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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China's human rights record goes under microscope

February 10, 2009

Montreal Gazette
FEBRUARY 8, 2009

SHANGHAI -- China's widely criticized human rights record will go under
the microscope Monday when the world's most populous nation appears
before the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review panel.

The troika of Canada, India and Nigeria were chosen to hear the
cacophony of complaints against the Asian giant plus Beijing's defence
of its policies at a three-hour hearing in Geneva.

Both the complainants - 46 groups in all - and the Chinese government
submitted position papers in advance and the troika is free to ask
questions on any aspect of the texts.

The list of documented rights violations committed by China that groups
like Amnesty International, International PEN, Falun Gong, the
International Campaign for Tibet and Lawyer's Rights Watch Canada
outlined is legend, ranging from torture, to censorship, to
discrimination, to human trafficking in women and children.

China's 20-page response ignores the issues raised and deals with the
economic, structural and administrative measures it has taken to
alleviate poverty, make education more accessible, provide adequate
housing and social security to its population and improve the judicial

China's submission makes no mention of the myriad of issues that have
sparked concern around the world in recent months, things like the
deadly crackdown in Tibet, the harsh treatment of the Uyghurs, China's
ethnic Muslim population, the strict media censorship or the sweeping
efforts to muzzle all so-called dissidents in advance of last summer's
Beijing Olympics.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a news briefing last week
that China "has always respected and protected human rights."

Jiang said it is normal that countries have their own views on what
constitutes human rights and that she hoped China would get "a fair and
objective" hearing in Geneva.

The periodic human rights reviews were initiated by the Human Rights
Council in 2007 and are meant to ensure all UN members are answerable
for human rights violations in their territory. Just the fact that China
has agreed to submit to such public scrutiny has won it grudging praise
from such firm adversaries as Amnesty International.

What the review can accomplish is severely limited by time and scope, if
not diplomatic niceties.

For instance, the troika will never hear about specific cases like the
one involving Ji Sizun, 58, a well-known rights activist from Fujian
Province who tried to get permission to demonstrate in one of the
protest zones the authorities established for the Beijing Olympics. His
application said he wanted "to stop local-level governments from using
their authority to attack or get revenge on the people who go and
petition for their rights."

Foreign media tracked Ji's many attempts to apply until August 11 when
eyewitnesses reported police detained him.

Despite repeated attempts by reporters to contact Ji, he was not heard
of again until September 18 when he was formally arrested and charged
with forging government documents and seals.

Ji was found guilty last month and sentenced to three years in prison.

Phelim Kine, from the Hong Kong office of Human Rights Watch, followed
Ji's case.

"He was the highest profile individual who tried to make an attempt to
protest during the Olympics and he found members of the foreign media to
go with him," Kine said. "The problem is that this infuriates the
Chinese government when issues they consider must be domestic concerns
are shared with members of the international media."

Kine did not comment on the forgery charges, but simply noted: "Mr. Ji
disappeared into the Chinese judicial system and has emerged four to
five months later with a three-year prison sentence that appears to be

Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said
"as UN members prepare to debate China's rights record, they should
remember that this opportunity is one chronically denied to the vast
majority of Chinese people."

Any UN member is allowed to participate in Monday's hearing and many are
taking an active interest. The United States, however, is drawing
criticism for its studied indifference to the work of all the review
panels. Last week, when Russia was in the hot seat, the U.S. failed to
even send a representative to monitor the hearing.

"This continues the policy of disengagement from the Human Rights
Council initiated by the Bush administration in June, 2008," Peggy
Hicks, global advocacy director for HRW said. "Since that time the US
has sent only low-level observers to council meetings and has not spoken
for the record."

She added: "If the U.S. is truly committed to addressing abuses and
re-engaging with the world, it should speak out at the Human Rights
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