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Listen to the voice

Rice brings human rights to the table with Chinese leaders

Tuesday, Jul 01, 2008, Page 1

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed China¡¦s leaders yesterday on sensitive human rights issues, but said she was encouraged by their decision to hold talks with the Dalai Lama¡¦s envoys.

In meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao (­JÀAÀÜ)and Premier Wen Jiabao (·Å®aÄ_) in Beijing, Rice said she raised the cases of several dissidents detained by China as well as the ruling Communist Party¡¦s controls on the Internet.

¡§I think that is one of the brewing issues,¡¨ Rice said as she summarized their discussions on Internet freedoms.

¡§The Internet is becoming so ubiquitous. It shouldn¡¦t be something used to constrain and limit political speech,¡¨ she said.

Differences over the international response to the political crisis in Zimbabwe were also discussed, with Rice insisting the UN Security Council had a key role to play despite China¡¦s preference for a mainly African solution.

Rice said the talks also covered the recent progress in the long-running campaign to end North Korea¡¦s nuclear weapons programs, problems in the international economy and climate change.

In brief comments at the start of their meeting, Hu thanked Rice for visiting China¡¦s earthquake-hit Sichuan Province on Sunday as well as US assistance following the disaster in May that left nearly 90,000 people dead.

Rice told reporters the recent unrest in Tibet was also discussed, with the top US diplomat expressing cautious optimism over Beijing¡¦s decision to hold further talks with envoys of the region¡¦s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

¡§I am encouraged that there at least will be a second round of talks,¡¨ she said.

However she repeated that the US did not accept China¡¦s accusations that the Dalai Lama was bent on achieving independence for his Himalayan homeland, which has been ruled by China for nearly 60 years.

¡§The Dalai Lama is a figure of considerable moral authority. He is a figure who has rejected violence. He is a figure who talks about cultural and religious historical autonomy,¡¨ she said. ¡§He doesn¡¦t push for political independence.¡¨

Her comments came as the Tibetan government-in-exile said envoys of the Dalai Lama were expected to arrive in Beijing later yesterday for two days of talks with Chinese officials.



A local resident holds a pangolin in Taitung County yesterday after catching it near his home.





Listen to the voice

Human rights require freedom from need

People must be given all the basic necessities of life in order to be able to live free from fear and want

By Louise Arbour
Tuesday, Jul 01, 2008, Page 9


On June 18, the UN¡¦s intergovernmental Human Rights Council took an important step toward eliminating the artificial divide between freedom from fear and freedom from want that has characterized the human rights system since its inception.

By giving the green light to the Optional Protocol to the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Council has established an important mechanism to expose abuses that are typically linked to poverty, discrimination and neglect.

It will now be up to the UN General Assembly to provide final approval of the protocol. If adopted, this instrument can make a real difference in the lives of those who are often left to languish at the margins of society, and who are denied economic, social and cultural rights, such as access to adequate nutrition, health services, housing and education.

Sixty years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized that freedom from want and freedom from fear are indispensable preconditions for a dignified life. The declaration unequivocally linked destitution and exclusion with discrimination and unequal access to resources and opportunities. Its framers understood that social and cultural stigmatization precludes full participation in public life and the ability to influence policies and obtain justice.

Yet this unified approach was undermined by the post-World War II logic of geopolitical blocs competing over ideas, power and influence. Human rights were also affected by such Cold War bipolarity. Countries with planned economies argued that the need for survival superseded the aspiration to freedom, so that access to basic necessities included in the basket of economic, social and cultural rights should take priority in policy and practice.

By contrast, Western governments were wary of this perspective, which they feared would hamper free-market practices, impose overly cumbersome financial obligations or both. Thus, they chose to prioritize those civil and political rights that they viewed as the hallmarks of democracy.

Against this background, it was impossible to agree on a single, comprehensive human rights instrument giving holistic effect to the declaration¡¦s principles. And unsurprisingly, it took almost two decades before UN member states simultaneously adopted two separate treaties ¡X the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ¡X encompassing the two distinct baskets of rights. However, only the former treaty was endowed with a follow-up mechanism to monitor its implementation.

In practice, this discrepancy created a category of ¡§alpha¡¨ rights ¡X civil and political ¡X that took priority in influential and wealthy countries¡¦ domestic and foreign policy agendas. By contrast, economic, social and cultural rights were often left to linger at the bottom of the national and international ¡§to do¡¨ lists.

Addressing this imbalance between the two baskets of rights, the new protocol establishes for the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights a vehicle to expose abuse, known as a ¡§complaint mechanism,¡¨ similar to those created for other core human rights treaties. This procedure may seem opaque, but by lodging a complaint under the protocol¡¦s provisions, victims will now be able to bring to the surface abuses that their governments inflict, fail to stop, ignore or do not redress. In sum the protocol provides a way for individuals, who may otherwise be isolated and powerless, to make the international community aware of their plight.

After its adoption by the General Assembly, the protocol will enter into force when a critical mass of UN member states has ratified it. This should contribute to the development of appropriate human rights-based programs and policies enhancing freedoms and welfare for individuals and their communities.

Not all countries will embrace the protocol. Some will prefer to avoid any strengthening of economic, social and cultural rights and will seek to maintain the status quo. The better and fairer position, however, is to embrace the vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and promote unambiguously the idea that human dignity requires respect for the equally vital and mutually dependent freedoms from fear and want.

Louise Arbour is UN high commissioner for human rights.



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