When Pocketbook Issues Clash with Human Rights ; Alleged Violations in Chechnya and China Top the UN's List at the Geneva Meetings This Month

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This month at an annual ritual in Geneva, officials from 53 governments are struggling to determine which states should be branded human rights violators. But, to the frustration of many delegates to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the behind- the-scenes reality of negotiations often overlooks human rights.

Analysts bemoan the fact that economics and political strategy tend to take precedence - especially in the cases of China and Russia.

"This is not an august body of world harmony. This is political from the beginning to the end," says one European Union official of the six-week convention.

For example, the New York-based Human Rights Watch is lobbying various Western governments to introduce a resolution against Moscow for alleged war-time abuses in Chechnya. But the United States and its European allies have been slow to take action. They say they must first wait for a report from UN human rights chief Mary Robinson, who arrived in Grozny yesterday. On her agenda is an inspection of detention centers where Russian troops allegedly tortured Chechen civilians.

However, many activists fear that member states have already made up their minds against angering Russia, which holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

"There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the extent and scale of human rights violations in Chechnya deserve UN condemnation," says Adam Berry at the Center for Peacemaking and Community Development, which operates in and around the breakaway republic. "But will any country dare to say so at the Human Rights Commission?"

On a similar note, there is the China question. The United States once again will try to get member states to rebuke China. But Washington's efforts this time appear as doomed as its previous eight attempts. Human rights activists complain that economic and political leverage allow some governments to escape international censure.

"In the past, China has offered economic incentives to some small developing countries sitting on the human rights commission. …