What a relief it must be for the families of the detainees held without trial on the mainland for months to know their plight is being brought to the attention of the United Nations. At last something positive is being done. Intercession by the SAR Government, when it was finally prodded into action, has achieved disappointingly little. Past experience suggests that only the rich and influential have any real hope of intervention from their home city if they fall foul of the law outside Hong Kong. It reflects so badly on the entire country that a matter that could have been settled quietly through diplomatic channels has to be put on the international agenda, drawing attention to another flaw in the 'one country, two systems' arrangement. On present showing, all that seems to amount to is turning SAR citizens into sacrificial lambs on the altar of the 'no interference' tenet, regardless of how unjust their treatment, how paltry the offence, or - worst of all - how illegal their imprisonment. So instead of a domestic issue discreetly and speedily resolved, we now face the prospect of the UN Human Rights Committee focusing on the failure of two signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to honour the commitments they are bound by. The timing is particularly unfortunate for the mainland, struggling to revive its economy and keep its reform programme on track. The chorus of protest from foreign investors about contracts not honoured, agreements reneged upon, kickbacks and red tape is swelling by the month. As the Asian economy revives, businessmen are advising colleagues with venture capital to look elsewhere in the region where the prospects are just as bright and the risks reduced. Publicity over Hong Kong citizens held without trial for taking an unassigned delivery route, or used as a hostage to extract money from debtor firms, is hardly calculated to restore confidence in China's dented business image. Mainland authorities may be within the law in refusing SAR officials access to the detainees, but they may not find it so easy legitimately to resist a request from the UN. The recent agreement whereby relatives of local detainees will be informed of their arrest is a small step forward, but not enough to prevent further diplomatic embarrassment. But that would not arise if mainland authorities observed their own law, and brought suspects to trial within three months of arrest.