The mainland's human rights record has for the first time been evaluated in an open forum by its peers. The assessment does not seem as bad as might have been expected. While there was criticism this week from western nations on the 47-member UN Human Rights Council, other governments were effusive in their praise for Beijing's claimed progress. But mainland authorities would be wrong to gloat; rather, they should look beyond the UN process, which remains overly politicised, and instead strive to better provide people on the mainland with the freedoms promised by the constitution. This is easier said than done. Although six decades have passed since the first international charter on human rights came into effect, the term remains a matter of interpretation. Western governments tend to focus on civil and political rights. China and other developing nations prefer to make economic and social rights the priority. But human rights are universal. They must all be respected and protected. No matter where in the world people live, their right to life and liberty and economic and social justice should be the same. Beijing is not ignorant of these fundamentals. As its UN ambassador, Li Baodong, pointed out in presenting the country's case to the council on Monday, great strides had been made over the past 30 years in feeding, housing, educating and clothing people. He also, with some justification, indicated progress was being made in improving the legal system and the conditions of workers. But other claims he made - that authorities had never restricted freedom of speech, that there was no media censorship, that all religions were tolerated, and that journalists, lawyers and human rights advocates could work unhindered - do not stand up to scrutiny. These rights are guaranteed by the constitution, but it cannot be contended that they are a part of mainland life. Eight people arrested in Beijing on Friday know this only too well. They were among a group of 30 from across the country seeking redress for perceived injustices, who instead found themselves the target of persecution. Outspoken human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was again taken into custody last week. Journalists are only too aware of their inability to tell the truth about corruption and official malpractice. The Falun Gong and followers of religions not recognised by the state pay a heavy price for their beliefs. Prisoners are still being tortured. Elections remain controlled. No nation can claim a perfect record on human rights. The mainland can be proud of its achievements on economic and social rights, but it has nothing to crow about on matters such as civil and political freedoms. It should not believe it has fulfilled its obligations just because nations with poor records themselves, like Sudan and Sri Lanka, gave it their blessing at the council. Such backing only highlights the council's need to prevent the politicising of its agenda. The nation has much to gain from meeting international standards on human rights. Freedom of expression, open debate and allowing the media to expose corruption will boost the effectiveness of governance. Fair trials will help ease social discontent. Beijing has signed and ratified a number of rights agreements. One that it has put its signature to but not implemented is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To ratify this convention would mark a significant step forward. If the country wants to secure genuine international acceptance of its rights record it should adopt this convention, which already applies in Hong Kong, and strive to abide by its provisions.