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UN Rights Official Begins Asia Tour - 2002-08-18

The United Nations' top human rights official, Mary Robinson, has begun a week-long visit to China, Cambodia and East Timor. This will be Ms. Robinson's final trip as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, a post she leaves on September 11.

Ms. Robinson kicks off her trip in Beijing where she will open a workshop for judges and lawyers. This will be her seventh visit to China. She will meet China's minister of Justice and Education and is expected to raise concerns about a number of issues, including specific cases of alleged human rights abuse.

In November 2000, the U.N. Human Rights Office signed an accord with China offering the country technical assistance in improving its human rights situation. The High Commissioner's spokesman, Jose Dias, says Ms. Robinson will take stock of what China is doing to implement the U.N. programs. "For example, we have had discussions on the punishment of minor crimes with the Chinese authorities and their system of re-education through labor," said Mr. Diaz. "We have been talking about the training of police and giving them instructions on human rights. So, they are aware of the rights that all people should enjoy including those who come under the custody of the police."

Mr. Dias says he believes some slow, but steady progress is taking place. While in Beijing, High Commissioner Robinson will meet with Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk. She then will go on to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. During her stop there, Mr. Dias says Ms. Robinson will hold talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials, as well as representatives of private human rights groups.

"In Cambodia, the High Commissioner will be looking at judicial and legal reform in the country," explained spokesman Diaz. "The question of human trafficking, which is a very serious problem in Cambodia and in the region and also the implementation of economic and social and cultural rights. Things like the right to food, the right to housing, the right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living."

High Commissioner Robinson will end her week long trip in East Timor. In the capital, Dili, she will address the parliament and attend the first public hearing of the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mr. Dias says Ms. Robinson also will travel to Suai, where she will meet with the survivors of the 1999 Suai Church massacre. Pro-Indonesian militia killed over 100 people after the territory's population voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence for East Timor.