China likely to dodge censure in U.N. rights forum

GENEVA (Reuters) - China looked likely to escape censure again at the U.N. human rights forum Wednesday by sidestepping a U.S. resolution condemning its record.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, in the final stretch of its annual six-week session to examine violations worldwide, is due Wednesday to examine the records of countries including China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.

The United States is expected to call for a vote in the 53-member state U.N. forum on its resolution accusing China of violations including the repression of Tibetans and of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

But rights groups said they expected China to quash any true debate, and that Western resolutions on Iran and Cuba could also be defeated by the Commission.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has denounced the composition of this year's forum, whose new members with voting rights include states accused of serious abuses -- Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam.

"I am very pessimistic on China. It is very, very unlikely something different from last year and the year before would happen," Joanna Weschler, of Human Rights Watch, said.

"Cuba is extremely iffy ... . Iran is a big question mark," Weschler, a veteran of the annual event, told Reuters in Geneva.

Debate on a European Union (EU) resolution condemning Russia's continued use of "disproportionate and indiscriminate force" against civilians in breakaway Chechnya is now expected Friday. Negotiations continue with Russia, diplomats said.


The U.S. resolution also calls on China to permit freedom of religion, release all political prisoners and to eliminate a system of detention known as "reeducation through labor," which allows for imprisonment without trial.

Supporters of Falun Gong held rallies Tuesday in Hong Kong and Washington ahead of an evening candlelight vigil by up to 200 Falun Gong members outside the U.N. building in Geneva.

In a statement, the group alleged that at least 193 people had been killed by torture and police brutality during the "illegal crackdown" on its practitioners begun in 1999.

"Most of these deaths have occurred in the past five months; 16 deaths have been reported during the first four weeks of the Commission's current session," it said in Geneva.

Dominique Nardin, a Falun Gong spokeswoman, told Reuters: "We are gathering to commemorate the lives of victims of persecution. Members have come from various countries."

China, which describes the Falun Gong as "an evil cult," generally enjoys wide support among Asian and other developing countries at the main U.N. rights forum.

Many Western diplomats and U.N. sources doubt the U.S. resolution will even be debated, as China is expected to present its own motion calling for "no action" on the U.S. text.

By using this controversial procedural maneuver, China has avoided examination of its record every year since its troops' killings of hundreds of protesters in Beijing in June 1989.

Negotiations continued on a Czech Republic resolution on Cuba amid heated Western debate on its references to the U.S. embargo on the communist island, diplomats said.

Its wording had criticized the decades-old embargo on Cuba, angering Washington, but was watered down in a later draft -- upsetting the French delegation, they added.

About 100 Iranians protested outside the U.N. in Geneva on Tuesday, calling for "decisive condemnation of human rights abuses in Iran." The protest was organized by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran.

18:28 04-17-01

Copyright 2001 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.