Tuesday, February 10, 2009

UN human rights 'peer review' turns into Beijing love-in

UNITED NATIONS — A number of countries attending a United Nations review of China’s human rights record Monday lauded Beijing for maintaining the death penalty, encouraged it to tighten Internet controls, and described it as “ethical and moral.”

Canada was among Western countries that took an opposite view, and China was so perplexed by what Australia said about Tibet its ambassador complained about Canberra’s “politicized statement.”

The gap between those praising Beijing and its critics illustrates the extent to which UN member states are split over the way they view human rights. That in turn, raises questions about the utility of sessions such as Monday’s, which was part of a new “peer review” process the Geneva-based Human Rights Council now presents as its flagship monitoring mechanism.

“While the UN promised to reform itself with a procedure that would hold all countries to account on an objective and equal basis, and help human rights victims worldwide, instead the council has turned into a mutual praise society, giving a free pass to the world’s worst abusers,” said Montreal native Hillel Neuer, executive director of Geneva-based UN Watch.

Canada’s leading concerns included China’s widespread use of the death penalty, a “re-education” through labour program, and arbitrary detention of minorities such as Tibetans, Mongols and Muslim separatist Uyghur people.

Australia highlighted reports of Chinese harassment, arbitrary arrest, detention and punishment of religious minorities — specifically mentioning Tibetans.

“There were a few countries like Australia, which made some ill-founded comments on the question of Tibet,” said LI Baodong, China’s ambassador in Geneva.
He and other Chinese delegates insisted China is guided by the “rule of law,” denying Western charges it uses torture or jails dissidents. (!!!!)

Iran said at the “peer review” of Canada’s human rights record last week that it “noted the growing discriminatory treatment against indigenous people, aboriginal women, migrants, Muslims, Arabs and Afro-Canadians,” said a UN-issued summary of the hearing.

Other non-Western countries added Canada was not doing enough in areas like aboriginal rights, violence against women, poverty and racism.

Commenting on China Monday, Iran’s Farhad Mamdouhi commended China on its “overall strong commitment to human rights.” He highlighted the “negative effects” of the Internet, and said China should press ahead with a crackdown in a bid to combat racial hatred, defamation of religions and pornography.

Many human rights advocates have long said that such statements are code used on the international stage for cracking down on ethnic and religious minorities, and free speech.

Egypt’s Hisham Badr said China had “demonstrated its commitment to protecting human rights despite facing the “challenges” of a nation of 1.3 billion people.

“We understand the need of China to keep the death penalty,” he said after noting Egypt too, retains capital punishment.
Praising China’s “controls” on death penalty usage, Badr highlighted Beijing does not execute those under 18 “or any pregnant woman.”

Cuba’s Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios described China as a “exceptional country” adding — in an apparent dig at Western countries — its “millennium-long history and hard work have put to shame all those who have tried to criticize” it.

Speaking for Canada, Louis-Martin Aumais opened and closed in Mandarin — but criticisms were delivered in English.
“Canada recommends China reduce the number of crimes carrying the death penalty and regularly publish detailed statistics on death-penalty use,” he said.
“Canada recommends China abolish all forms of administrative detention, including re-education through labour. Canada recommends China eliminate abuse of psychiatric committal.”

While China has avoided seeing its human rights practices discussed in any detail by any previous UN body, the new “peer review” process involves reviewing every country in turn. Observers said Beijing’s strong reaction showed deep sensitivity on the issues involved.

“This was a display of very low tolerance of critical comments,” Sharon Hom, a Hong Kong-born lawyer who heads the U.S.-based Human Rights in China, told a news conference.


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