Envoy - China agrees to invite U.N. inspectors

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

BEIJING -- China has agreed to issue unconditional invitations to U.N. investigators to come and study issues of torture, religious freedom and arbitrary detention, an American envoy said Tuesday after two days of human rights talks.

The officials also said they will invite leaders of a U.S. government-financed commission on religious freedom to visit China, according to Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner, the State Department's top human rights official.

Craner said he took the promise of invitations to U.N. investigators as a sign that China's communist government is serious about trying to improve its human rights record.

"You usually don't invite those people unless you're serious about addressing the issues they will raise," he told The Associated Press. No date was set for the U.N. visits, Craner said, but "they said they would issue the invitations immediately."

China had promised earlier this year to arrange a visit by the U.N. torture investigator. But the U.N. human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, said they had not agreed to U.N. demands that he be allowed to visit prisons of his choice and talk in private with inmates.

"What is important about this renewed invitation is that it is unconditional," Craner said.

In addition, he said China had promised to invite U.N. investigators to look into issues of religious freedom and arbitrary detention -- both areas rife with accusations of Chinese government abuses.

The talks this week in Beijing were part of a periodic series of U.S.-Chinese human rights contacts.

China usually rejects scrutiny of its human rights record as interference in its affairs. But it has carried out such dialogues since the mid-1990s with the United States, the European Union and other governments.

Activists have complained that such contacts produce little progress, while muting official criticism.

Craner's comments were a rare departure from foreign governments' reluctance to release details of their talks.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said earlier Tuesday that the talks "enhanced understanding" -- a typical assessment of such meetings -- but he gave no details and didn't mention any promise of visits by U.N. inspectors.

Craner met Monday with Vice Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, a former ambassador to Washington, and also with officials of the Justice Ministry, religious affairs agency and Communist Party.

Rights activists had called on Craner to press Chinese officials for specific commitments and a timetable for improvements and to release political prisoners.

They asked the Americans to take up the case of Lobsang Dhondup, a Tibetan who was sentenced to death this month in connection with a series of bombings in western China. Dhondup is an aide to Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist leader who received a suspended death sentence in the case. Activists said the two were mistreated in custody and did not receive a fair trial.

According to Craner, Chinese officials said both Tibetans had filed appeals. He said the officials repeated the government's assertion that both men had confessed to involvement in the bombings.

Activists also have appealed for pressure on China to release Rebiya Kadeer, a Muslim businesswoman imprisoned for sending newspapers to her activist husband abroad; and pro-democracy activist Xu Wenli, who is serving a 13-year prison term.

Craner said his delegation had mentioned both of those cases. Asked about the Chinese response, he said, "'Stay tuned' is all I can say right now."

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