U.N. Human Rights Boss Blasts China

By The Associated Press, February 29, 2000
By Peter Carlson

HONG KONG (AP) -- The U.N. high commissioner for human rights today deplored China's "deteriorating" rights record and urged Hong Kong to set up its own independent human rights monitoring body.

Mary Robinson, who stopped in Hong Kong en route to Beijing, said the situation in mainland China has deteriorated over the past two years. During her trip to Beijing, Robinson will attend an Asian-Pacific regional human rights workshop and was scheduled to meet Vice Premier Qian Qichen. She told reporters today that she was unsure whether a meeting with President Jiang Zemin would also take place.

She said she will raise concerns about "the repression of freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and severe sentences" for activities related to political and religious expression.

China's recent crackdown on the Falun Gong meditation movement -- which Beijing views as a dangerous cult -- has drawn widespread condemnation from international human rights groups.

Robinson was scheduled to arrive in Beijing late today. Her visit comes weeks ahead of the 6-week-long annual session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. China is expected to be a focus of controversy at the session, which was scheduled to begin March 20 in Geneva.

U.S. officials want the 53-nation commission to criticize China for what Washington says is a worsening human rights record. But the commission has previously blocked U.S. censure attempts.

While in Beijing, Robinson said she also hopes to sign a memorandum of understanding with Chinese officials that will help China institute legal reforms and other changes needed before it can ratify two key international human rights treaties.

China signed the covenants on civil and political liberties and on economic and social rights in 1997 and 1998 but has not given a timetable for ratification, saying it needs time to take certain necessary legislative steps.

The fact that China was hosting the Asian-Pacific regional human rights workshop was significant because it is aimed at developing human rights, said Robinson, a former Irish president. After meeting with several top Hong Kong government officials, Robinson said she had suggested the territory should establish an independent human rights body.

"It would be a good confidence-building measure in Hong Kong," she said, noting recent cases that sparked concerns over the independence of the territory's judiciary.

"Hong Kong has great strengths, but they don't stand still and they can be eroded," Robinson said.

A Hong Kong government spokesman said he had no immediate response to Robinson's statement.

Meanwhile, He Xintong, the wife of Xu Wenli, China's most prominent jailed democracy campaigner, began a 24-hour hunger strike today in hopes of getting Robinson to raise her husband's case with Chinese leaders.


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