BEIJING -- The United Nations, which has just concluded an agreement designed to improve human rights in China, recently sponsored an international conference that Beijing used to justify its brutal crackdown on the spiritual movement Falun Dafa.
The International Symposium on Cults, held Nov. 9 and 10 in Beijing, was
co-sponsored by the China International Friendship Association and the U.N.
Development Program, whose representative here, Kerstin Leitner, delivered
the opening address. China's state-run media gave the meeting prominent coverage,
saying it showed that other countries supported the crackdown on organizations
such as Falun Dafa, popularly known as Falun
China outlawed Falun Dafa last year, saying it advocated exercise over medicine and unhealthy fealty to founder Li Hongzhi, a native Chinese who now lives in the U.S. Most countries and international organizations, including several U.N. bodies, have condemned the crackdown as suppression of religious freedom. Scores of practitioners have died from police mistreatment, thousands have been sent to labor camps and tens of thousands have been detained without charge. Now, a Hong Kong group says, two more Falun Dafa members have died in Chinese custody and an adherent who sued President Jiang Zemin is missing.
On Monday, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, signed an agreement to help Beijing protect individual rights through training of law-enforcement officers, judges and other legal officials. The UNDP's Beijing office, which sponsored the cult conference, will implement the agreement.
Ms. Robinson said it was "extremely appropriate" that Ms. Leitner's office sponsored the conference because it would help China understand how other countries deal with organizations similar to Falun Dafa. Ms. Leitner also staunchly defended the conference, which she said was proposed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan when he visited Beijing a year ago. While she said she objected to its name, which in Chinese translates as a symposium on "evil cults," she said the goal was to open Chinese officials' eyes to softer ways of dealing with cults.
In her speech, Ms. Leitner said China had traditionally been threatened by "quasireligious movements" that "threatened the established order" at times of social change. Now, however, such groups work internationally and need a coordinated response from the world community, she said. She said China's actions on Falun Dafa are "an issue of good governance" -- implying that action was needed, but it could have been handled better.