- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2000

GENEVA The United States yesterday lost its bid to censure China's human rights record at the United Nations despite its strongest lobbying effort yet and a personal appearance in Geneva last month by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

The 53-nation human rights commission did vote to censure Cuba, drawing thousands of protesters into the streets of Havana and prompting cheers from the crowds outside the residence where 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez is staying in Miami.

Iran and Iraq also found themselves under scrutiny.

In what amounted to a sharp rebuff to Mrs. Albright, the commission voted 22-18 with 12 abstentions in favor of a "no action" motion proposed by China. One country, Romania, was absent for the vote.

The motion in effect prevented the commission from even discussing a U.S. resolution criticizing the human rights situation in China.

The text of the U.S. motion protested increased restrictions on Tibetans and a "harsh crackdown" on political opposition. It noted repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Developing countries, many from Africa and Asia, rallied to Beijing's cause as they have in eight previous years. But the United States insisted it had succeeded in drawing attention to China's record and noted that the margin of the vote was the narrowest in five years.

"It pokes a hole in the aura of immunity that only China has enjoyed and conveys a sense that all nations have to look to the commission before they confront their own people," Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh said.

China applauded the U.N. decision. Attempts by the United States to censure it "can lead nowhere but self-isolation and self-defeat," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said in remarks carried by China's official Xinhua News Agency.

"The human rights situation in China is the best ever in the country's history," Mr. Sun said.

Mr. Koh had declared in March that the administration had the "expectation and hope" that it would be able to force a vote on China's record this year.

Mrs. Albright became the first secretary of state ever to address the annual gathering later that month, traveling to Geneva from South Asia, where she had been participating in a visit by President Clinton.

China has "always fallen well short" of U.N. human rights standards, Mrs. Albright said in her 15-minute speech, which prompted a walkout by the bulk of the Chinese delegation.

U.S. legislators and human rights groups applauded the secretary for her approach but said at the time that the effort would be wasted without a committed effort from Mr. Clinton himself.

John Ackerly, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, took up that theme after yesterday's vote, calling it "a vote of non-confidence in the motives of the U.S. in sponsoring a resolution, but not seriously lobbying for it."

Arguing that Mr. Clinton had failed to work for the resolution, the head of the lobbying group said there was "a widespread perception" in Geneva that the administration "was trying to look tough on China" to win support for a bill in Congress extending normal trade relations to that country.

Amnesty International also reacted angrily, asking, "For how much longer will the world play this game with China? How many more victims of human rights violations will be disregarded in the name of realpolitik?"

The human rights watchdog agency dismissed yesterday's motion as a measure "to stifle debate and escape censure," and warned that the procedure "brings into question the purpose and function" of the U.N. commission.

Xiao Qiang, executive director of Human Rights in China, said he was "terribly disappointed" and added that the European Union's failure to lend strong backing to the U.S. efforts had been a key factor.

The U.N. panel did censure Cuba for the second consecutive year, voting 21-18 to criticize it for "the continued violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms." Fourteen members abstained.

Cuba accused Washington of being the driving force behind the action. Ambassador Carlos Amat said U.S. officials "once again wielded the strings of their occasional puppets," referring to the Czech Republic and Poland, which proposed the motion.

Around 100,000 Cubans marched noisily past the Czech Embassy in Havana clutching flags and chanting patriotic slogans in a state-organized protest of the motion by the former Cold War allies.

"Behind those windows, they must be truly ashamed… . History condemns traitors," state TV presenter Rafael Serrano said during live coverage of the march past the embassy.

In Miami, Cuban exiles and U.S. conservatives said the vote bolstered their argument that castaway Elian Gonzalez should not be returned to Cuba.

"How ironic that on the very day when the international community has condemned Cuba's dictatorship, the American executive continues to campaign to return a defenseless 6-year-old boy to Castro's clutches," said Cuban-born Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican.

Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban-American National Foundation, said the Geneva vote "should give pause to all those who still fail to comprehend or accept the nightmare that is Fidel Castro in the Cuban people's long dream to live with freedom and human dignity."

Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that "sending the boy back to Castro's tropical gulag cuts the heart out of our political asylum laws."

In another narrow vote, the Geneva panel kept Iran under scrutiny for human rights abuses, even though it accepted that progress had been made. The resolution passed 22-20, with 11 abstentions.

Delegates had less sympathy for neighboring Iraq, which they condemned for its "all-pervasive repression and oppression." No nation supported Baghdad, although 21 abstained.

They agreed without a vote to condemn "the continuing pattern of gross and systematic violations of human rights" in Burma, and expressed concern over abuses in Sudan.

With opposition only from Russia, the commission attacked Yugoslavia's repression of the media and the political opposition, arbitrary administration of justice and discrimination and violence against ethnic minorities.

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