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Will we act in time on human rights in China?
Genevieve Long and Suman Srinivasan

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Toward the end of March 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan opened a memorial to mark the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. He accepted blame for the genocide that resulted in the slaughter of 800,000 civilians.

While opening the Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide, CNN reported Annan as saying, “I believed at the time that I was doing my best. But I realized after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support.”

The Rwandan genocide started in April 1994. Hutu extremists, egged on by hateful media propaganda, butchered about 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates in about three months. The genocide stopped only after Tutsi-based rebels overthrew the Hutu extremists.

This is not the first time the secretary-general has come down harshly on himself and the United Nations. He has been outspoken before on the little the UN did to stop the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It would be good if this were to be the last time that the UN would be subject to self-criticism. However, it does not appear to be so.

Since 1999, the world has turned the other way as one of the brutal persecutions in human history has unfolded under the regime of Jiang Zemin in mainland China. In fact, to compound the misery, some countries, which have a long-standing reputation as being free and democratic countries, have actually aided in the persecution.

Falun Gong, a peaceful meditation practice aimed at improving people’s health and moral standards, was introduced to the public by Li Hongzhi in 1992. Fearful of the growing popularity of the practice and its 70- 100 million practitioners counted by the government in 1999, Jiang Zemin banned Falun Gong in 1999 and launched an unprecedented persecution against its practitioners.

In the 4-1/2 years that have passed since the persecution began in July 1999, nearly 1,000 practitioners have been confirmed tortured to death, with inside sources hinting at even more shocking numbers. Hundreds of thousands of practitioners have been thrown into forced labor camps, and thousands of perfectly sane practitioners have been put into psychiatric hospitals. In prisons or in forced labor camps, Falun Gong practitioners have been brutally tortured – they have been shocked with electric batons and stripped, doused with cold water, and made to stand in freezing temperatures; female practitioners have been raped and sexually assaulted. Force feedings, barbaric torture devices, extortion of family members and more have been documented in the course of this repression.

Perhaps even more shocking is the mental persecution that the Falun Gong practitioners in China have to endure. In China, Falun Gong practitioners are not allowed to go to work or school; they are unceremoniously expelled, even though they are model workers or students. Not only that, under Jiang’s implication policy, even family members of Falun Gong practitioners are persecuted – parents have had their pensions cut, children are forced out of school, and there have even been instances of family members being tortured and beaten.

In the face of all this, the United Nations and most countries have largely been quiet. In fact, some countries have even aided the persecution and allowed it to happen on their soil.

In June 2002, when Jiang Zemin visited Iceland, Falun Gong practitioners from around the world tried to go to Iceland to peacefully appeal against the persecution. Shortly thereafter, the Iceland government tried to stop Falun Gong practitioners from arriving in Iceland and detained them when they entered the airport. The Iceland government finally had to back down when a large number of Icelandic citizens marched into the streets protesting against this unfair treatment to Falun Gong practitioners.

In January 2004, during a parade to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Paris, Falun Gong practitioners were arrested in France for wearing yellow or having the words “Falun Gong” written on their clothing.

It appears as though mistakes are being repeated again. Is it that none of the countries in the free world and the United Nations have the will to face the reality of the human rights situation in China when China lures them with economic benefits?

In Germany, we failed to intervene in time. In Rwanda, we failed to intervene in time. In Kosovo, we failed to intervene in time. Will we again watch ourselves fail in China?

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