BEIJING - China went after its human rights critics yesterday, calling the United Nations' top rights monitor ill-informed, and firing back at U.S. criticisms by issuing its own charges of rights abuses in the United States.
The reaction came a day after U.S. President George W. Bush's administration, in one of its first China-related policy announcements since his January inauguration, said it would seek to censure Beijing at the U.N. Human Rights Commission when it meets in Geneva next month.
The Chinese government, stinging from the release Monday of the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights, issued a counter-report on the U.S.'s rights record yesterday. The Chinese report referred to the large number of deaths by gunfire in the U.S., the role of big money in election campaigns and a growing prison population.
China is trying to polish its human rights image, in part to aid its bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.
In its report on human rights around the world, the state department said China's already poor human rights record deteriorated last year. It said China imprisoned thousands of followers of the outlawed Falun Dafa, or Falun Gong, spiritual movement and intensified a crackdown in Tibet.
`The U.S. government does not talk about its own human rights situation, yet it makes gross distortions of human rights situations in other countries.'
|- Zhang Qiyue, spokesperson for China's foreign ministry
China's foreign ministry yesterday accused Washington of a double standard: ``The U.S. government does not talk about its own human rights situation, yet it makes gross distortions of human rights situations in other countries,'' spokesperson Zhang Qiyue said.
In its counter-report, China's cabinet pointed to the ``deteriorating human rights situation in the United States,'' including a high number of youths killed by guns, the execution of criminals convicted as juveniles and the abuse of children in juvenile prisons.
Mary Robinson, the U.N. commissioner for human rights who completed a visit to Beijing yesterday, said that Chinese officials had indicated China might ratify a key U.N. rights treaty, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as early as today. But it was not clear, she said, whether China would fully accept the most sensitive clause in the covenant, which calls for free labour unions.
Robinson also said China's treatment of Falun Dafa followers ``is not acceptable, it is in violation of human rights, it has to be addressed.''
She said she discussed with Chinese officials numerous complaints made to her office of torture, abuse and heavy sentences for Falun Dafa members.
But Liu Jing, who co-ordinates China's 19-month crackdown on the group, said Robinson was misinformed.
``I think her problem is that she really doesn't understand the Falun Gong cult,'' Liu said at a news conference. He called the group a social menace that destroyed tens of thousands of families and killed 1,660 people, many of them ``obsessive practitioners'' who eschewed modern medicine.
He dismissed as rumours claims by rights groups that more than 100 followers have been killed in the crackdown. Falun Dafa claims 5,000 of its members have been sent without trial to labour camps and that 155 have been killed.
Other countries who were singled out for criticism in the U.S. State Department report offered mixed reactions.
Colombian President Andres Pastrana acknowledged wrongdoing on all sides of the country's civil war. Israel said allegations of abuses against Palestinians during five months of violence had to be balanced with the Palestinian Authority's own lapses. Burma's military government rejected the charges as ``the same tune as usual'' based on false reports from its opponents.
In Russia, human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov echoed U.S. criticism and accused the government of the indiscriminate use of force in breakaway Chechnya, where federal troops are trying to crush rebels.
Mironov said the Russian military campaign had reduced the republic to ruins, making thousands of families homeless.
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