World News

China pressed at U.N. rights body to re-open Tibet

GENEVA (Reuters) - China came under pressure at the United Nations’ top human rights forum on Tuesday to permit foreigners to re-enter Tibet and assess the consequences of Beijing’s crackdown on recent protests and riots.

The European Union, in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council, urged Chinese authorities to refrain from force against a wave of Tibetan demonstrations that began on March 10 -- the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Washington issued a firm statement against China’s closure of Tibet to foreign journalists, diplomats and international observers, a move U.S. Ambassador Warren Tichenor said has made objective assessments of conditions there impossible.

“Restrictions on the access of foreign media to Tibetan areas of China run counter to China’s Olympic bid commitments. We are concerned about official Chinese rhetoric and the blocking of independent reporting on the events,” he said.

Beijing blames the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, for inciting upheaval in the remote Himalayan region to stir trouble before this summer’s Olympic Games -- a charge the Nobel Peace Prize-winning monk denies.

China, whose enormous economic clout makes it a strategic ally for both rich and poor countries worldwide, rarely faces direct criticism at the United nations. Beijing currently holds one of the 47 seats on the two-year-old Human Rights Council, along with India, the home-in-exile of the Dalai Lama.

The Council was set up to replace the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which was criticized for failing to overcome political alliances and take a strong stand on issues, including China’s 1989 repression of student protests in Tiananmen Square.

Addressing the Geneva-based body on Tuesday, Amnesty International said that protesters in Tibet were “apparently attacked solely for their ethnic identity, resulting in death, injury and damage to property.”

“In restoring order, the Chinese authorities have resorted to measures which violate international human rights law and standards,” it said.

Human rights groups led by Forum Asia have appealed for the Council to convene a special session on Tibet, similar to those previously held about the Palestinian territories, Darfur, and Myanmar. They also called for U.N. rights experts to be sent to Tibet to report on conditions there.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, told the Canadian broadcaster CBC last week that Beijing needed to account fully and credibly for what is happening in Tibet.

“China is ready to open its door to 30,000 foreign journalists in August. Why can’t it open its door to one or two foreign journalists in Tibet now, when the world is equally interested in what is happening in Tibet as it will be in what will be happening in the Olympics?” she said.

editing by Sami Aboudi