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Top UN Human Rights Official Urges Ratification of Anti-Trafficking Agreements

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged China and other non-signatories to ratify rights agreements to help counter the rise in trafficking of women and children worldwide. High Commissioner Louise Arbour spoke at an Asia-Pacific human rights conference on Tuesday.

U.N. agencies say millions of women and children continue to be smuggled across borders, ending up as prostitutes, beggars, or doing forced labor. The world body's High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called human trafficking "a horrendous crime" and said it is growing worse.

"By its very nature, it constitutes an acute violation of human rights and reports today suggest that more people are being trafficked than ever before," she said.

The problem is especially bad in China, despite strict laws and penalties that include execution for those who kidnap girls under the age of 14 and force them into prostitution. In spite of improvements in policing and tougher legislation, international experts say enforcement remains lax in some areas.

The focus of Ms. Arbour's five-day visit is to urge Chinese officials to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to press them to carry out changes to the judicial process as required by the agreement. She also plans to raise China's human rights record with senior officials.

Security around Ms. Arbour has been tight, as authorities try to prevent petitioners from approaching the U.N. official.

Li Jian is a human rights advocate in the eastern city of Dalian who recently joined dozens of intellectuals, lawyers and journalists in signing an open letter to Ms. Arbour asking her to stand up for the rights of Chinese citizens. Mr. Li says he would have liked to have spoken with the U.N. official personally.

"If I could meet with her, I would like to brief her on China's human rights situation and ask her what she can do to help," he said. "Sure, we have seen some improvements, but the very basic things have not changed much. Unfair arrests, abuses, all very much exist in China still."

For the first time in years, the United States this year decided not to condemn China's record at the annual session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, saying China had taken important and significant steps to increase leniency for political prisoners and religious freedom.

However, U.S. officials say persistent systemic problems remain. This year's State Department Report on Human Rights was critical of China's jailing of activists and religious leaders, and what it said is the continued abuse of prisoners.