Ackerly testifies

ICT President John Ackerly (left) testifies on the UN before the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights. Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick (right), a member of ICT International Council of Advisors, also testified before the subcommittee.

ICT’s President, John Ackerly, testified Wednesday before the House Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights as part of a hearing on “The UN Commission on Human Rights: A Review of its Mission, Operations and Structure.”

The complete text of Ackerly’s Testimony follows below:

House Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights

The UN Commission on Human Rights:
A Review of its Mission, Operations and Structure

John Ackerly, President, International Campaign for Tibet
June 6, 2001

Madam Chairwoman, thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee on this very important consideration for U.S. diplomacy and human rights. My name is John Ackerly. I am the President of the International Campaign for Tibet, the largest Tibet advocacy organization in the world with offices in the U.S. and Europe and more than 80,000 members.

The International Campaign for Tibet participates annually at the UN Human Rights Commission in NGO representations surrounding consideration of the China resolution and thematic human rights discussions, such as the rights of children, elimination of torture and so on. We also work throughout the year with The Office of Tibet in Geneva, a representative office of the Tibetan exile government.

The UN Human Rights Commission has been a vital institution for the people of Tibet and Tibet advocates to raise their concerns in the international arena. Indeed, the Commission is the only institution within the UN system where Tibetans have been able to make their case for human rights improvements. The United States has been an important ally to the Tibetans at the Commission and US sponsorship — or co-sponsorship — of resolutions on China has helped to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of the Tibetan people. More importantly, the discussion of the human rights situation in Tibet at the Commission exposes China’s worst behaviors in a forum where they seek to expand their clout. China must both devote considerable manpower and make ancillary deals requiring a significant expenditure of diplomatic and economic resources to counter the resolution each year.

To be sure, the Human Rights Commission has serious flaws and has become an increasingly politicized arena, which may be undermining its effectiveness. Nonetheless, we would oppose a U.S. retreat from the Commission and, to the contrary, strongly believe that the United States should remain fully engaged and work to reverse this trend. In doing so, it will reinvigorate the work of the Commission, help restore the Commission’s credibility, and help return the United States to a position of leadership at the Commission.

The United States should utilize this year off the Commission, not as a respite, but as an opportunity to actively reconsider its objectives and options at the Commission as this Committee is doing. We firmly believe that the solution to frustrations at the Commission is for the US to remain engaged and to consider revamping its strategy toward a more inclusive, transparent multi-lateral approach. The Human Rights Commission is too important as it draws China into the discussion not to utilize well. It is also one of very few multilateral mechanisms available. While the Commission has failed to effectively address many issues, including Tibet, it has also made extremely important contributions towards others.

We were especially pleased to learn that Paula Dobriansky, Undersecretary for Global Affairs, will head the State Department’s review of the U.S. role at the Commission. Paula Dobriansky is a top-notch strategist, and we look forward to her recommendations on the Commission. As you know, Undersecretary Dobriansky has also been named as the Special Tibet Coordinator at State. I should take this occasion to express our gratitude to this Committee, which has been a critical ally in pushing for a top appointment for the Tibet Coordinator.

For the Tibetans, it is ominous to see China and her allies vigorously seeking seats on the Commission and on ECOSOC bodies while nations with quite good human rights records take a back seat. Today, the Human Rights Commission members include China, Cuba, Sudan and many other states that flagrantly abuse human rights. This suggests strongly that rather than retreating from the Commission after losing its seat, the United States must commit greater resources to thwarting the undermining of the Commission.

I want to highlight one recent example of how the United States helped my NGO win a vote — despite an intensive lobbying campaign by China. The International Campaign for Tibet had applied for accreditation to the UN World Conference on Racism to be held in Durban, South Africa, in August and September of this year. China objected to ICT’s application because of our criticism of their regime, but the United States demanded that the application be held up to a vote. We frankly feared that the vote would reflect the China resolution vote pattern. It did not. Of the 112 countries that voted on our accreditation, 46 voted in favor, 37 against and 29 abstained. Without US leadership, a vote would not have been taken, and we would have been excluded.

It is interesting to consider why the United States can prevail on this vote when ICT is so reviled by the Chinese authorities and not on a China resolution based on a well-documented pattern of abuse. I would suggest that there is sufficient will among Commission members to do the right thing if they do not perceive that they may be pawns in a battle of wills between the United States and China. We in the NGO community argued strongly this year for the necessity of cosponsors on the China resolution. Again, the United States, we feel, must work better multilaterally at the Commission.

