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China admits human rights shortcomings

China has admitted shortcomings at a UN Human Rights Council review in Geneva. Rights advocates continue to rebuke Beijing for arresting dissidents, suppressing ethnic minorities and widespread use of the death penalty.

A Chinese envoy told the 47-member UN council on Tuesday that China had "many difficulties" in promoting human rights. Wu Hailong said reducing poverty was the priority among China's 1.3 billion people.

Hours before the council began its four-yearly review of China's rights record, Tibetan activists slipped past guards at Geneva's Palais des Nations and unfurled a banner reading: "China fails human rights in Tibet – UN stand up for Tibet." They also displayed a mock head (pictured above) of China's new president Xi Jinping.

China faces persistent criticism, mainly from Western countries, for repression, including crackdowns on Tibetans and Muslim Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region.

Wu, a special envoy for China's foreign ministry, claimed in his speech that the Chinese government "ensures that minority ethnic groups in China enjoy extensive human rights."

'Many difficulties'

"We are soberly aware that China still faces many difficulties and challenges in promoting and protecting human rights," Wu added.

Wu Hailong, special envoy of China's foreign ministry, addresses the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review session at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva October 22, 2013. The 17th session of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will be held in Geneva from October 21 to November 1, during which 15 states are scheduled to have their human rights records examined under this mechanism. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse (SWITZERLAND - Tags: POLITICS)

China envoy Wu admits 'difficulties'

The non-binding review process - led by Poland, Sierra Leone and the United Arab Emirates – also focused on the failure of China's parliament to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

China signed it in 1998 but its parliament never ratified the treaty which stresses freedom of religion, assembly and speech.

The review is the first since President Xi Jinping took office in March.

'Backwards,' says critic

Prominent rights lawyer Mo Shaoping said Xi had "definitely taken the country backwards on human rights."

Chinese authorities recently detained at least 16 activists who had demanded that officials publicly disclose their wealth.

Last week, police arrested an influential blogger and a cartoonist in a crackdown on online "rumor-mongering." Rights groups say hundreds of have been arrested since August on similar charges.

'Abolish' death penalty

British ambassador Karen Pierce called on China to further reduce the number of crimes carrying the death penalty.

German Ambassador Hanns Schumacher also urged China to "publish figures on death verdicts" and spur public debate in China toward "abolition" of capital punishment.

China must continue to reform its criminal justice system, in particular to abolish the Reeducation through Labor system, Schumacher added.

China puts around 4,000 people to death every year, according to the US campaign group the Dui Hua Foundation.

Chinese state media on Tuesday said China had convicted nearly 150,000 people for corruption since 2008.

ipj/dr (Reuters, AP, AFP)