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4/5/04 - WILIAMSON ON HUMAN RIGHTS - 2004-04-06

The annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights is underway in Geneva. One of the essential features of such sessions, says Richard Williamson, U.S. representative to the commission, is the “naming and shaming” of human rights violators. “We have seen instances, time and time again,” he said, “where there has been grudging and slow progress by those countries who have been subjected to the light of the commission.”

Ambassador Williamson named a number of countries where human rights are being violated. In Cuba, he said, human rights abuses have “worsened dramatically”:

“In March 2003, seventy-five dissidents were sentenced to prison terms averaging twenty years for trying to exercise their fundamental rights. In Cuba, discrimination continues. The judiciary is not independent. There is repression. There is no freedom of the press or expression. Furthermore, inhumane prison conditions are common.”

In the Middle East, said Ambassador Williamson, “the Iranian government’s poor human rights record worsened. The Syrian [government]. . .continued to commit serious abuses. In Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion still does not exist. In Egypt, the government introduced some potentially significant reforms in 2003; however, many more improvements are needed.”

In East Asia, the Burmese government commits major human rights abuses. And North Korea, said Ambassador Williamson, “continues to be one of the world’s most inhumane regimes.” As for China, he said, “We began 2003 with hopes that progress. . .seen in 2002 would continue”:

“Regrettably, we saw backsliding on key human rights issues. Arrests increased of democracy activists. The Chinese government record in Tibet remains poor.”

Other countries where the U-N commission should shine its human rights spotlight include Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Russia, Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. “If we fail to speak out,” said Ambassador Williamson, “we truly fail ourselves as much as [we fail] the people who are suffering.”