Human Rights: French try hard not to upset China et al

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The Independent Online
HUMAN RIGHTS may be universal but politics are endless. France is putting on a big effort this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in Paris a half-century ago this Thursday. It has also been caught out trying to appease some of the most stubborn violators of the declaration.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be lunching at the Elysee Palace today. Was he on President Jacques Chirac's original list of guests? The French press and sources close to the Tibetan political and spiritual leader say that he was not, because Paris did not want to upset China.

The Elysee, choosing its words carefully, insists the Dalai Lama was invited to the President's lunch for Nobel prize-winners without specifying when the invitation was issued. The suspicion is that the letter was sent out only after the snub was noticed by the press and human-rights groups, prompting other Nobel laureates to threaten to boycott the lunch.

The kerfuffle illustrates the delicate approach - at once demonstrative and secretive - chosen by France to celebrate the anniversary. There will be an official ceremony on Thursday at the Palais de Chaillot, the scene of the signing of the declaration 50 years ago. The names of the foreign guests and even the speakers for the ceremony have been kept private, to avoid advance embarrassment or reprisals. Some celebrated rights activists, who had been promised they could attend, had still not received their invitations yesterday.

The cautious, official French celebration has been jarred by the noisier approach of a consortium of human-rights groups, which is holding a two- day conference in the same building, starting today. This so-called "etats generaux", or parliament of human rights, will be attended by 300 of the most militant defenders of rights around the world, including the Dalai Lama, the Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng and the American civil rights activist, Angela Davis. The meeting will issue a new Paris Declaration, calling on governments, international bodies and individuals to mobilise to defend the 1948 declaration.

There will also be a human-rights rock concert at the Bercy Stadium on Thursday night, sponsored by Amnesty International and the Body Shop. Performers will include Radiohead, Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel and Asian Dub Foundation. The American rock superstar, Bruce Springsteen, will also be in the line-up.

The official programme was opened at the headquarters of Unesco, the UN's educational and cultural wing, in Paris yesterday, with speeches by President Chirac and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

Mr Chirac used his speech to call on the UN to present a draft charter of rules governing global trade, preventing the exploitation of labour and the erosion of national cultures. He called on the UN secretary- general to present such a "Globalisation Agenda" in 2000, setting out minimum workers' rights, as well as new efforts to combat international crime.

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