China under fire at UN human rights meeting

The annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has opened in Geneva, with China expected to top the agenda. Several hundred members of the Falun Gong movement, which China banned last July, staged a protest in the city (picture).

This content was published on March 20, 2000 - 22:47

The annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has opened in Geneva, with China expected to top the agenda. Several hundred members of the Falun Gong movement, which China banned last July, staged a silent protest in the city to mark the opening (picture).

About 350 Falun Gong followers performed medidative exercises outside the UN's European headquarters in Geneva. Representatives of the movement called on the UN to to speak out against China's crackdown.

"Falun Gong reiterates that it is not political and not against any government," said the movement's United States-based spokeswoman, Gail Rachlin.

Beijing's human rights record is likely to be the most controversial issue at the meeting. The US has reportedly submitted a resolution calling for China to be criticised for its ban on the Falun Gong religious movement, and the arrests and intimidation of its members.

The US's strong words about China are likely to cause major diplomatic headaches, and may stymie efforts by President Clinton to ease China into the World Trade Organisation.

The Clinton administration has been lobbying hard for China's inclusion into the WTO, but has come up against strong opposition in Congress. China is also furious with the United States for selling arms to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province.

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, will address the commission on Tuesday. Deiss will be one of many ministers to address the 56th session of the UN's Human Rights Commission. As Switzerland's representative, he's expected to criticise Russia over its treatment of civilians in Chechnya, as well as China for its continuing record of human rights abuses.

The UN human rights commission is also expected to criticise several other nations. Those likely to be singled out for particular criticism are Myanmar, Afghanistan and Israel.

The military regime in Yangon has consistently been carpeted for its summary executions, forced labour and child slavery, while Afghanistan has come under fire for its treatment of women, and the frequent practice of arbitrary arrest and summary trials.

Israel faces several charges of human rights abuses, both in the occupied Palestinian territories and southern Lebanon. Last year, the UN called on Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories, including the Golan Heights.

The conference will also focus on wider human rights issues, relating to migrants, women, and economic development.

swissinfo and agencies

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