China's human rights rating upgraded by U.S. State Dept.
It takes the country off the list of worst human rights offenders but still notes serious concerns.
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But it was the removal of China from the list that drew the most attention. Was it because conditions have improved in China, because other countries have simply gotten worse – or because the Olympics will be held in Beijing this summer? Or is the US looking for ways to improve cooperation with Beijing on such issues as North Korea's and Iran's nuclear programs and the Darfur conflict in Sudan?
The State Department did not wipe China's slate clean, saying in the report that "China's overall human rights record remains poor." But instead of placing it among the world's worst offenders, it shifted China's listing to: "authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform [and] have experienced rapid social change but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Asked at a press conference Tuesday to explain why China was no longer on the list of worst offenders, Jonathan Farrar, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, skirted the question. But he noted that the report does list China's record as "poor," adding that the listing of China as "authoritarian" is "a completely accurate assessment."
But that did not satisfy human rights watchdog groups, which found the change in China's position on the list suspect.
Reporters Without Borders said in a statement that the decision "occurs at the worst possible time, just when the situation is worsening prior to the opening of the Olympic Games." Calling the report a "major setback" for the work of human rights organizations in China, the group cited the reported arrest of about 100 Tibetan monks and the detention of activist Hu Jia "and dozens of other freedom of expression advocates" as examples of continuing abuses in China.
Ranked low for human rights
The State Department lists the following countries as the worst offenders of human rights in 2007:
• North Korea
• Burma (Myanmar)
The list for 2006 was the same, except:
• China was on it.
• Syria and Uzbekistan were not on it.
Source: State Department