China did succeed in keeping some of its critics out of the conference. China was able to portray one NGO that was previously denied ECOSOC accreditation, Human Rights in China, as unacceptable. Here, let me stress the fundamental need for good NGO representation at human rights conferences. With every respect to our governmental colleagues, it is rare for official representation to have commensurate hands-on experience with abuse and abusers that some NGOs have. That is why we take it as a great privilege to have Xiao Qiang, Human Rights in China’s Executive Director, accept our invitation to be a member of the International Campaign for Tibet delegation to the racism conference not only to speak out for his Chinese brothers and sisters but also to affirm the right of critics of China to attend UN conferences.

U.S. support for Tibet at the Commission has meant that China’s abysmal record there can continue to be scrutinized in the international arena. Even though the resolutions on China have not won passage, it is statement of principle that they are sponsored, and continue to be sponsored, as long as human rights conditions in China and Tibet merit international opprobrium. In spite of areas of progress in China, government-sponsored campaigns to restrict or deny fundamental freedoms to the Chinese and Tibetan peoples are still the means of choice to assure governmental control or Party supremacy.

The United States can proudly point to sponsorship or co-sponsorship of China resolutions. Similarly, the Congress has been immensely helpful by passing congressional resolutions in support of U.S. leadership at the Commission. For many, including the people of Tibet, the U.S. voice in Geneva even in years like last year when the conclusion is foretold still represents a shining beacon on the hill and what is best about America.

The United States, which assumes a leadership role in economic globalization, must not abdicate its principled stand on human rights. Have no doubt a deliberate move away from the work of the Commission would signal such abandonment. Again, we would recommend working better multi-laterally to reduce barriers to human rights enforcement and to engage other countries in advancing a broad human rights agenda.

The United States has an important responsibility at the Commission to ensure that its mechanisms are not undermined. There are proposals being discussed in Geneva that would limit the power of the Commission’s work and, without a U.S. presence, countries like China and Sudan that want to avoid accountability would be in a stronger position. For example, a movement to end the country-by-country examination of human rights is gathering momentum. It is crucial, therefore, that the United States takes a position in favor of country-specific resolutions.

Another issue that the United States should support is minimal standards for membership in the Commission. Countries who wish to be part of the Commission should issue a standing invitation for the Commission’s investigators such as special rapporteurs and working groups to visit their country. This would say, in essence, that if you want a seat on the Commission, you have to believe in the principles of the Commission and allow the mechanisms of the Commission to operate in your country. More than 30 countries have now agreed to this pre-qualification and the United States should too.

A pivotal issue for the Congress and the administration is UN dues. We urge the Congress not to make payment of UN dues conditional on having a seat at the Commission and not to delay payment of back dues. Such a stand would engender more resentment, increase U.S. isolation, and play into the hands of those who voted against the United States. The United States need not demand the right to sit on the Commission, but should be elected as all other countries are. The United States should not have a problem winning a seat next year, particularly after beginning to implement recommendations I referred to earlier from the State Department’s review of the U.S. role at the Commission.

Finally, the International Campaign for Tibet would encourage the Bush Administration to use the upcoming summit with the European Union in Stockholm later this month to strategize about how to strengthen Commission mechanisms to meet its mandate of combating gross abuses of human rights. This is also an opportunity to discuss coordinating a China strategy next year, including a resolution, should human rights conditions in China and Tibet fail to improve. We have always believed that the United States and its allies at the Commission should assume a resolution, while retaining the option of stepping back should conditions on the ground improve. In the past, the decision has been made at the end of an annual review obviously, too late for effective multilateral strategic coordination.

Specifically on Tibet, we would urge the United States and its allies to work on behalf of a visit to Tibet by the UN special rapporteur on torture and ill treatment. Moreover, the Tibetan Policy Act, introduced last month in the House as H.R.1779 and in the Senate as S.852, includes a Sense of the Congress that:

  1. The U.S. should oppose any efforts to prevent consideration of the Tibet issue in any UN body;
  2. The U.S. should oppose any efforts to prevent the participation of the Dalai Lama or his representatives in NGO fora hosted under UN auspices; and
  3. The Secretary of State should instruct the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN to support the appointment of a special rapporteur or working group for Tibet for the purposes of monitoring human violations in Tibet, and for making reports available to the High Commissioner for Refugees, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Commission, General Assembly, and other UN bodies.

Madam Chairwoman and Ranking Member, I thank you for your cosponsorship of the Tibetan Policy Act, and I would ask those Members who have yet signed on as co-sponsors, to make that decision. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify before you today.