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Official Explains Change in US Stand on China at UN Human Rights Commission - 2003-05-01

A senior U.S. official says Washington's decision not to sponsor a resolution critical of China at this year's meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission decision was aimed at winning increasing cooperation from Beijing on its human rights record. The comments came during a hearing of the House of Representatives terrorism subcommittee.

Opening the hearing, Cong. Elton Gallegly,(R-Calf.) said he was puzzled at the lack of a U.S.-sponsored resolution condemning China at this year's U.N. Human Rights conference in Geneva.

Similarly surprised was Cong. Brad Sherman, (D-Calf.) who said that despite China's release of "a few dissidents" the State Department's overall critical report on China would appear to have justified a resolution.

In his written statement prepared for the hearing, Assistant Secretary Lorne Craner, made no mention of the absence of a resolution.

But responding to skeptical lawmakers, he said it was decided a resolution was not the best way to get better cooperation from Beijing on human rights.

"The question is what is the best way to try and end them [human rights violations]. And we are going to try for a year doing that without a resolution on China. We may be wrong," he said. "I may be sitting here in December or January eating humble pie in front of you. But we are going to try for a year doing it without a resolution."

Mr. Craner's written report to the committee said that despite some structural political reforms, serious human rights abuses continued in China. But he says these were balanced by what he called positive developments.

"We saw an unprecedented number of releases of individuals including of Tibetans that we had never seen before," he said. "We saw an unprecedented degree of willingness to engage in discussions not get results yet but engage in discussions both on Tibet and religious freedom. We also during the year came together with all of those who have discussions with the Chinese on human rights issues. And finally, for the first time ever we began programs to try and advance some of the structural reforms underway in China."

However, Cong. Dana Rohrabacher, (R-Calf.) a noted critic of China, said he is concerned the Bush administration is losing its focus on human rights.

"In Burma, and in China there are a lot of people out there who rely on us and I hope that we do not extinguish their hope we are their only hope," he said.

Also appearing before the committee Wednesday were former political prisoners from Iraq and North Korea, testifying on widespread human rights abuses, both present and past, in those countries.

Representatives of two human rights groups, Amnesty International and Freedom House, noted progress in human rights in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Turkey, Sierra Leone, Mexico, Brazil and Peru. However, they also noted setbacks in such places as Cuba and Zimbabwe.

Amnesty International expressed concern about what it called the omission of information in official U.S. human rights reports about actions taken in the name of the war on terrorism Amnesty says have led to human rights abuses.