Europe and Human Rights
Monday, March 25, 2002
THE ANNUAL MEETING of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva risks becoming a showcase of the weakness of support for that cause among Europe's largest democracies. As the six-week session got underway last week, none of the commission's 53 members was prepared to raise the subject of China, even though Beijing's record of political and religious oppression has only grown worse in the past year. Nor is it clear that any new resolution will be passed about Russia's war in Chechnya, though President Vladimir Putin has flagrantly violated the terms of resolutions passed by the commission the past two years. Fidel Castro may also get a bye; so far, despite prompting from the United States, no country has been willing to raise Cuba's case.
Some might attribute this sorry prospect to a lessening of concern about abuses of individual rights following the terrorist attacks of last Sept. 11. But there is a simpler explanation: This year is the first in the 55-year history of the commission that the United States has been excluded as a member. Even as countries such as Syria and Sudan -- along with perennial targets Cuba and China -- were elected to the commission last year, the United States was voted off after its European allies declined to grant it an assured place. At the time, there was a lot of self-satisfied talk in Europe about teaching a lesson to the arrogant and unilateralist Bush administration. Now, however, the European governments that left themselves alone in Geneva risk giving the world a different lesson --one in their own inability to stand up against torture, massacre and extrajudicial killings when they are practiced in places such as Chechnya or Tibet. Though the U.N. commission has no real authority, Beijing has gone to great lengths to avoid the passage of resolutions in recent years,
threatening would-be sponsors with economic and political retaliation. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations pressed resolutions anyway; with the United States gone this year, the European Union released its members to take action if they so choose. But so far none has done so -- not Britain, or Germany, or Italy or Spain -- and not France, or Sweden or Austria, the three countries that combined to muscle the United States off the commission last year.
If that passivity continues, the message to China's Communist regime will be clear: Europe has no will to resist its suppression of political freedom, its torture and murder of the Falun Gong and other religious
believers, its campaign against independent intellectuals or its crackdowns in Tibet and Muslim-populated Xinjiang province.
Mr. Putin senses the weakness, too. Although he refused to accept visits to Chechnya by U.N. rapporteurs, as called for by last year's resolution, he is banking on a commission decision to forgo a new resolution this year in favor of a weaker chairman's statement, the text of which would be agreed on with Moscow in advance. European governments would have taken that course last year had they not been blocked by the United States. Now no one stands in their way; the commission's record this year will be a reflection of how seriously the Europeans are willing to press human rights on governments that are capable of fighting back. The United States has been assured of regaining its seat on the commission next year, which is good; now European governments have six weeks to show what their values are.
You are welcome to print and circulate all articles published on Clearharmony and their content, but please quote the source.