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U.N. Human Rights Meeting To Begin

March 20, 2000

GENEVA (AP) _ China and Chechnya promise to be two of the toughest challenges for the 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission as it begins its annual six-week session.

The Chechen war and Chinese clampdowns are among issues that will be drawing dozens of foreign ministers and other top officials from as far away as Pakistan, Chile and Cuba.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook have joined about 30 cabinet level officials in signing up just for the first week, which begins today.

Two top human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have urged the commission to risk provoking the ire of Russia and China, two of the most powerful nations that will be involved in behind-the-scenes lobbying.

However, countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia have avoided outright condemnation in the past.

``There are quite a few untouchables″ at the commission, Isabelle Scherrer, Amnesty’s representative at the United Nations in Geneva, told reporters last Friday. ``China has been one for many years ... and we’ll see whether this year the commission can finally break its deadlock.″

The U.S. government took the unusual step this year of announcing well in advance _ on Jan. 11 _ that it would propose a resolution criticizing China, citing what it said was a continued deterioration in Beijing’s rights record.

Previous attempts to rebuke China have failed in the face of heavy lobbying by Beijing with developing countries, which dominate the commission.

The European Union, which last year refrained from backing a China resolution, has yet to announce a policy this year.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch say China is pressing its most concerted crackdown on dissent in a decade.

Addressing the opening session this year will be U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson, who visited China earlier this month and plans to visit Moscow and Chechnya starting March 31.

She has said China’s violations of freedom of speech, religion and association have worsened in the past year. During her visit, she failed to get China’s agreement on a program of technical cooperation to help it ratify two key human rights treaties.

Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen, however, has said China’s human rights situation has never been better.

Robinson also has expressed concern about the large number of civilian casualties in Russia’s campaign against Chechen rebels as well as alleged torture and other abuses. Russia has denied allegations of abuse.

Amnesty also says the commission should discuss conditions in Mexico.

Other nations that will be discussed by the commission will include such countries as Iran, Iraq, Myanmar and Cuba, all of which were criticized last year.


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