China defends its human rights record

China defended its record at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday, as part of a "Universal Periodic Review" that member states undergo once every four years.

The widely anticipated session brought “unprecedented scrutiny of its human rights record," the Monitor explained Sunday. China has avoided any detailed discussion of its overall rights record in major UN bodies for more than a decade. Only 60 of the 118 countries that had requested to speak at the three-hour session got the chance.

China's UN Ambassador Li Baodong insisted Monday that China is guided by the rule of law and committed to protecting and promoting human rights – and has also made great advances in reducing poverty. Li also warned against politicizing human rights issues, a point backed by Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Sudan, Burma (Myanmar) and other countries.

Indeed, Chinese citizens have seen dramatic improvements in their individual rights and standards of living compared to 25 years ago, the Monitor reported in a 2008 review of China's human rights record.

But there's still room for improvement, Li himself conceded: "We're fully aware of the difficulties and challenges we face in the field of human rights.”

Freedom of expression, for example, seems to enter shaky ground if it appears to challenge Communist Party rule.

In recent months the authorities have cracked down on “ringleaders” of Charter 08, a democracy petition published late last year that has garnered thousands of signatures online. Just over a year ago the government shut down many NGOs, in what one activist called a "systematic crackdown on the voices of civil society."

You can watch Monday's session on the UN webcast here.

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