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China's rights record criticized at UN Commission

April 2, 2001

Xiao Qiang, Executive Director of Human Rights in China (HRIC), addressed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights today, urging member states to adopt a resolution censuring China for its gross and systematic human rights abuses. Xiao Qiang delivered the following statement on behalf of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial.

Joint Statement by Human Rights in China & The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial

Respected Mr. Chairman,

My name is Xiao Qiang, and I am speaking on behalf of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (RFK Memorial). Today, I would like to address the urgent need for a resolution on China’s human rights situation.

Although resolutions on China’s human rights situation have been introduced nine times since 1990, thus far the Commission on Human Rights has failed to adopt a single resolution on China. It is clear that the decision not to adopt a China resolution has not been based on the country’s human rights record. Indeed, gross and systematic rights violations continue unabated in China, and impunity prevails.

It is particularly unfortunate that the Members of the Commission have often been prevented from even considering a resolution on China’s human rights situation. In past years when resolutions have been introduced, Chinese authorities have succeeded in winning support for a motion that prevented any action from being taken. China is the only country that has resorted to this motion in the Commission.

As a result, there has been no monitoring of the human rights situation in the world’s most populous country by the world’s most important human rights body. This fact effectively undermines the Commission’s mandate, which is to “examine the human rights situation in all countries of the world.”

Since the violent repression of peaceful democracy advocates in China in June 1989, the international community has struggled to determine how best to promote improvement in China’s human rights record. This is an ongoing debate. The prevailing belief appears to be that bilateral diplomatic steps are more effective than a U.N. resolution. Mr. Chairman, this approach has already been tried and has clearly failed.

Today, I would like to present you with some information that shows that China’s growing engagement with the international human rights regime has not led to genuine reform of China’s human rights practices. In fact, things appear more bleak than ever. China continues to systematically violate universally accepted rights without censure by the international community.

China’s ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in February 2001 was a welcome step. However, China entered a reservation on a crucial article. Article 8, which guarantees the right to form and join trade unions of one’s choice, will not apply to China. Currently, Chinese law only permits one official, government-sponsored trade union. Individuals who try to organize other independent unions have been brutally suppressed. Cao Maobing is such a case. After trying to establish an independent union in Jiangsu, Cao Maobing was forcibly committed to a mental institution in December 2000.

Mr. Chairman, Cao Maobing is not an isolated case. Many other individuals have met with similar fates, as the Chinese government continues to incarcerate dissidents in psychiatric hospitals. Today, hundreds of Falungong practitioners are being held in such institutions simply because they insist on maintaining their spiritual beliefs in spite of the government’s crackdown. The RFK Memorial urges the Chinese government to stop applying this inhumane treatment against its own citizens.

The severe repression of the Falungong is a reminder that torture and repression are systemic problems in China. For instance, some 50,000 Falungong practitioners are reportedly in detention. Over one hundred individuals have allegedly died as a result of torture and ill-treatment, and many others have been given extremely harsh sentences of up to 20 years.

There are other Chinese citizens whose human rights have been violated by the Chinese government. Immediately after signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in October 1998, China launched a brutal crackdown on the China Democracy Party (CDP). China’s treatment of CDP members and, more recently, the Falungong illustrates its lack of respect for the basic rights enshrined in the ICCPR. The rights to freedom of expression, association and religion have been blatantly denied to both groups, which have been officially banned.

China has also been unwilling to eliminate the widespread use of administrative detention, which has been determined to be inherently arbitrary. There are two forms of administrative detention: Custody and Repatriation and Reeducation Through Labor.

Custody and Repatriation allows for the detention, absent due process, of people considered undesirable by urban authorities. This includes: the homeless, street children, prostitutes, the mentally ill and, increasingly, migrant workers. In total, over two million people are annually detained under Custody and Repatriation. An estimated five to twenty percent of this two million are children.

Reeducation Through Labor, or RTL, allows for the detention, also without due process, of individuals considered to have committed offences too minor to merit prosecution. According to official statistics, some 260,000 people are currently being held under the RTL system. Chinese authorities are currently reviewing Reeducation through Labor. Many scholars within China have called for its complete elimination. The RFK Memorial is concerned that the government will retain RTL with only cosmetic changes that fail to address its inherently arbitrary and abusive nature. We urge the Chinese government to act on the recommendations by the UN Committee Against Torture and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to abolish all forms of administrative detention.

Impunity and a lack of accountability are principal causes of human rights abuses in China. For example, the crime committed against the unarmed people of Beijing on June 4, 1989, remains uninvestigated and unpunished. In June 1999, families of the June 4th victims asked China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate to initiate a criminal investigation in order to determine the legal responsibility of the perpetrators. To date, these families have received no reply. Even more disturbingly, they are subjected to constant harassment: from brief detentions and house arrest to surveillance and the confiscation of humanitarian funds sent from abroad. These are all clear violations of the rights set forth in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Mr. Chairman, much has been made of China’s increasing rhetorical commitment to cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms; however, little attention has been paid to substance and implementation. For example, the Chinese government has so far been unwilling to abide by the Terms of Reference governing fact-finding missions by the Commission’s thematic mandates. As a result, the visit by the Special Rapporteur on Torture has been on hold for one year. Also, the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between China and the High Commissioner fails to commit China to anything substantive except for participation in cooperation programs on human rights. These examples show that – again and again – China escapes substantive review of its human rights record.

In view of the human rights violations occurring in China and the government’s failure to cooperate in good faith with the UN human rights mechanisms, RFK Memorial believes that it is crucial that the Commission on Human Rights adopt a resolution on China’s human rights situation. It is also important for the Members to reject any no-action motion, as no individual country should be exempt from scrutiny.

Passage of a resolution on China is critical because it would demonstrate international support for those in China who are working towards respect for fundamental human rights. Ultimately, the transition to greater rights in China will be accomplished by the Chinese people themselves. But in order to establish human rights norms as the guiding principles of this transformation, it is critical for this Commission to hold China accountable now for its human rights abuses.

We hope that the Members of this Commission will recognize China’s failure to uphold international human rights law. We urge you to vote in favor of a resolution on China’s human rights situation.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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