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UN to China: Use Balance in Cracking Down on Terrorism - 2001-11-09

The top U.N. human rights official is calling on China not to use the war on terrorism as an excuse to crack down on civil liberties. She also says that China has failed to accept a previously promised visit by a U.N. torture inspector.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, says the number of complaints about torture and ill-treatment in China has risen significantly in recent months, especially among ethnic-Muslim Uighurs in China's northwestern province, Xinjiang.

In a meeting with reporters Friday at the close of her two-day visit to Beijing, Ms. Robinson said she cautioned Chinese President Jiang Zemin and other officials to use balance in their measures against terrorism.

"I have felt it particularly important to very strongly maintain the importance of adhering to fundamental principles of human rights, freedom of expression and association. The fact that, to seek to combat terrorism by cutting corners and infringing human rights is completely counterproductive and undermines the legitimacy of the action and therefore can breed further terrorism as a possible consequence," she said.

Ms. Robinson said Chinese officials told her that about 1,000 Muslim Uighurs have received training in terrorist camps linked to Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect is the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. China has asked the world to support its struggle against Uighur militants trying to establish an independent state.

But Ms. Robinson said that violence carried out by a few extremists did not justify what she called the very serious situation of imprisonment and torture in China. She said that the government's recent campaign against crime has sometimes relied on torture to obtain convictions.

In her meetings with Chinese officials, Ms. Robinson said she also raised cases of widespread abuse of followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, including the exposure of women in the group to sexual assault by other prisoners.

Ms. Robinson said that despite China's invitation in 1999 to the U.N. torture investigator, Nigel Rodley, to visit prisons here, two years of talks have failed to come up with a date for the visit.

"I also pursued the requested by the special rapporteur on torture, Nigel Rodley, to visit. In fact, it's too late now for him to pay a visit. But he had not heard any information since May from the Chinese authorities, and he indicated that he would need to get a firm date by July of this year if he was to exercise the visit, as had been long discussed but never in fact implemented," she said.

Beijing had refused to allow Mr. Rodley to visit prisons and police stations of his own choosing, or to meet privately with prisoners. He is resigning from his post as the U.N. torture investigator next week.

During her stay, Ms. Robinson signed an agreement with China on the second stage of a U.N. program to help improve human rights