U.N. panel bars human rights groups China repeats its hard line

June 17, 1993|By New York Times News Service

VIENNA, Austria -- In what was seen as a victory for China's campaign to limit international monitoring of human rights, non-governmental organizations attending the World Conference on Human Rights were ejected yesterday from the committee drafting the meeting's final document.

The non-governmental organizations, which include powerful groups such as Amnesty International, protested angrily that the United Nations had allowed itself to be browbeaten by China, which had threatened to boycott the drafting committee if independent human rights representatives were present.

"A number of delegates told us that China said it would have trouble participating if non-governmental organizations were present," said Reed Brody, a representative of the International Human Rights Law Group, who had been assigned to the drafting committee. "The Chinese said: 'We don't need baby sitters.' "

China is perhaps the most outspoken of a group of Asian countries that accuses the West of trying to impose its values on regions with different religious and cultural traditions and that objects to moves to strengthen U.N. authority to denounce human rights abuses.

Last week China infuriated the non-governmental organizations when it persuaded the United Nations to ban the Dalai Lama from addressing rights groups here. After strong Western pressure, the Dalai Lama was allowed to speak to a crowd on the grounds of the U.N. complex, on Tuesday.

"At a time when the U.N. should be exercising leadership in advancing human rights, it shows itself to be preoccupied with the sensibilities of its most abusive governments," said Kenneth Roth, acting executive director of the Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York. "By succumbing to this blackmail the U.N. sinks to the level of its most repressive member states."

In presenting Beijing's formal position to the conference Tuesday evening, however, Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Huaqiu made no effort to apologize for his government's stance, noting that on human rights "other countries have no right to interfere."

He also reiterated his government's view that economic development was the most important human right of any developing country. "The argument that human rights is the precondition for development is unfounded," he said, adding that individual rights could never prevail over those of the state and society.

The hard-line speech was no surprise to Western delegates, but its move to clear independent groups from the committee signaled that China also hoped to achieve many of its objectives in the closed-door negotiations on the final document.

That document is theoretically to be adopted by consensus, but Western governments led by the United States have warned that they will not accept "the lowest common denominator" simply to preserve the image of worldwide agreement. Last week those governments also appeared to think that they had won approval for non-governmental participation in the drafting.

But Mr. Brody said he already recognized signs of trouble Tuesday, when the chairman of the drafting committee, Gilberto Vergne Saboia of Brazil, informed him that human rights groups would be excluded from informal meetings and that most of the negotiation in the coming days would occur informally.

"It's, of course, a fiction, because the committee meets in the same place with the same interpreters, with the same formality, but it just says it's meeting informally," Mr. Brody, an American lawyer, said shortly after the rights groups had been forced to leave the drafting committee. He added that he expected to be kept informed of developments by Western delegates.

Although the conference will continue until June 25, the 1,000 or so non-governmental organizations represented here have been deeply frustrated by U.N. rules, not least the decision that in formal discussions specific cases of violations not be mentioned.

In practice that rule was violated on Tuesday by the Bosnian foreign minister, Haris Siladzic, who began a strong attack on Serbia for its onslaught on Bosnia-Herzegovina. The conference responded sympathetically, urging the U.N. Security Council to take measures to end "the genocide" in Bosnia.

Yesterday it was the turn of Pakistan's representative, Begun Nusrat Bhutto, to accuse India of carrying out repression in Kashmir. India's chief delegate, J. N. Dixit, responded by accusing Pakistan of carrying out its own violations in the disputed territory.

Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, also addressed the conference, demanding that resolute measures be taken to end Israeli military actions in the occupied territories, actions that he said were "tantamount to genocide." In that case Israel chose not to respond.

The final document will not name specific violators. Instead, the battle of words will be between Western nations that are demanding reaffirmation of the "universality" of human rights and countries, mostly in Asia, that favor redefining human rights.

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