- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

China’s rights record

After a two-year hiatus, the Bush administration is likely to co-sponsor a resolution condemning China’s human rights record at this year’s Human Rights Commission (HRC).

The six-week session opens on March 16 in Geneva and usually includes a fair number of dramatic speeches, condemnations, demonstrations and quiet horse-trading in the corridors.

The commission is independent of the United Nations, but works closely with the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Washington was not elected to the 53-member HRC in 2002, and in 2003 was convinced by Beijing that “dialogue is better than conflict.”

A senior U.S. official said recently that last year, Washington wanted to recognize recent improvements in China’s human rights record, such as the release of a prominent political prisoner, improvements in Tibet and nascent legal, legislative and media reforms.

“But after that, it was radio silence,” said the official, noting that only two more political prisoners had been released and that other improvements had been few.

The Chinese, meanwhile, probably will defeat the measure, as usual, by introducing a “no action” motion that will carry by a narrow margin.

“Every year the Chinese say, ‘You know you always lose,’” the official said last week. “And we say, ‘You know it doesn’t matter.’”

Washington also will probably co-sponsor, mostly with the European Union, resolutions condemning the records of North Korea, Burma, Belarus and Turkmenistan.

The annual resolution to chastise the Cuban government’s abuses is likely to be sponsored by the Caribbean bloc of nations on the 53-member council, the official said, noting that Washington would support it.

Rights enforcer picked

Speaking of human rights, it looks like Secretary-General Kofi Annan finally has found a candidate to be the United Nations’ top rights enforcer, a job that has been empty since Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed in Baghdad in August.

Diplomats say they’ve been informally asked to approve Louise Arbor, the Canadian jurist who once served as chief prosecutor for the U.N. tribunals for Rwanda and the Balkans, to be the next U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

U.N. officials publicly confirm that Ms. Arbor is “one name we are considering” and that an announcement about the post — one of the most delicate jobs at the United Nations — is forthcoming.

Privately, officials say Ms. Arbor, 56, could be named by the end of next week. The scrappy lawyer currently is serving on Canada’s Supreme Court, a job she would give up only with great reluctance.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, who serves as both human rights enforcer and global conscience, is based in Geneva and has a small, but growing staff.

Washington supports Ms. Arbor, especially when compared with alternative candidates.

“The ilk among whom she was being considered makes her look great,” said one U.S. official. “The question is whether she will turn out to be great. What will she think about special rapporteurs? Will she build up the strength of her office to promote democracy and freedom?”

One concern is that she would have a “single-minded focus” on the newly created International Criminal Court, which Washington sees as a threat to U.S. servicemembers.

“But in that post, we’re really not too worried,” the official said.

The Bush administration got on well with Mr. Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian diplomat who died in the bombing of the U.N. offices in Iraq.

However, his successor, former Irish President Mary Robinson, got on Washington’s bad side by criticizing U.S. immigration policies and presiding over a chaotic human rights conference in South Africa that turned into an anti-Semitic free-for-all.

Betsy Pisik may be reached via e-mail at UNear@aol.com.

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