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China faces unprecedented UN human rights scrutiny

An examination of China's record in Geneva Monday will test the country's willingness to answer international criticism.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 9, 2009



Beijing

China will face unprecedented scrutiny of its human rights record Monday in a key test of Beijing's readiness to answer international criticism over its treatment of political opponents.

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Beijing has sent a large, high-level delegation to Geneva to defend China's human rights performance in the face of questioning from members of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

"This is an important test both for China and for the United Nations," says Nicholas Bequelin, a China expert with Human Rights Watch.

Some observers doubt that the formal and generally nonconfrontational UN body will actually put China on the spot for the wide-ranging human rights violations of which its authoritarian government stands accused.

The United States declined to join the council when it was formed in 2006, saying the body was toothless. President Obama has said he will reconsider that decision.

Monday's meeting "will be a kabuki dance, a farce," argues Brett Schaefer, an analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, unless China takes foreign criticism more seriously than it has done until now.

Human rights activists here and abroad, however, express hopes that Monday's meeting will indeed help speed China's efforts to improve its rights record.

"International pressure is very helpful and very, very necessary to improve the human rights situation here," says Li Heping, a well-known human rights lawyer who has himself been kidnapped and beaten up for his work.

"The UN report that comes out of this meeting could have a positive impact" if it reflects independent assessments of China's record, he adds.

Even if Chinese diplomats refuse to answer the hard questions that some European and other delegations plan to put at the council meeting, "that would be good for us to show them up for what they are," says Juliette de Rivero, a Human Rights Watch activist in Geneva.

The Human Rights Council replaced the discredited UN Human Rights Commission, where China had always been able to mobilize its diplomatic allies in procedural motions to avoid any examination at all of its human rights record.

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