GENEVA -- China again evaded international censure of its human rights record yesterday, winning a pre-emptive procedural maneuver to block debate by the United Nations' main rights forum.
Splitting 22-18, with 12 countries abstaining, the member countries of the U.N. Human Rights Commission rejected an attempt to bring China to account for what the Clinton administration says is a deteriorating human rights climate for political dissenters, practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, unregistered churches, Internet users, ethnic minorities and disfavored academics and journalists.
In a separate vote, Cuba was criticized for its rights practices, particularly repression of political opposition and detention of dissidents. The tally was 21 countries voting for the resolution, 18 against and 14 abstaining.
Although European countries backed the resolution on Cuba fielded by the Czech Republic and Poland and co-sponsored by the United States, they noted that the measure ignored the negative effects the U.S. economic embargo has had on Cuba.
The case of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor, did not appear to sway votes, despite Havana's charge it showed the hypocrisy of U.S. accusations against it. Two more countries voted for the anti-Cuba resolution this year than last year.
The votes were among those taken by the 53-country commission, which meets in Geneva for six weeks annually, to review the prior year's performance by some of the world's worst human rights offenders.
This year, the body also criticized Yugoslavia for its repression of media and political foes, Myanmar for using forced labor, and Iraq for executions and torture, among others.
The question of Russian atrocities in Chechnya has been delayed until next week to see if a compromise can be reached.
Commission censure incurs no penalties, but most nations seek to avoid such unfavorable international scrutiny. China is chief among them and has used a procedural maneuver to avoid full-fledged examination of its human rights practices. This has worked all but one year since resolutions began to be lodged at the commission after the killings of protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
If a no-action motion passes, there is no further discussion of a country's record. In 1995, the effort against China passed the first hurdle, but commission members then voted against rebuking the country.
U.S. arguments that China's rights situation had worsened found little support among African and Asian countries, some of which have questionable histories of treating their citizens.