- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2001

President Bush yesterday said the war on terrorism should not be used as an excuse to persecute ethnic minorities.
The president's apparent warning to China, which faces Muslim unrest in far western provinces, was his strongest public statement on human rights and terrorism since Sept. 11. And he easily could have been speaking to the leaders of Russia, Uzbekistan, India or Saudi Arabia.
"War on terrorism must never be an excuse to persecute minorities," Mr. Bush told a joint news conference with Chinese President Jiang Zemin after the two leaders met for the first time in Shanghai.
The drive to build a global anti-terrorism coalition forced the U.S. government to strengthen ties with regimes it long has condemned as repressive. Human rights complaints have been muted, or, in some cases, dropped altogether.
China, now a partner in the U.S.-led war on global terrorism, faces ethnic Uighur Islamic separatists in its northwestern region of Xinjiang. Beijing says they have links to international terrorist groups.
The United States repeatedly has accused China of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and rights groups say Beijing is using the war on terror as a pretext to crack down on Uighurs campaigning for greater economic, cultural and political freedoms.
Earlier this week, the mood alternated between resignation and defiance at a gathering of human rights activists and government officials on Capitol Hill sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Lorne Craner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, told the gathering he initially feared the human rights agenda would be swamped in the reaction to the terrorist attacks.
"I will tell you, there were some in the government in the days after the attacks who essentially thought, 'Great, now we don't have to deal with that anymore,'" Mr. Craner said. "But I never got that attitude from the higher levels of the department, from the deputy secretary level up. To a degree that surprised even me, our work still gets a lot of support."
But the worry remains deep among human rights specialists in and out of government.
"Clearly, we face a much more uphill struggle being heard today than we did Sept. 10," one well-placed activist said.
In the search for allies to defeat the terror network of Osama bin Laden, "the United States has sought cooperation from several governments that are among the world's most egregious violators of religious freedom and other human rights," wrote Michael K. Young, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in an Oct. 5 letter to Mr. Bush.
The Bush administration "should make clear to [those governments] that their current commitment to cooperate to eradicate terrorism does not mean that the United States will lose interest in the conditions of human rights in their countries," Mr. Young added.
Some fear the policy trade-offs already have begun.
Uzbekistan emerged as a prime staging ground for U.S. military strikes against neighboring Afghanistan, despite an authoritarian government and a human rights record described as "poor."
But the Uzbeki government and the United States released a joint statement Oct. 12 pledging cooperation in the terrorism fight and a desire to "establish a qualitatively new relationship based on a long-term commitment to advance security and regional stability."
Former Rep. Stephen J. Solarz, New York Democrat and a leading human rights campaigner during nine terms in Congress, said the short-term need to curry favor with Uzbeki President Islam Karimov trumps concerns about human rights and democracy in the Central Asian nation.
"If it becomes a choice between tolerating Karimov's repression or getting bases our military leaders say they need, I would opt for the bases and so would at least 90 percent of the Congress right now," Mr. Solarz said.
The Bush administration also clearly changed the emphasis of its comments on Russia's campaign against rebels in the breakaway republic of Chechnya after Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to offer extensive help in the Afghan campaign.
While saying the United States still favors a political solution in Chechnya, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told the Russian newspaper Izvestia earlier this week: "We know there are terrorist elements in and around Chechnya," a point long pressed by Mr. Putin.
Holly Burkhalter, advocacy director for Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights, said the best argument human rights proponents can make these days may be not a moral approach, but a "practical, kick-the-tires" one.
"At the very least, our government should not be tolerating behavior from our new allies that will put us at increased risk down the road," she said.
The State Department's Mr. Craner said senior U.S. government officials are aware of the risk."If we don't want to be facing the nephews of these terrorists in a few years, we still have to be concerned with human rights issues."

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