U.N. Human Rights Summit Begins In Geneva

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - The United Nations' major annual gathering on human rights kicked off its 2001 session in Geneva Monday, with the U.S. eager to censure China for abuses, and China equally determined to brush aside the condemnation.

Among the many other areas on the agenda for the six-week-long United Nations Human Rights Convention gathering are the situations in Israel and the disputed territories, and in Chechnya, Iran, Iraq and Cuba.

Washington announced last month that it would sponsor a resolution at the UNCHR condemning China. In its annual report on global human rights, the State Department said Beijing's "poor human rights record worsened and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses" in 2000.

The report highlighted curbs on religious freedom - including the suppression of the Falun Gong sect and clampdown on underground Christians - and the continuing situation in Tibet.

Beijing responded to the State Department report by issuing its own report criticizing the human rights situation in the U.S.

The U.S. has routinely sponsored a resolution on China, but China has on nine previous occasions gathered sufficient support from allies and developing countries among the commission's 53 member states to avoid having the resolution fully debated.

Last year's vote on China's "no action motion" was supported by 22 members, with 18 opposed and 12 abstentions. The 53rd representative left without voting.

Reflecting the highly politicized nature of the vote, China won the backing of Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and other developing nations. Those opposing the procedural motion included the U.S., Canada, Japan and seven European Union nations.

U.S. representatives saw as positive the fact the number of countries backing China had dropped by one since the previous year.

But that trend may not continue: This year's new UNCHR members include countries unlikely to back the U.S. against China, including Libya and Syria, both of whom are on the State Department's lists of terror-sponsors. Cuba, also on the list, is another current member of the body.

Others include Indonesia, where ethnic and religious killings are rife, the civil war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, and military-ruled Pakistan.

The inclusion in the UNCHR of undemocratic states has prompted some human rights advocates to question whether they join the commission specifically to avoid having their own records criticized.

Other areas of concern

The UNCHR last year sent a commission of inquiry to examine allegations that Israel was abusing Palestinians' human rights. A full report will be presented to the Geneva meeting early next week, and the situation there could be discussed for up to a week.

Russia's handling of the rebellion in Chechnya will be another major focus. Russia was last year censured by the commission for "disproportionate and indiscriminate use of Russian military force, including attacks against civilians" and a new U.N. report again takes Moscow to task.

Monday's meeting opened with a statement from the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

Robinson, a former Irish president, on Sunday quelled speculation that she has an eye on the U.N.'s top post when Kofi Annan's term ends. In Geneva Monday, she announced unexpectedly that she was retiring from her current post later this year.

See Earlier Story:
China Escapes U.N. Scrutiny For Abuses - Again (April 18, 2000)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow