China rejects bid by UN rights boss for April visit

From Reuters – China has turned down a request by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to visit Tibet this month to look into anti-Chinese protests in which at least 19 people died, her spokesman said on Thursday.

“The Chinese authorities came back to her… and said it wouldn’t be convenient at this time,” spokesman Rupert Colville told Reuters.

“However they said she would be welcome to make a visit at a later date that would be mutually convenient,” he said. Arbour made the request two weeks ago following widespread unrest and reports of killings and mass arrests in the Himalayan region.

The Tibetan protests and Chinese crackdown in Tibet have fuelled protests along the Olympic torch relay route through London, Paris and San Francisco ahead of the summer Olympic games hosted by Beijing in August.

Arbour, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor and Canadian Supreme Court judge, had sought to go to Tibet around mid-April to evaluate the situation after a series of protests by Buddhist monks and rioting in Lhasa on March 14, he said.

China says 19 people died in the violence, but aides to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, say some 140 people died in the unrest across Tibet and nearby provinces with large Tibetan populations.

Separately, six U.N. human rights investigators called on China to show restraint and allow journalists and independent experts access to Tibet and nearby regions hit by violence.

More than 570 Tibetan monks, including some children, were arrested in late March following raids by security forces on monasteries in Ngaba and Dzoge counties in Tibet, they said in a joint statement issued on Thursday.

The U.N. investigators have global mandates to probe allegations of torture, killings, arbitrary detentions, minority issues, as well as curbs on freedom of opinion and expression, and on freedom of religion.

They report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the top U.N. rights forum whose 47 member states include China.

The U.N. investigators said China had organised several fact-finding delegations to visit Tibet but that these were no substitute for granting access to U.N. experts.

Arbour, who has announced she will leave office at the end of her four-year term on June 30, previously visited China in September 2005.

She said at the time she was “guardedly optimistic” China was making progress on human rights but brushed off Beijing’s standard line that every nation should protect rights in its own way — stressing that international standards had to be met.

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