October 1, 2009 / 8:00 PM / 10 years ago

NY's Empire State Building chided for honoring China

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Human rights activists slammed managers of New York’s Empire State Building on Thursday for illuminating the skyscraper in red and yellow for China’s 60th anniversary, saying the move honored a communist entity responsible for human rights violations.

The Empire State Building is seen lit red and yellow marking the 60th anniversary of Communist China in New York, September 30, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The government in Beijing celebrated the 60th anniversary of the birth of the People’s Republic of China on Thursday with a high-tech parade featuring goose-stepping troops, gaudy floats and nuclear-capable missiles.

Managers of the Empire State Building, New York’s tallest skyscraper, said in a statement the illumination was “in honor of the 1.3 billion Chinese people and the 60th anniversary of their country,” adding that it celebrates “many cultures and causes” throughout the year.

Human Rights Watch, an international rights watchdog that has offices in the Empire State Building, said it had written a letter of complaint to building managers expressing “surprise and dismay” at the decision.

“We have no objection to honoring China as a nation, a great civilization or a vibrant people,” HRW Associate Director Carroll Bogert wrote in the letter that was released publicly.

“However, this date commemorates the rule of the Chinese Communist Party, a political entity that is responsible historically for many grave violations of human rights.”

China mounted a huge spectacle to celebrate the anniversary, but residents were prevented from attending the parade in person, encouraged instead to watch on television.

The government cited security concerns for the lockdown in central Beijing, but the many steps accompanying the celebrations underscore the Communist Party’s fear of unrest that could challenge its authority.

Bogert’s letter said that while China had made undeniable progress in economic and technological areas, “many key human rights — such as peaceful dissent and of political participation, or the right to form independent unions — are no more assured in 2009 than they were in 1949.”

The Empire State Building is illuminated in different colors around the year to honor such events as St. Patrick’s Day, India Day and Australia Day as well as charitable and artistic events.

A spokeswoman said there was no fee paid by countries or organizations to become a “lighting partner.” Asked how applications were decided, she directed Reuters to the building’s website that has an application form.

The historic building is managed by Wien & Malkin for a group of investors.

“All special lighting requests are considered based on the merit of their cause, the benefit of their use of the special lighting and their treatment of the Empire State Building’s iconic image for the event and on an ongoing basis,” the web site says.

Bogert of HRW urged building managers to consult with tenants in “sensitive cases” when deciding on illumination.

Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Philip Barbara

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