US attacks human rights abuses in China, Chechnya, Burma
By JOHN ZAROCOSTAS
GENEVA, Switzerland, March 23 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright on Thursday attacked China's poor human rights record in a keynote speech in Geneva to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
Albright urged the 53-member commission to vote in favor of a resolution to be sponsored by the U.S., "expressing concern about widespread denials of political, cultural, labor and religious freedom in China."
She told a packed chamber that China's human rights policies, which have always fallen short of global standards, have "deteriorated markedly this past year."
In recent years, China has managed to muster the necessary political support to block any resolution critical of its track record. China has been able to do so by activating a "no action" procedure.
"We owe it to the Chinese people and to the credibility of this commission and its members not to shy away from the whole truth, or to hide behind procedural motions," Albright said.
Albright also singled out human rights violations by Russian troops in Chechnya, by the Castro regime in Cuba and by the government of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. But Albright did not call for a resolution to condemn reports of Russian abuses in Chechnya, surprising some human rights groups and diplomats.
"The part (of Albright's speech) on Chechnya was unsatisfactory," said Joanna Weschler, a representative to the United Nations from Human Rights Watch. "It was not what we had hoped for, but the section on China part was pretty good."
In an open letter to Albright on March 22, Human Rights Watch called on the United States to "initiate or sponsor a resolution" that would condemn alleged Russian abuses in Chechnya.
In the speech, Albright also condemned what she said was relentless
repression of core rights in Burma, "brutal repression" of dissent in
Iraq, religious discrimination in Iran against the
Baha'i and the practice of the crime of slavery by the
government of Sudan. She also spoke about the need for due process in
the pending trial of 13 Jews in Iran.
One Asian ambassador, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was surprised Albright downplayed these rights "especially when you consider that she is currently in the middle of an official visit to the Asian subcontinent, one of the world's poorest areas."
Peter Hain, Britain's minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, told the commission that with the current move towards globalization, efforts must be made to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights -- as well as civil and political rights -- are protected.
Hain said that hundreds of millions of people are growing richer, but, he said: "some 1.3 billion people -- two thirds of them women -- have no access to adequate food, water sanitation, essential health care or primary education. 35,000 young children each day die because of preventable diseases. This denies (them) the most elementary human rights."
And Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Monday, during the opening of the commission's six-week annual session, "Eradicating extreme poverty is the greatest human rights challenge we face."
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