Mr. Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister yesterday called upon the Chinese authorities to end oppression and grant Tibetan and Uighurs autonomy rights, the Tibet Bureau in Geneva reports.

Speaking as a Guest Speaker in the general debate of the 58th UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Mr. Fischer said: “Despite the release of political prisoners and the increased readiness to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms, we still take a critical view of the human rights situation in China. The Federal Government therefore calls once again upon China … to halt the oppression of ethnic minorities and to grant the Tibetans and Uighurs in particular substantial autonomy rights.”

As the 58th session of the Commission opened on 18 March, Tibetans and their supporters held a Vigil outside the United Nations appealing to the human rights body with a message: “UNCHR act now to defend human rights in Tibet – Silence will encourage China to commit more human rights violations.”

Inside the UN, Mrs. Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her concern on the human rights in China saying: “The present OHCHR programme of technical cooperation in China is based on an amendment to our MOU [memorandum of understanding] which signed there in November 2001. The programme for 2002 will continue the earlier work on human rights training for police, punishment for minor crimes and human rights education. New areas of work this year are training for judges and lawyers and prison administrators, activities in the provinces to promote economic, social and cultural rights, fellowships and support for academic institutions.

“While co-operation with China is progressing well, I have also during my visit of last November, as on previous visits, had to raise with the Chinese authorities a number of human rights concerns,” Robinson added.

On March 19, as more guest speakers addressed the Commission, the European Union Presidency statement by the Spanish Foreign Minister failed to mention China. However, Mrs. Anna Lindh, the Swedish Foreign Minister criticised China for death penalty and persecution of religious minorities. She said:

“We must act for the freedom of expression, association and assembly. These rights are fundamental for the political, economic and social development of every society. Knowledge is a prerequisite for people to be able to claim their rights, and for change. That is why the right to freedom of opinion and expression is feared by dictators. There are numerous examples, journalists in Belarus are being persecuted, religious minorities are detained in China, Kurds are harassed in Turkey.”

The first two days of the Commission also saw an emerging attempts by certain groups of governments, particularly Asian, who aspire to restrict the role of NGO participation. China is no exception here.

Mr. Sha Zukhang, the Chinese Ambassador in his statement said: “…some NGOs, in violation of the ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31, have abused their status, negated the purpose and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and disturbed government delegates … We hope that the Commission would, in accordance with the Rules of Procedures, strictly regulate the participation of NGOs so that the session could proceed in an orderly way.”

Ironically, China is one of the countries who brings Government-sponsored NGOs (GONGOS) with ECOSOC status to the Commission to help its lobbying and propaganda efforts.

In order to help its lobbying efforts at the Commission, Chinese authorities have also organized a photo exhibition of sites in China and Tibet which are now enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Photographs of Potala Palace, Jhokhang and Norbu Lingka figure in the exhibition.

This week, the Tibetan delegation includes, Mr. Chhime R. Chhoekyapa and Mr. Ngawang C. Drakmargyapon from Tibet Bureau in Geneva and Ms. Tenzin Chokey Rubling of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Dharamsala, India.