Thursday, 24 July 2008

US lawmakers consider Olympic rights message to China

By P. Parameswaran

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A resolution was introduced Wednesday in the US House of Representatives asking China to end human rights abuses and its support for tainted governments in Sudan and Myanmar in line with "Olympic traditions of freedom and openness".

The resolution, proposed by the Democratic head of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, Howard Berman, is to be discussed and possibly voted on Thursday before it is sent to the House floor.

It called on Beijing "to immediately end abuses of the human rights of its citizens, to cease repression of Tibetan and Uighur citizens, and to end its support for the governments of Sudan and Burma (Myanmar)."

This, it added, was "to ensure that the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games take place in an atmosphere that honors the Olympic traditions of freedom and openness."

The 12-point resolution also called on President George W. Bush, who is to attend the games opening ceremony, to make a "strong public statement" in Beijing on China's human rights situation and meet with families of jailed "prisoners of conscience."

Bush was also asked to seek to visit the troubled Tibet and Xinjiang regions while in China to attend the games.

The resolution also sought direct talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader.

Hopes that Beijing would polish up its human rights record in the run up to the games have been "short-lived," Berman said during a House hearing Wednesday entitled "China on the Eve of the Olympics."

Reporters Without Borders announced in its annual report on China that in 2007 the government "did everything possible to prevent the liberal press, Internet users and dissidents from expressing themselves."

A recent poll by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China found that 67 percent of foreign journalists felt China was not keeping its promise to allow freedom of reporting, Berman said.

He also cited China's deadly crackdown on protests in Tibet in March and the arrest in December of Hu Jia, a leading fighter for human rights, health care and the environment.

Beijing's support for Robert Mugabe's hardline regime in Zimbabwe was also raised, especially its veto of a UN Security Council resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and travel and financial restrictions on the leader and other senior officials.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican member in the House foreign affairs panel, said Beijing had ahead of the Olympics "intensified its brutal crackdown on political dissidents and activists.

"One would wish that the motto of this year's Olympics, 'one world, one dream,' could ring true," she said. "Unfortunately, when it comes to the pursuit of democratic values and human rights, we remain a world divided with a dream unfulfilled."

Ros-Lehtinen also claimed Beijing had initiated "broad and sweeping measures to silence internal criticism," allegedly detaining hundreds of practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual sect and members of other organized movements.

"The number of reported raids and summary executions continues to rise, and the regime has even taken violent measures to discourage North Korean refugees from seeking asylum in China," she said.

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