- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

GENEVA Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright urged the United Nations Thursday to confront China, one of its most powerful members, over Beijing's "widespread denials" of basic freedoms.
The bulk of the Chinese delegation walked out on Mrs. Albright's speech, the first by a U.S. secretary of state to the 53-nation Human Rights Commission since it was created in 1946.
Mrs. Albright, who flew from South Asia for her 15-minute address, also appealed to the commission to face up to its other big challenge, what she called Russia's "indiscriminate use of force against civilians" in its war against Chechen rebels.
Russian Ambassador Vasily Sidorov said Mrs. Albright's complaints were "totally unfounded."
"The war in Chechnya is not against the Chechen people; it's not against the Muslims, but against insurgents, foreign mercenaries and terrorists," Mr. Sidorov said.
Mrs. Albright also cited human rights concerns in Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Burma and Serbian-controlled Yugoslavia.
In Washington, legislators and human rights groups applauded Mrs. Albright for her tough approach but said the effort to pass a resolution criticizing China would be wasted without a committed effort from President Clinton himself.
Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, introduced a resolution in the Senate calling on the administration to "make every effort necessary" to get a resolution passed.
The United States has until March 30 to find co-sponsors for its resolution on China's human rights, and a vote would be taken in late April. China has easily blocked similar U.S. efforts in recent years.
Mrs. Albright's speech was delivered to a standing-room-only crowd at the United Nations' European headquarters. Her audience listened attentively and applauded only once, at the end of the speech.
China has "always fallen well short" of U.N. human rights standards, even though it is one of five permanent members on the U.N. Security Council, Mrs. Albright said.
In the past year, China's human rights record has "deteriorated markedly," she said, adding that the U.S. resolution would cite "widespread denials of political, cultural, labor and religious freedom in China."
Chinese authorities have made "widespread arrests of those seeking to exercise their right to peaceful political expression," detaining thousands of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, she said.
Beijing also has limited the religious freedom of Christians, Muslims and Buddhists and has barred Tibetans from exercising their "cultural and linguistic heritage," she added.
Chinese Ambassador Qiao Zonghuai rejected Mrs. Albright's accusations as showing "the arrogance of this superpower" and maintained citizens of China enjoy freedom of religion and expression.
Chinese authorities were obliged to restrict Falun Gong because it is "an evil cult" that has claimed the lives of 1,400 followers, he claimed.
"A country like the United States, which has such a poor human rights record, has no right to judge other countries' human rights situation," Mr. Qiao said.
The United States has "gross violations of human rights, notorious racial discrimination, police brutality, torture in prisons, infringement of women's rights," he said.
In Washington, Human Rights Watch Director Mike Jendrzejcyzk welcomed Mrs. Albright's effort but said an all-out effort from the White House would be the key to passing a resolution.
"The president should be on the phone with key European leaders, as well as with heads of state in Canada, Japan, Australia and elsewhere," Mr. Jendrzejcyzk said at a Senate press conference Thursday.
He pointed out that Mr. Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and then-National Security Adviser Anthony Lake all worked on the issue in 1995, when the United States came within one vote of getting a resolution passed.
In her speech, Mrs. Albright urged the commission members to stand up to China.
China has beaten back every attempt to cite it since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which hundreds of pro-democracy activists died.
So far other countries, including the 15-nation European Union, have been reluctant to declare their support.
"If the [U.N. human rights] commission fails to act, it will raise serious questions about the credibility of the commission itself," Sen. Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas Republican, said in Washington.
Mrs. Albright flew 11 hours from India to make the speech, and was leaving Thursday night for the return flight to rejoin Mr. Clinton's tour of South Asia.
Staff writer Carter Dougherty in Washington contributed to this report.

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