- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

The United Nations Rights Commission has failed the people of China by blocking a motion to censure the Chinese government's human rights record. The move sends a message that will be felt in jail cells and in underground churches in a country where human rights groups say 5,000 Falun Gong members are in re-education camps for practicing their spiritual meditation and breathing techniques. During this last year, Christian pastors have been imprisoned there for meeting in small house churches, and the government and its security forces have imprisoned, tortured and beaten political dissidents.

The State Department had predicted this year would be different that the United States would finally be able to convince the commission to speak out against such brutalities. Despite the fact that China's human rights situation had seriously deteriorated throughout the year, those who could have swung the censure vote were noncommittal at best.

"In order to sway the countries that might have been able to swing the votes, and prevent the foot dragging by the European Union, it required more lobbying," Curt Gehring, spokesman for Amnesty International told The Washington Times. "Had the EU come on board the same time as the U.S. did, and had they been involved in their own lobbying, it would have made a significant difference." The president could have also stepped up his efforts, he said.

As it was, the European Union refused to co-sponsor the motion with the United States an action that brought criticism even from the State Department. Human Rights Watch agreed that White House involvement could have swung key support in a decision where 12 countries abstained from even voting. South Korea, Rwanda, Argentina, Ecuador and Chile were abstainees who could have been talked into censuring China had the White House worked a little harder, Ken Roth, the executive director for the rights group, told the New York Times. In 1995, when President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were involved in making personal phone calls to the key players in the vote, the United States was able to rally enough support to block China's resolution to prevent discussion of their record.

China took advantage of the executive apathy to hold its own closed-door meetings with countries such as Australia and Canada, who had previously admitted to having concerns about the country's human rights record. Neither country ended up co-sponsoring the United States resolution.

Part of the problem is the product of a resistance to critique within the United Nations itself, said Austin Ruse, the president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institution, a pro-life lobbying group working full time in the U.N. headquarters in New York.

"The U.N. is very reluctant to criticize member states. There is an unofficial member rule for criticizing member states within the building. [Nongovernmental organizations] can be condemned for doing so," he said in an interview. This time around, he said, there was no real push to lobby the other countries to censure the Chinese for their bad behavior. "This administration is in the hip pockets of the Chinese," he said.

Noble efforts to climb out of that sticky place were made by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who traveled to Geneva last month to try to persuade the commission to censure China, and Assistant Secretary for Human Rights Harold Koh, who lobbied delegates in Geneva. This might have swayed the vote to be the closest it has been since 1995 with a 22 to 18 vote to back the Chinese.

For the persecuted Tibetan monk, the imprisoned pastor and the tortured political dissident, close is not enough. The European Union and this year's U.S. presidential candidates must prepare now for next year's vote.

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