ONLY two weeks before the United Nations hosts a major conference in Vienna on human rights, the world organization itself has raised some eyebrows.
Under pressure from the People's Republic of China, the UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali this week prevented the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) from hosting a press conference with Chinese dissident Shen Tong at the UNCA club, which is located within the UN building. Joseph Sills, the chief spokesman for the secretary-general, said the Chinese had asked that Mr. Shen's press conference not be held inside UN headquarters.
Although Mr. Boutros-Ghali had offered an alternative site in a building across from UN headquarters, UNCA tried to hold the press conference inside the buildinganyway. Security guards prevented television cameras from entering the building and Shen decided to hold the press conference on the sidewalk outside the UN.
Shen said he was not surprised that the Chinese government would try to block him. Shen was one of the leaders during the pro-democracy movement in 1989. "What surprises me," he said in his press conference, "is the secretary-general's response to this member country's pressure."
Boutros-Ghali's response was also a surprise to UNCA, which has hosted dissidents throughout its 40-year history. UNCA members have listened to former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Irish dissident Bernadette Devlin and Iranian and Iraqi dissidents. What worries Joe Luria, of UNCA's executive committee, is that "other governments may feel it is easy to block people they don't want here," he says.
The Chinese pressure on Shen comes at a sensitive time with its relations with the US as well. Clinton administration advisers have reportedly proposed renewing China's most-favored-nation (MFN) trade status for another year but want to see human rights improvements before future renewals. Shen says the US should only renew MFN if human rights conditions can be attached now.