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(WASHINGTON) The following statement was released today by the Population, Women and Development Working Group in response to hearings held by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair of the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights:

On Tuesday, July 18, Representative Chris Smith held hearings designed to block participation of a US government delegation in the Fourth World Conference on Women, a United Nations meeting to be held in Beijing this September. This hearing has provided Rep. Smith an opportunity to profess horror at human rights abuses in China.

Working Group members wish to express our public support for US Government participation in this critical conference. Although Working Group members have not been invited to testify by Rep. Smith, we represent a broad range of people and groups who sincerely believe that women's rights are human rights, and that US advocacy for these rights is essential in this important international forum.

There is evidence that China continues to routinely violate universally accepted standards of human rights and many of our members have struggled with the appropriateness of participating in the Beijing conference and the message that participation will send. The Population, Women and Development Working Group express its profound opposition to and condemnation of those actions of the Chinese government which violate the basic dignity and rights of women and men.

Holding this critical world conference in China creates many questions for all concerned with women's rights and human rights. The Working Group joins others in voicing our concern that Representative Smith's hearing is intended merely to provide a platform for those seeking to deny the basic right of women to control their own reproductive lives rather than discuss serious ethical questions, or seek concrete solutions to human rights abuses in China.

Such a pretense demeans those with serious commitments to human rights.

China has much to answer for in the area of human rights and women's rights. Rather than using his newly acquired leadership to seriously discuss these serious issues, many of those whom Rep. Smith has invited to testify have no demonstrated history of commitment to either women's rights or human rights. They are advocates of criminalizing abortion and limiting contraceptive use and availability. They pursue a vigorously anti-women's rights agenda.

Rep. Smith fiddles with ways to continue to control the lives of women in the US and around the world while the real questions around trade and diplomatic relations that need to be asked of China continue to burn.

We pledge our support for a US delegation and we will continue to speak out against human rights abuses in China, where memories and images of Tiananmen Square cannot be erased from our mind, or in the US Congress where men like Rep. Smith seem incapable of recognizing their own breach of rights as they pursue an anti-family planning anti-woman agenda.