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Human Rights, the U.N. and China

February 10, 2009

* FEBRUARY 9, 2009

A worthwhile discussion by a flawed council as the 20th anniversary of
the Tiananmen Square massacre approaches.

 From today's Wall Street Journal Asia.

The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold a hearing today on
China's human-rights record. Like other U.N. confabs, it's unlikely to
result in concrete action. But any public attention to Beijing's actions
is a discussion worth having, if only to show the Chinese people that
the rest of the world cares what happens to them. With the approach of
the 20th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre, such as
reminder is especially timely.

Today's meeting in Geneva comes courtesy of an annual review of U.N.
member states' human-rights records. Members of the 47-member council
and observer nations will discuss China's record for three hours, then
representatives of three states -- Nigeria, India and Canada -- will
present recommendations later in the week. China is free to ignore the

The Human Rights Council -- home to Saudi Arabia, Cuba and other rights
abusers -- has rarely, if ever, lived up to its name. But that doesn't
mean that today's meeting is without merit. China can be sensitive to
diplomatic pressure on human rights. During the U.N. review last year of
China's commitments as a signatory to the Convention Against Torture,
the delegation from Beijing was forced to provide information that
otherwise might never have seen the light of day.

For today's meeting, the advance questions submitted to the Council by
its freer nations -- the Czech Republic, Latvia, Liechtenstein and
Sweden -- touch on some important issues, such as persecution of
human-rights defenders, domestic censorship and allegations of torture.
The Council may also raise last year's crackdown in Tibet, Beijing's
iron grip on dissent during the Olympics, the one-child policy,
"re-education through labor," religious freedom and the detention of
dissidents. Jerry Cohen and Eva Pils relate the story of recently
"disappeared" human-rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng here.

China will deny every alleged offense, as it has done in the past, by
citing a long litany of laws and human-rights conventions to which it
has acceded. In its submission to the Council before today's meeting,
Beijing asserted that it implements its laws "in the light of China's
national realities."

The irony of that statement is probably lost on its authors. It's
becoming harder and harder for Chinese authorities to suppress news of
human-rights violations in the age of the Internet and cell phones. As
China develops, its citizens are demanding better treatment. The more
public attention is focused on that trend, the better.
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