Delegates burst into applause when chairman Leandro Despouy announced the result of voting on China's motion: 23 votes in favor, 17 against, 12 abstentions with one delegation absent.
Chinese dissidents including Wei Jingsheng, head of the exile Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition, and Tibetan exiles were in the room for the debate. Hundreds of followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement held silent protests around the U.N. building in Geneva.
The United States and Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called for rejecting China's initiative to quash debate, arguing that no country was exempt from scrutiny. But Asian countries, including Pakistan, rallied to China's side, accusing America of selectivity.
U.S. ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli introduced her country's resolution by saying it was "fair and balanced" and recognized China's rapid strides in recent years.
"No country should consider itself beyond review," she told the 53-member forum. "China should follow the same international standards that every other country does."
The U.S. text denounced "severe restrictions on the rights of citizens to the freedoms of assembly, association, expression, conscience and religion, and to due legal process and a fair trial as well as at reports of harsh sentences for some seeking to exercise their rights."
Using this controversial procedural maneuver, China has avoided examination of its record every year since its troops killings of hundreds of protesters in Beijing in June 1989.
In its annual report on human rights in China, released in February, the State Department found that China's human rights record deteriorated in the year 2000, with intensified crackdowns on religion, on political dissent and on "any person or group perceived to threaten the government."
The report said in China thousands of unregistered religious institutions had been either closed or destroyed by year's end, and hundreds of leaders of the Falun Gong had been imprisoned.
"Thousands of others remained in detention or were sentenced to reeducation-through-labor camps, or incarcerated in mental institutions," the report said. It also said there was an intensified crackdown in Tibet during the year.
Despite these setbacks, the report said, "many Chinese had more individual choice, greater access to information, and expanded economic opportunity" as Marxist ideology continued to give way to economic pragmatism.
Later in February, China ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a key human rights treaty, but appeared to qualify its suport for labor unions, which are banned in China.
The official Xinhua New Agency said at the time that China would implement Article Eight, which obliges the government to allow independent trade unions, "in line with relevant provisions of China's Constitution, Trade Union Law and Labor Law."
That wording, analysts said, appeared to rule out free trade unions.
Human rights groups had pressed Beijing to ratify the pact without reservations, which would force China to change a trade union law permitting only the state-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions. But the ratification was still welcomed by U.N. officials.
Wednesday's vote came as U.S. and Chinese officials met in Beijing to discuss the April 1 collision of an American spy plane and a Chinese jet, in which a Chinese pilot was killed.
The collision and subsequent 11-day detention of the 24 American crewmembers strained tensions between the two countries, already heightened by disagreements over arms sales to Taiwan and missile defense plans.
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