Human Rights in China (HRIC) welcomes China's signing of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), a move for which the organization has been lobbying for many years and which is an important step forward for the international monitoring of human rights conditions in the People's Republic. "By this act, Beijing is explicitly accepting the legitimacy of international monitoring of rights conditions in China," said Xiao Qiang, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. "Human Rights in China hopes it will be followed with speedy action to implement the rights in the treaty. As a first step, we call on the Chinese government to demonstrate its commitment to the treaty, by immediately and unconditionally releasing all imprisoned human rights activists in China, including Wei Jingsheng, Wang Dan, Li Hai, and Liu Nianchun."
HRIC is pleased that the Chinese government has chosen to acknowledge the universality of the human rights standards contained in the U.N. instruments and their applicability to all countries in this way, and hopes that this will presage a shift towards greater respect for such standards in China's laws, policies and practices in the future. HRIC calls on China to ratify the Covenant at the earliest possible date, preferably during the next session of the National People's Congress in March 1998, and to do so without reservations. The group urges the government immediately to sign the ICESCR's companion treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), so that the Chinese people may benefit from the protections and guarantees accorded by both of these basic human rights treaties, which, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, make up the International Bill of Rights. Until Beijing signed the ICESCR, it was the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council not to have signed the covenants. (The United States has signed both, but has yet to ratify the ICESCR.) China's ratification of the ICCPR at the same time it accedes to the ICESCR would demonstrate that the government is sincere about creating protections for the social and economic rights of the Chinese people since it would be an acknowledgment of the fundamental interdependence and indivisibility of the two sets of rights.
Following ratification of the ICESCR, we consider it incumbent upon the Chinese government to undertake a broad-ranging review of the implementation of the treaty, as well as a campaign to educate the public about its provisions and encourage Chinese people and organizations to discuss the nature of the obligations the treaty places on governments at all levels and how those obligations may best be carried out. HRIC believes that this should entail a significant reexamination of the way economic, social and cultural rights have been characterized by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese government has frequently stated that economic rights are its priority and that therefore it concentrates on maintaining the "social stability" it claims is conducive to rapid economic growth. It has also emphasized that political and civil liberties are a luxury which a poor, developing country cannot afford, and thus the rights of a troublesome few dissenters may be curtailed in the interests of the majority. There are two main problems with this analysis. The first is that without civil and political rights, individuals, families and communities are not able to protect their economic, social and cultural rights when the latter are violated or threatened. In reality, the suppression of vocal dissenters is just the most obvious manifestation of the fact that any person who comes into conflict with the authorities in such a system can find themselves subject to similar deprivation of their basic rights. The second is that economic growth does not necessarily mean that people enjoy economic, social and cultural rights. Rapid growth without equity and without the protective and moderating role played by free expression and association can mean that individuals, families and communities ?particularly those belonging to vulnerable sectors of the population ?actually find their economic, social and cultural rights threatened due to such factors as corrupt and unscrupulous officials, environmental degradation, lack of provision of health services, growing fees for education and so on. HRIC hopes that China's accession to the ICESCR will be accompanied by the kind of openness needed to identify pressing issues regarding economic, social and cultural rights, so that China may move towards proper implementation of the treaty.
Xiao Qiang (Signed)