09/02/2005, 00.00
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Rights group applauds reform deal

Beijing acknowledges a more active role for United Nations but sets no timetable for reforms. Activitsts hope for greater interest in human right violations.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A human rights group yesterday urged the United Nations Human Rights Commission to keep a watch on the mainland despite giving the thumbs-up to a deal struck on legal reforms.

New York-based Human Rights in China (HRIC) advised the visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, to address the "efforts to silence or intimidate independent and critical Chinese voices and groups".

It said "monitoring and technical co-operation are interrelated and cannot undermine each other". The group's statement came as Ms Arbour met Supreme People's Court president Xiao Yang in Beijing yesterday.

During Ms Arbour's visit, which is scheduled to end today, she and Assistant Foreign Minister Shen Guofang signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday. The agreement, which did not lay out a time frame, includes projects to help Beijing revise its criminal procedure law and other penal laws.

The UN body will also help Beijing find "alternative penalty measures" to imprisonment, incorporate human rights education into school curricula and teach public servants. The commission will also help authorities as they study the creation of a national human rights institution.

Calling the memorandum an "important and potentially constructive development", HRIC said the commission had a "dual mandate" to execute technical co-operation programmes and supervise the implementation of international human rights treaties.

It noted the recent house arrests of dissidents including Liu Xiaobo and Liu Di and the closing of the office of the human rights group Empowerment and Rights Institutes in Beijing ahead of Ms Arbour's visit.

The group also noted the "select number of officially sanctioned civil-society groups and representatives" that Ms Arbour had met, including the China Society for Human Rights Studies, the China Disabled Persons' Federation and the Beijing Lawyers Association.

Jose Diaz, a spokesman from Ms Arbour's office, said he could not comment on the recent rights violations.

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