The situation appeared rather suspicious. A talk on human rights being 'good for business' - to be given last Friday to members of the American Chamber of Commerce - was cancelled. 'A lack of interest,' explained the Amcham receptionist. A worker at human rights group Amnesty International confirmed: 'Not enough people signed up.' It was not a promising sign, considering what it could have implied. But William Shulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA who was supposed to give the luncheon speech at the Furama-Kempinski hotel, explained. 'No, we did have lunch with a few chamber officers but we only gave them six weeks' notice and it wasn't enough time to attract a lot of people. '[The chamber] has been very supportive of human rights. They know it is important to create a stable political environment here and that any society where human rights are violated, business interests are put in jeopardy. It also depends on the free flow of information and the rule of law. 'They've made it clear to those who have influence. Believe me, if the situation was what it appeared, we'd be the first ones to tell you about it,' he said. Dr Shulz, together with Mary Gray, treasurer of the International Executive Committee of Amnesty International, are among those taking the pulse of Hong Kong before the handover. Their six-day mission, which ended on Monday, involved consulting various political groups, non-governmental and religious organisations, journalists, business people and students to gather their views as the change of sovereignty approaches. As the main concerns appeared to be the repeal of civil liberties, the first election under the SAR and press freedom, Dr Shulz said Amnesty will be 'watching carefully'. 'We are not here to prejudge,' said Dr Shulz, referring to the role of the 36-year-old body. But as one Hong Kong journalist had put it to him, Dr Shulz said: 'There are two ways to silence someone; one is by law and one is by fear. 'Even if the law is interpreted liberally, then maybe underlying that will be a fear that will prevent them from speaking their full voice.' Besides gathering views to monitor developments, the two human rights representatives want to know the future of its offices in Hong Kong. 'Even if one can keep an office here, we have to know whether or not it can be effective,' says Dr Gray, who also teaches at the American University in Washington. If Amnesty can no longer maintain an office in the territory, it does not mean that monitoring will cease; such is the case for some of the 162 countries under Amnesty's critical gaze. Dr Gray says Amnesty relies on other sources to find out what is happening and since it is known worldwide as a human rights monitor, its members are often alerted when violations occur. History has shown, Dr Shulz points out, that it often takes more than international attention and pressure to ensure that human rights are protected. Such will be the case for Hong Kong. 'We believe ultimately that a commitment to liberty and exposing the truth about human rights violations will grow in part because of a free press, because of economic development, and politicians willing to speak for it. And the process will continue if we maintain our commitment,' says Dr Shulz. Those commitments can be enforced through a number of international treaties that protect various aspects of human rights. Among them, says Dr Shulz, are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which China has agreed to sign before next year, and which the US has not. The US however, has put its name to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, while China has yet to do so. Of course, adds Dr Gray, there are countries which are signatories to both covenants but do not observe them. 'We would not only like China to sign both covenants, but to adhere to them as well,' she says. One of their main concerns with China rests in the fact that there are no dissidents living freely. In recent years, civil and political liberties have not improved either, says Dr Shulz. In Hong Kong, the major human rights concern is the fate of the Vietnamese boatpeople. But in the future, he says Hong Kong will play a more significant role in the future of US-Sino relations since the US has taken on a 'constructive engagement' approach. 'Human rights has been critical from the administration's perspective and any problems towards Hong Kong's political and civil rights will cause problems to this approach and have broader implications for both involved.' While the two countries have been scathing in their attacks on each other's human rights records - in a US State Department report released in January and Xinhua's (the New China News Agency) rebuttal last month attacking the US for bombings within its urban areas and having under-fed children - the irony of these criticisms does not escape Dr Shulz. 'There is virtually nothing that anyone can say outside the US that has not been said inside and has not been said thoroughly, more pointedly and perhaps more radically than anything that the Chinese agency said. 'The point is that there are absolutely no political consequences for those who say those things.'