Bahai News - China Escapes Censure in Vote by U.N. Human Rights Agency
April 24, 1999

China Escapes Censure in Vote by U.N. Human Rights Agency

By ELIZABETH OLSON
G>ENEVA -- Human rights advocates failed to secure international condemnation of China's rights record on Friday, but they eked out, by one vote, a censure of Cuba by the U.N.'s top rights organization.

China was able to evade criticism at the U.N. Human Rights Commission when member nations backed its "no action" motion, which blocked any debate on complaints against it. This was the eighth time that China has succeeded in avoiding full-blown scrutiny on human rights since the first resolution was brought after the military suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The resolution on Cuba, sponsored by the Czech Republic and Poland, was adopted in a 22-21 vote by the 53-member commission, which is in the final stages of its annual six-week session that reviews human-rights violations worldwide. Russia and China were among nations that abstained.

The vote on the Chinese motion was 22-17, with 14 abstentions. There were few surprises, as China won support from Russia, India and Pakistan.

Delegates burst into applause when the vote tally was announced. This year, however, the mood was more businesslike than for China's victory in 1997, when it also used procedural tactics to bury debate on its rights record. In 1998, the United States declined to field a critical resolution, citing Beijing's steps to improve democratic rights for its citizens.

But with the crackdown on pro-democracy advocates toward the end of last year, the United States once again mounted an effort to call China to account on human rights. The effort seemed rocky from the start, as only Poland signed on, just two days ago, as a co-sponsor.

Harold Hongju Koh, the American assistant secretary of state, said that although he was "deeply disappointed," he felt that the United States had achieved its goal of focusing "international attention on the sharp deterioration in the human rights situation in China."

Despite the defeat, the United States narrowed the margin of China's victory. Two years ago, China won by 10 votes, 27-17. This year, only five nations tipped the outcome.

The effort against Cuba was led by two formerly Communist nations, the Czech Republic and Poland, which chalked up a win on a measure expressing concern over "continued repression" in Cuba and urging the release of all those imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs.

Last year, in a blow to the United States, its resolution on Cuba was defeated for the first time since 1991.

In 1998, Cuba benefited from Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba, which many believed signaled that the island nation was relaxing its strict hold on its citizens. But recent convictions of four dissidents accused of trying to subvert the Communist state brought widespread criticism of Fidel Castro's government.

Voting on dozens of other resolutions that highlighted violations worldwide, the U.N. rights watchdog also voted to condemn Israel's actions in detaining thousands of Palestinians without trial and taking over Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. Only the United States voted against the measure. Israel is not a member of the commission.

Iraq's rights record was condemned overwhelmingly, 35-0, with 18 nations abstaining. A resolution criticizing Iran's rights record, particularly its discrimination against women as well as its treatment of religions like the Bahai, passed 23-16, with 14 abstentions.


©Copyright 1999, The New York Times Company

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