Saturday, December 03, 2005

Chinese walls

Unnoticed by a large proportion of the British media, the UN has produced a report on China and its use of torture. According to Manfred Nowak, the UN Human Rights Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Chinese authorities had not been particularly co-operative during his fact-finding mission. (Well, you can’t really expect them to be.)

As quoted in the Washington Times:
“Mr. Nowak said Chinese authorities had closely monitored and obstructed his work, which included interviews conducted in Beijing as well as in the restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. "There was frequent surveillance of my interviews that I had outside prison with victims' family members," Mr. Nowak said.

He and his team were not allowed to bring photographic and electronic equipment into the prisons and their visits to correctional facilities were limited to the working hours of the staff. "As the authorities were generally announced an hour in advance, the visits could not be considered to have been strictly 'unannounced,' " said a press release distributed at the end of Mr. Nowak's visit.”
He had difficulties in talking to victims’ families and many of these were put under house arrest, intimidated or just prevented from seeing him.

Apparently, Mr Nowak had received assurances from the Chinese government that he would have full co-operation from the authorities as they had realized that there was a problem in their judicial and prison system. Beijing maintains that just allowing Mr Nowak in shows their commitment to improving their human rights record.

Alas, their obstruction of his work shows that the commitment may not be what one might term whole-hearted. Mr Nowak did manage to gather almost as much information as certain human rights groups inside and outside China had done and informed the world, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that torture was in decline. But it is still widespread.

One hopes this report will not spoil SecGen Kofi Annan’s visit to the People’s Republic of China. It certainly has had no effect on Members of the European Parliament, who are continuing to call for all sorts of sanctions on countries that may or may not (the evidence is weak, to put it mildly) have collaborated with the CIA in the war against terror.

One particularly vociferous MEP has been the Lib-Dim Sarah Ludford, who is also a member of the House of Lords, where she manages not to declare her extremely handsome income from the European Parliament when she speaks on EU matters.

According to Reuter’s, Baroness Ludford was one of those calling on individual member states, the British Presidency and the Commission to hold a huge enquiry into allegations about CIA prisons in some European countries and about terrors suspects being flown out from certain European airports.

She told the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee (no, it was not discussing Italian involvement in the construction of mobile execution chambers):
“I am not reassured that there is sufficient determination by the Council (of EU states) to get to the bottom of these allegations.”
I am sure the good baroness will be delighted to learn that her remarks and general attacks on the United States and its inability to wage a war on terrorists according to what other people might call Queensberry rules (I am sure Baroness Ludford abhors boxing and would not use that expression) has been reported by the Chinese People’s Daily and by the Xinhuanet News Agency.

The People’s Daily, though scrupulously reporting that none of the allegations have been proven yet, was, no doubt, delighted to report the following about our heroine and two of her colleagues:
“Baroness Sarah Ludford from Britain bombarded the US government for its way of launching the war on terror. Washington had made " disappearances a US tactic" and the anti-terror war had opened the "blackest of black holes," Sarah Ludford said.

Helene Flautre from
France said the secret prison allegations, if proven to be true, represented a violation of the UN Convention against Torture. She called for the commission to get to the bottom of the matter as "it was sapping our credibility."

Vittorio Agnoletto, an Italian MEP, criticized the European Commission for not doing enough to probe the prison claims and trying to minimize the impact of the issue. He said there was evidence, including some from the US, to prove that hidden prisoners and torture centers do exist in Europe.”
But not all is lost. The Fragrant Commissar for Truth and Reconciliation, Margot Wallström takes time off in her most recent blog from rabbiting on about snow and sadness caused by people freezing to death in Brussels to wag a finger at corporations who dance to the Chinese pipers’ tune.

No, she is not talking about Italian firms collaborating in the construction of mobile execution chambers. Nor is she mentioning the indecent anxiety displayed by the French government and the previous German one to lift the arms embargo. No, no, no.

The villains of the piece are three American corporations:
“And I was very disappointed to learn that Microsoft has agreed to block Chinese blog entries that use words like “democracy“, “freedom“, “human rights“ and “demonstration.”

It seems like Microsoft is not alone in “bad company“. Google has agreed to exclude publications that the Chinese government finds objectionable. And Yahoo has even gone further. They collaborated with the Chinese government and gave up the name of a writer who sent an e-mail that commented on a party decision. Based on this information, the man received a ten-year prison sentence.”
How long did it take the fragrant one to learn about these matters? The stories have been in public domain for many months. Maybe if she did not spend quite so much time to travel round the world on taxpayer-funded jollies, she would have time to learn a bit more about what is going on.

For instance, she would learn that the real story is, as we and other blogs, have reported, that Chinese blogging is growing and Chinese bloggers are learning to get round the censorship the state is trying to impose on them.

Then, of course, there is the other aspect of that story: the Chinese government is one of the leaders of the move to hand control of the internet over to the UN or some multinational committee (that would certainly include China) appointed by it. This would be fatal to the burgeoning Chinese blogging community.

So, there you have it. Whichever way we turn, the Americans are the villains. Not the Chinese authorities who do their best to oppress the people of their country (and of Tibet), who torture anyone they imprison and who sentence thousands to death after a very cursory trial.

Nor is there a bad word to say about the EU member states that stand ready to betray Taiwan, sell arms to the Chinese, supply them (at a price) with sensitive defence information and collaborate on the construction of mobile execution units.

In this the Fragrant Margot and the no less Fragrant Sarah are at one: none of this matters. Not to them.


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