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Europe

Speaking up for Human Rights

German Foreign Minister Fischer ran the gamut of pressing international problems - from the new threat of terrorism to deplorable human rights records - in his speech to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

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Known for his impassioned speeches

"When women are stoned to death because they're accused of adultery, when they are systematically misused as sex slaves - as under the Taliban regime, these are horrific and appalling crimes that should not be tolerated and accepted mutely by Islamic countries".

" We regard the cultural dialogue with Islam especially after September 11 as vital and urgent, but it can only be fruitful when both sides are ready to recognise the "unacceptable" as such".

That was Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as he addressed the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva yesterday.

In a no-holds-barred speech, he tackled head on a number of issues such as the deplorable human rights records in certain countries and the explosive situation in the Middle East.

"No watering down" of human rights

It was clear where the German Foreign Minister stood as minutes after he began his speech, he plunged into one of the central themes of the UN Human Rights Commission this year - fighting the new threat of terrorism that has emerged since the September 11 attacks on America.

Tough action and repression alone can't be the answer to terrorism, what is equally important is a policy of prevention with new strategies to fight hunger and poverty and the protection of human rights. Freedom and security must also be realised at the same time, he said.

Fischer said that it's important that every society takes into account the irrefutable foundation of human rights protection when dealing with people with opposing views, political opponents, religious and ethnic minorities, but also with war prisoners and suspected terrorists.

"It would be a fatal setback if the terrorists brought us to question our own values. Under no circumstances must the basic norms of human rights water down under the pretext of combating terrorism", he said.

Fischer flays human rights records in China

Fischer also in particular singled out China and Russia for not doing enough to protect human rights in their respective countries.

He sharply criticised China's human rights record and urged Beijing to halt persecution of ethnic minorities and religious groups.

"Despite the release of political prisoners and the increased readiness to co-operate with international human rights mechanisms, we still take a very critical view of the human rights situation in China", he said.

Falun Gong Demonstration in Peking

An unidentified man wearing a T-shirt with a Canadian flag is wrestled down by Chinese policemen in Tiananmen Square after participating in a sit-in demonstration in support of the banned Falun Gong sect Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2001. About twenty Westerners took part in the sit-in and unfurled a giant banner before being taken away and detained by police. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) --zu APD7386--

Beijing outlawed Falun Gong in 1999. Thousands of members have been detained since. Falun Gong supporters abroad claim 358 have been killed in captivity, a charge that China denies.

But despite Fischer's sharp words, it still remained unclear whether any country would present a formal resolution to the UN's top human rights body condemning China.

Russia too brutal in Chechnya

Fischer also touched upon the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, where the European Union is trying to negotiate with Russia to present a common text to the commission.

Georgische Truppen an einem Checkpoint nahe der Stadt Matani

A Georgian Interior Ministry trooper guards a checkpoint near the village of Matani, Georgia, in the Pankisi Gorge, some 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Tbilisi, in this Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2002 file photo. U.S. officials announced this week that the government is considering sending up to 200 troops into Georgia to train security forces to battle terrorists. The fighters have allegedly taken refuge in the Pankisi Gorge, bordering on Russia's breakaway region of Chechnya, and aided Chechen rebels, and some U.S. officials have alleged that they have ties with the al-Qaida terrorist network. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)

He said Russia had the right to defend itself against "terrorism", but noted that since the September 11 attacks, Russia had tried to justify its often brutal offensives in Chechnya by pointing to links between Chechnyan rebels and al-Qaeda.

"Nevertheless, we consider the use of military force against the civilian population to be unacceptable and not compatible with European and international norms", so Fischer.

On the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis, which is a key theme at this year's commission meeting, Fischer urged states to avoid "a polarisation of the debate" on the Middle East conflict, which would not "under the present circumstances help build confidence and advance the peace efforts".

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