"Today's decision represents a sorry failure of political will," said Joanna Weschler, U.N. Representative of Human Rights Watch. "By turning a blind eye to China's worsening human rights record, the delegations in Geneva have given the wrong signal to Beijing's leaders."
The procedural "no-action motion" was adopted by a vote of 22 to 18, with 12 abstentions; Romania was absent. Weschler criticized governments of the European Union, Australia, Canada and Japan, which had professed concern about the human rights situation in China, but declined to co-sponsor the resolution with the United States or to lobby vigorously against the no-action motion.
Weschler said the U.S. deserved credit for putting forward the resolution, and for announcing its decision early this year so that momentum could be gathered. But she criticized the apparent lack of high-level White House involvement -- including by President Clinton himself-- in the lobbying effort.
"The credibility of the U.N. Commission has been seriously damaged by its unwillingness to censure China, or even to discuss its rights performance," said Weschler. "What incentive will Beijing now have to go beyond dialogues and legal exchanges to make serious improvements in its human rights practices?"
In 1999, a China resolution sponsored by the U.S. and Poland was blocked by a no-action motion, adopted 22 to 17 with 14 abstentions. However, in 1995, a critical resolution on China did come up for debate in Geneva, and lost by only one vote. That year, the European Union and the U.S. both cosponsored the measure, and coordinated a high level campaign on its behalf to counter China's worldwide lobbying to defeat it.