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Friday, November 24, 2000

Human Rights to Increase Social Stability: Robinson

[CND, 11/23/00] Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Beijing on Tuesday to enhance social stability by permitting many political and other liberties that it now prohibits, the South China Morning Post reported.

"My message really is that social stability can be helped by a strong regime of commitment to the international human rights norms and standards," the UN human rights chief said at the end of a two-day visit to China.

Robinson said that China is unique in its focus on social stability, a goal she argued could be reached through the granting of greater freedom in the realms of politics, expression, and religion. The most significant challenge facing China is to "recognize that it is much better for long-term social stability to allow expression of difference of opinions, allow different political expressions and manage the social controls in a different way," Mrs Robinson said. She said that she had "very engaged discussions" on these issues with President JIANG Zemin, but was unable to secure a clear response.

At a Beijing conference on economic rights, Mrs. Robinson differed strongly with LI Tieying, a member of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo, over the issue of civil liberties in China. Mr. Li reiterated that conceptions of human rights were relative, and that each country retains the right to establish its own system based on its own principles.

In response to Li's comments, Mrs. Robinson exhorted China to accept "the universality of human rights", a principle that she argued was the basis of two UN human rights covenants that Beijing is a signatory to, but has not ratified. She said that she told Mr. Jiang that speeding up ratification of these covenants is a significant issue.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee has twice reviewed one of the covenants, the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. Mrs. Robinson said that she was given the impression by scholars in Beijing that the "time is ripe" for the ratification of this covenant. She said that Chinese government officials also told her that the Standing Committee was likely to review this covenant again in February. But Mrs. Robinson said she was more concerned about the second of the two covenants, the one on civil and political rights, which the Standing Committee has yet to review.

The human rights commissioner spoke in defense of a memorandum of understanding on technical co-operation that was signed with Beijing on Monday. In response to criticism from human rights groups over the issue of measures through which human rights standards could be enforced, Mrs. Robinson said the memorandum would not lead her to keep silent. But she also said: "It's not enough to criticize some aspects of China's human rights record - and I have done and will continue to criticize - unless you're prepared to engage when the door is open." She said that the agreement would allow her organization, the High Commission, to address the reform of China's controversial labor re-education camps.

Mrs. Robinson reiterated that the sentences given to prisoners subject to re-education through labor were "not compatible with international norms" and would be addressed by her office beginning in February. (Laurel Mittenthal, WU Yiyi)