UNITED NATIONS – The United States and human rights organizations sharply criticized China's repression and imprisonment of women's rights activists ahead of a high-level U.N. meeting Sunday to promote women's equality. The session will be co-chaired by China's President Xi Jinping.
China hosted the last major U.N. women's conference in Beijing in 1995, and Xi has been proclaiming the importance of women's human rights. But Amnesty International's Roseann Rife said on Saturday Beijing's stance was "hypocritical" when the government continues to jail women activists.
Liesl Gerntholtz of Human Rights Watch said China's participation should include "the brave Chinese women fighting for change," not just "the repressive government."
Over the past three weeks, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power has put the photos of 20 women activists in the window of the U.S. Mission across the street from U.N. headquarters. She said the women — including three from China — should be at Sunday's meeting, not in jail.
The first photo that went up was of leading Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu, who has campaigned against sexual harassment of school girls and defended women's rights activists. She was arrested in July and is being held at a secret location on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power."
But China isn't the only country targeted for repressing women activists. The U.S. campaign also includes three women from Ethiopia, two each from Azerbaijan, Myanmar and Vietnam, and one each from Iran, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Venezuela and Syria. Ukrainian helicopter pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, who was seized by pro-Russian separatists and is facing charges in Russia, and an unnamed North Korean political prisoner also are among the 20 women.
Since the photos went up, Vietnam has freed Ta Phong Tan, a blogger arrested in 2011 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for "anti-state propaganda," and Egypt's president pardoned Sanaa Seif, sentenced to three years in prison last October for demonstrating without permission.
"While we are pleased that two of the women we highlighted are no longer behind bars, none of the women we have profiled in this campaign should be in prison at all," Power told The Associated Press on Saturday. "So we still have a very, very long way to go. Much further than resolving just the 20 cases we are highlighting this month."
Repression of women's rights activists, however, isn't the main focus of Sunday's meeting, though it is likely to be raised in some speeches.
UN Women, which is co-chairing Sunday's meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing conference, said more than 70 world leaders are expected to make "concrete commitments and firm pledges" to overcome gaps in women's equality.
UN Women's Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says she wants to hear specifics and time frames to end unequal pay, repeal gender-discriminatory laws, end harmful practices like child marriage, the removal of barriers to girls finishing secondary school, and social services to reduce child care currently done by women and girls.
"We need them to commit to increased women's representation in political and economic leadership, with special measures, and to effective engagement of men and boys" in the campaign for women's equality, she said.