US, China trade human-rights barbs

The annual trans-Pacific war of words was renewed this week as first Washington, and then Beijing, released their 2004 human rights reports.

    Human-rights abuses are a major irritant in Sino-US relations

    Accusing each other of various human-rights abuses, China's verbal salvos

    carried additional venom this year after the well-publicised prisoner-abuse

    scandals in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

    This prompted human-rights watchers

    to express concern that US actions have undermined its moral authority,

    and made it easier for authoritarian governments to justify their human-rights

    abuses.

    Summarising China's human-rights record as "poor", the US report, issued on 28

    February by the State Department as part of a yearly review on global human

    rights, accused China of maintaining "tight restrictions on freedom of speech

    and of the press".

    Highlighting the lack of an independent judiciary and the arrest of several

    dissent writers towards the end of last year, the report said "many who openly

    expressed dissenting political views were harassed, detained, or imprisoned",

    and that the government was "quick to suppress religious, political, and social

    groups that they perceived as threatening to government authority or national

    stability".

    Harsh crackdown

    Covering 118 pages, it also reiterated an earlier criticism that China was using

    "the international war on terror as a pretext for cracking down harshly on

    suspected Uighur separatists expressing peaceful political dissent and on

    independent Muslim religious leaders", in the north-western border province of

    Xinjiang.

    In part wary of radical Islamic influence in the region, since 1997 China

    has been waging an anti-separatism campaign targeting "extremism",

    "terrorism", and "splittism". Critics, including the State Department report, say

    that the campaign has not adequately differentiated between those using

    peaceful forms of protest and those using violence.

    The Tiananmen Square massacre
    of 1989 chilled ties with the West

    Washington has yet to announce whether it will table a resolution against China's

    record at this month's UN Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva. Previous

    years' resolutions have always failed to be passed.

    "It is clear that China's human-rights situation needs improving, but China's

    human rights are an internal issue," Shen Jiru, a political theorist with the

    Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said soon after the report's publication.

    In part echoing the government line, Shen questioned whether moral values are

    always transferable and at what point in a society's development individual

    human rights should be given priority.

    "In China, the biggest problem is economic development as there are so many

    people with little money or education. Do these people's rights come before the

    rights of dissidents?" Shen asks.

    China's appraisal

    Issuing a formal response on Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman

    said that only the Chinese people have the right to comment on their human

    rights and that "the Chinese government, sticking to a policy it calls 'putting

    people above everything else,' has made many efforts toward building a

    democratic country under the rule of law".

    This was followed on Thursday by their own appraisal of US human-rights

    record.

    China's reaction to Uighur Muslim
    demands has sparked concern

    Its flowery language contrasting with the US State Department's bureaucratic

    wording, the report said that "the atrocity of US troops abusing Iraqi PoWs

    exposed the dark side of human-rights performance of the United States", and

    that "the world people have to probe the human rights record behind the Statue

    of Liberty in the United States". 

    Cataloguing a list of apparent failings within America, including high levels of

    racial discrimination, rising number of homelessness, and curtailment of rights

    since 9/11, the report questioned whether the US can justifiable pose

    as "the world's human rights police".

    "The 2004 US presidential election reported many problems, including counting

    errors, machine malfunctions, registration confusion, legal uncertainty, and lack

    of respect for voters," the report said.

    Double standards

    The report also listed a string of abuses carried out during the war in Iraq.

    Included were the killing of 45 people at a wedding party in May last year, and

    the shooting of seven civilians on a bus in Ramadi last November.

    US army abuses have come in for
    criticism from Chinese officials

    "The double standards of the US on human rights and its exercise of

    hegemonism and power politics under the pretext of promoting human rights

    certainly put itself in an isolated and passive position and beget opposition from

    all just members of the international community," the report concluded.

    Commenting on the two reports, Mickie Spiegel, China researcher at the New

    York-based Human Rights Watch, said: "Though I believe the US report on China

    tries to reflect accurately what is happening, American actions (in Iraq) has

    made it easier for the Chinese to criticise America, and makes it easier for more

    abusive governments to justify their own actions.

    "In terms of the US ability to speak for people's rights (Iraq) makes it very

    difficult for people to follow America and this worries me."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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