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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 19:05 GMT
UN-China rift on human rights
Police officers in Beijing
The agreement will aid reform of the police
The United Nations' top human rights official and Chinese leaders have expressed sharply different views over civil liberties, a day after signing a co-operation agreement.


I still have continuing serious concerns about the need for reform and... freedom of expression

Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said China still had a "very significant way to go" in meeting international human rights standards.

At a conference in Beijing on economic rights attended by Mrs Robinson, Communist Party Politburo member Li Tieying insisted human rights were relative to each country.

Mary Robinson
Robinson said she had engaged discussions with Jiang
Chinese President Jiang Zemin also made similar comments to Mrs Robinson when they met, saying China had its own way of promoting and protecting human rights, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Mr Jiang reiterated China's position that giving food and shelter to the country's population had to take precedence over the Western concepts of human rights.

'Engaged discussions'

Ms Robinson said she raised the issues of freedom of religion and speech, the rights of migrant workers and the strict controls over the internet during her meeting with Mr Jiang.

Tibetans with a Chinese police officer
China has been accused of human rights abuses in Tibet
She told a press conference in Beijing that she had expressed concern to him about China's treatment of Tibetans and the banned Falun Gong sect.

She said she had "very engaged discussions" with Mr Jiang about how China could achieve its key aim of social stability by allowing more freedoms, but had been unable to gauge his response to her arguments.

She said she had urged China to move towards ratifying two key human rights treaties - the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Agreement criticised

Mrs Robinson defended Monday's agreement to reporters, saying although it "won't change everything overnight", criticism should be mixed with efforts to help China implement reforms.

Arrest of Falun Gong member
China has arrested thousands of Falun Gong members
The agreement, which provides for technical co-operation covering areas such as the training of lawyers and policemen, has drawn criticism for being too weak.

"It's not enough to criticise some aspects of China's human rights record - and I have done and will continue to criticise - unless you're prepared to engage when the door is open," she said.

The New York-based Human Rights in China has said the agreement had been watered down from previous drafts and lacked the substance to bring about any meaningful change.

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See also:

20 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
UN signs human rights deal in China
06 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Tibetan nuns 'died after torture'
13 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong protesters arrested
08 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Top Chinese official executed
13 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Corruption: End of China's Party?
26 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
China accused of ruining Tibet
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