictions on citizens' "freedoms of assembly, association, expression, conscience and religion, and to due legal process and a fair trial." It cited problems faced by political dissidents, Tibetans, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, as well as members of the Falun Gong spiritual sect.
Tahir-Kheli said the resolution had nothing to do with political point-scoring on the part of the U.S. administration.
"Some Commission members may be tempted to accept specious arguments that the United States is introducing this resolution for political reasons or to seek confrontation," she said. "Let me assure this Commission that this is not the case."
If the UNCHR is to defend human rights, it must affirm that they apply equally to every country, and all the time. "No country should consider itself beyond review."
"It should matter that the Chinese government systematically violates the universal human rights of millions of its citizens every year, and then asks that it be exempted from any scrutiny at the Commission on Human Rights," Tahir-Kheli concluded.
Working the phones
Reflecting U.S. concerns about developing countries' likely stance on the matter, the State Department reported earlier this week that Secretary of State Colin Powell had approached two African members specifically to urge their support for the U.S. resolution on China, as well as one critical of Cuba.
Powell had called the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mauritius, spokesman Richard Boucher said. He did not say whether President Joseph Kabila or Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth had indicated which way they would vote.
Other U.S. officials had been working the phones and making contacts, and had between them been in touch with all of the other Commission members on this matter, he said.
China last year won the support of such countries as Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, India and Indonesia. This year it can probably count of the backing of two new members, Libya and Syria.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez said in recent days his country would support China in Geneva. President Jiang Zemin this week paid a state visit to Venezuela as part of a Latin America tour, during which he also visited Cuba, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. With the exception of Chile, all are members of the UNCHR.
Among the 18 countries that opposed China's "no action motion" on the U.S. resolution last year were Canada, Japan and seven European Union nations.
The U.S. in earlier years had the support of Britain's Conservative government in co-sponsoring its China resolution at Geneva. But since the 1997 election of the Labor Party, London has instead followed the European Union line - declining to co-sponsor the resolution, but voting in favor of it.