The United States delegation to the 59th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission failed to file a resolution condemning China’s human rights record today, as the deadline to submit a country resolution passed in Geneva.

“The decision that the United States has made is a mistake, and China has escaped the reckoning it deserves for its abysmal human rights record,” said Mary Beth Markey, U.S. Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet.

“Those Tibetan political prisoners whose releases have been heralded as positive gestures no doubt share our disappointment in this lost opportunity to hold China accountable for its abuses.”

The State Department cited “limited” progress by China on human rights, including the releases of a number of high-profile political prisoners such as Takna Jigme Sangpo and Ngawang Sangdrol. However, it characterized China’s overall rights record as remaining poor in the same statement.

Last week, the State Department released its annual human rights report for 2002. The China report was highly critical of China’s human rights record last year, and Administration officials have repeatedly noted China’s “backsliding” on human rights since the end of the most recent session of the U.S.-China bilateral human rights dialogue in December 2002.

“The failure of United States to sponsor a resolution will not strengthen the U.S.-China bilateral dialogue; it will only weaken the U.S. negotiating position and decrease our ability to get meaningful improvements on human rights in Tibet and China,” said Markey.

The U.S. has been increasingly isolated in its willingness to put forward a resolution in the Commission. European countries that had previously co-sponsored or sponsored a China resolution have been intimidated by Chinese pressure tactics or have willingly abandoned the Commission in favor of closed, bilateral dialogues with China on human rights issues.

“I am sure that China will declare victory in the Commission, having successfully mitigated the U.S. threat,” said Markey.

This is the only time since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre that the U.S. has not sponsored a resolution on China at the UNHRC, except for last year when the U.S. was voted off the Commission.

The State Department indicated that the decision this year was made on the basis of an “assessment of what is most likely to encourage China to work to bring its human rights practices into compliance.” This is a marked departure from the Department’s past stated policy of basing this decision on actual progress in improving the human rights situation in the ground.

The U.S. bilateral dialogue on human rights with China is widely considered to be among the most substantive of the dialogues, due in part to the U.S. government’s willingness to give serious consideration to a resolution on China at the annual session of the UNHRC.