- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

BEIJING Chinese leaders, anxious to keep human rights abuses from sinking their bid to host the 2008 Olympics, said yesterday they likely would ratify a key international human rights pact in the next 10 weeks.

Still bitter about losing the 2000 Games to Australia, Communist Party leaders hope a display of Olympic beach volleyball in Tiananmen Square will finally purge memories of the July 4, 1989, student massacre in which Chinese forces killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which will visit Beijing in a month to assess the Chinese capital as a potential site, has already given notice that China's human rights record is a primary consideration. It will announce its decision in July.

Officials yesterday told visiting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights "might be, or would be, ratified during the first quarter by the parliament, and possibly in March," the Associated Press reported.

China signed the pact in 1997. It also has signed, but not ratified, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States also has signed both accords but ratified only the former.

Mr. Annan's spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, said the U.N. chief was "reassured" by China's announcement, which followed three days of meetings, AP reported. Mr. Annan completed his trip with a meeting yesterday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Miss Okabe said Chinese officials reported less progress on the political rights treaty, but told Mr. Annan that work on that pact also was continuing.

The two agreements outline guarantees for human rights, which China frequently neglects, drawing criticism worldwide. The issue of human rights violations could threaten Beijing's ability to win the rights to host the 2008 Olympic Games.

Jan van der Made of Human Rights Watch in New York said China tends to "make a big show of accepting international treaties, then doing little to implement them."

"Whether that pattern is replayed in this instance is anybody's guess," he told The Washington Times.

Last week, 119 dissidents from across China appealed to authorities to respect human rights and improve the nation's image, as well as its chances of winning the Olympics, by releasing all political prisoners.

"We believe that as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Counsel, the Chinese government has even more obligation to respect the Chinese constitution and the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, and ensure every Chinese citizen can enjoy the fundamental rights clearly stipulated in these documents," the dissidents said in an open letter, a copy of which was sent to the IOC.

During its efforts in 1993 to win the rights to host the 2000 Games, China released at least 20 prominent dissidents, including Wei Jingsheng, Xu Wenli and Wang Dan. All were rearrested after Beijing failed to win the Games.

China has begun a propaganda blitz ahead of the IOC's July decision, promising beach volleyball in Tiananmen Square and the end of air pollution that currently chokes the capital.

"We are not opposed to Beijing getting the Games," said Sophia Woodman of Human Rights in China, who released the letter worldwide. "But if China wants to be seen as a serious contender, it can't just clean up the air in Beijing. It must clean up its act on human rights, too… .

"It is hard to say if the petition will have an impact," she said after the appeal's release last week. "But we are always hopeful that the authorities will begin to listen to these rational, reasonable and moderate appeals for long overdue human rights improvements. They have not shown much willingness to date."

The dissidents' petition echoed outspoken remarks last week by IOC member Jan Zelezny, the Czech javelin thrower and three-time Olympic champion.

"The problem with Beijing is that it still does not have … the sort of freedoms we have in Europe," Mr. Zelezny told reporters.

"If the Games are awarded to Beijing, the organization will be great, but there is a political problem," he said. "After all the difficulties that the IOC has had, it may not be the best thing to do to award them the Olympic Games now."

• Gus Constantine in Washington contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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