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.
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Under a new system known as the Universal Periodic Review, every UN member's record is automatically scrutinized by the council every four years. Even this procedure, however, is not immune from manipulation.Skip to next paragraph
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When Cuba came up for examination last Thursday, its allies on the council took up most of the meeting with paeans of praise for the Caribbean island's achievements in healthcare and education, leaving little time for critics to ask questions about political prisoners or freedom of speech.
China could encourage its friends to adopt the same tactic. In that case, warns Mr. Schaefer, the event will be "more of a show than a substantial assessment of China's human rights progress."
Several countries, however, including Canada, Denmark, Holland, and Norway, have signaled their intention to ask searching questions and to make pointed recommendations that the Chinese authorities should do more to end torture, imprisonment without trial, censorship, and religious persecution.
China's report to the council, which Amnesty International calls a "whitewash" of the real situation, avoids all these issues. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing looked forward to "a constructive dialogue" with members of the council.
Although China's report is "very disappointing … a cut-and-paste of template positions rather than a credible engagement in discussion," complains Mr. Bequelin, the report of Monday's meeting will include the recommendations that individual council members make during the debate.
China is free to reject all of them, but any that it does accept "will give human rights defenders in China something to push for," Bequelin says. "This process can be meaningful even if it does not get people out of jail overnight."
However Beijing responds to any recommendations, the review of its record has already galvanized activists in China, says Li Fangping, a Beijing lawyer who concentrates on human rights cases.
Some Chinese human rights workers contributed anonymously to submissions that international nongovernmental organizations made to the council in recent months, and one local NGO, Aizhixing, which works with AIDS patients, publicly presented its own critique of China's health system.
"This is the first time that Chinese NGOs have participated in this kind of work" says Mr. Li. "Human rights activists here are playing a more and more important role. That is a trend that cannot be reversed."