- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The State Department yesterday dropped China from its list of the world’s top human rights violators, prompting criticism that the move marks an unwarranted concession to Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games this summer.

Department officials insisted that China’s absence from this year’s list, which includes Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Burma among others, is not linked to the Olympics and has little meaning overall, because the list is informal with no legal consequences.

But human rights activists said otherwise, pointing out that the list represents the most prominent part of the report, much like the headline on a newspaper article.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that the Bush administration has adopted a softer line towards China,” said T. Kumar, advocacy director for Asia at Amnesty International.

“The timing is also disturbing — President Bush is going to the Olympics, and the administration doesn’t want to put China in an awkward position. It’s a lost opportunity to send a strong message.”

China had been among “the world’s most systematic human rights violators” since the State Department list first appeared in 2005. The additions this year are Syria, Uzbekistan and Sudan.

One U.S. official said that the only reason China was put in a category of its own was to emphasize that, despite its economic success, it has failed to undertake political reforms that would guarantee its citizens basic human rights.

Jonathan Farrar, acting assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, told reporters he was unable to give an “on the record” explanation for the decision — meaning an explanation in which he could be quoted by name.

Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said that many countries “have made economic progress, but they haven’t been afforded a special category.”

“If there hasn’t been much improvement in China’s record, why is it in a separate category?” she said, adding that “two different purposes” are being served by criticizing Beijing on one hand, but dropping it from the worst-abusers list, on the other.

The State Department’s report, which is mandated by Congress, said that the Chinese government “continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest and imprison activists, writers, journalists and defense lawyers and their families, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under the law.”

“The year 2007 saw increased efforts to control and censor the Internet, and the government tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the domestic press,” the report said.

“There was a 20 percent increase over 2006 in convictions of citizens under China’s overly broad state security law that is often used to silence government critics,” it said.

Ms. Richardson said that a standard feature of the State Department’s report is the behind-the-scenes bargaining between Mr. Farrar’s bureau and the department’s regional bureaus, which are responsible for political relationships with various countries.

She also pointed out that the United States has relied on China to help persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. Beijing is the host of six-nation talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear programs.

Some in Hollywood have begun a campaign to boycott the Olympics because of China’s failure to pressure Sudan into ending the conflict in its Darfur region, in spite of the close ties between the two governments. Director Steven Spielberg quit as an adviser to the Olympics’ opening ceremony last month.

“Sudan’s human rights record remained horrific” in 2007, yesterday’s report said, “with continued reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, beatings and rape by government security forces and their proxy militia in Darfur.”

In North Korea, the “repressive” regime “continued to control almost all aspects of citizens’ lives,” the report said.

“Pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions in some cases, and in other cases babies were killed upon birth in prisons,” it said in a section on detention and imprisonment.

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