Australia and the United States should not be afraid to shine a spotlight on nations such as China, Fiji, North Korea and Burma that fall short on their human rights obligations, US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich has told a UNSW audience.
The Ambasssador also defended his own country's killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, saying he knew of no "legitimate commentator who doesn't believe the US acted within its rights".
Ambassador Bleich made the comments delivering UNSW Law's annual human rights lecture, hosted by the University's Australian Human Rights Centre (AHRC).
He said it was vital for Australia and the US to continue to "cooperate in supporting the kinds of reforms that are essential to securing inalienable rights for all nations in the Asia Pacific".
The Ambassador praised the work of organisations like the AHRC, saying there was a special need to protect human rights in the region, which is experiencing a "geo-political shift from the West to the East".
Mr Bleich said attention should be placed on the nations of most concern, "the ones that not only commit abuses, but also lack any mechanisms to allow them to self-correct".
He pointed to China, Fiji, Burma and North Korea as examples. In China "we and many other observers are dismayed by the disappearances, detentions and arrests that have taken place in recent months, as well as increased controls on Chinese citizens seeking to express their views peacefully or practice their religion," he said.
Since February, China has detained hundreds of pro-democracy activists, lawyers and writers and restricted media reporting on pro-democracy movements sweeping the Middle East, fearing the uprisings could spark a similar "jasmine revolution" in China.
The Ambassador's comments echo those by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently labeled China's human rights record as "deplorable". Mrs Clinton told The Atlantic Monthly China's crackdown on dissidents showed it was worried about events in the Middle East, and was "trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand".
Elsewhere in the region, Mr Bleich said the military rulers of Fiji continued "to suppress rights of free speech, press and assembly" in a regime that was "a dangerous model for the region and the global community".
In Burma, where democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi had been released from seven years house arrest, more than 2,100 political prisoners remained in jail. Mr Bleich said the US had offered to engage directly with senior figures in the Burmese regime, but "to date had received no substantive response".
A path was open for North Korea's leaders to "achieve security and the international respect they seek", Mr Bleich said, but first the communist state must respect the rule of law and the rights of its people. "Until it does, the US and Australia and many other nations will continue to apply sanctions and condemnation."
Mr Bleich said it was vital to see progress in the Asia-Pacific, a region with half the world's population and the same share of GDP.
"[It] will be the main stage for the transformations of the 21st century. And so if we do not have human rights protected here, we jeopardise them for the future," he said.
Established in 1986, the Australian Human Rights Centre in the Faculty of Law works to increase public awareness of academic scholarship in domestic and international human rights standards, laws and procedures.
The lecture was one of the main events celebrating the Faculty's 40th anniversary year.
See an edited version of Ambassador Bleich's speech at UNSWTV.
For more information on the AHRC's work go to the website.
Media contact: Steve Offner, UNSW Media Office | 02 9385 8107 |