HRIC welcomes China's signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) today. This gesture implies a commitment on the part of the government to refrain from actions which violate the rights contained in the ICCPR. We hope that this will be followed quickly by concrete steps to ratify and implement the Covenant.
HRIC urges the Chinese government to ratify both the ICCPR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, which China signed last year) without reservations at the next session of National People's Congress in March 1999. The Chinese government should also accede to the two optional protocols[*] of the ICCPR. Contradictions between provisions of the covenants and China's practices or legal regime should not be used as an excuse to delay ratification. The monitoring which will begin upon ratification will provide impetus to and assistance for working towards compliance with the treaties.
For years, human rights and democracy activists inside China risked their freedom to campaign for their government to respect international human rights standards and recognize their authority. In the face of official hostility, they have documented human rights abuses and brought these to the attention of the international community. Only last week, five leading rights advocates issued two documents, the Declaration on Civil Rights and Freedom and the Declaration on Civil Rights and Social Justice. "It is precisely our individual civil freedoms that we Chinese people are most lacking today, and that we most urgently need to establish protections for," the first Declaration states, urging Chinese citizens to take action to bring about change.
As the first Declaration points out, the Chinese authorities continue to impose systematic restrictions on the exercise of the rights and freedoms contained in the ICCPR, despite rhetoric about their commitment to human rights. As a demonstration of its new commitment, the government should recognize the legitimate demands of Chinese citizens, such as the authors of the Declarations, and open a public dialogue with all sectors of Chinese society. So far, the Chinese government has only agreed to engage in such dialogues with representatives of foreign governments and international agencies, while rebuffing all attempts at opening the more crucial domestic debate.
Finally, HRIC calls on the Chinese government to release all those detained for the peaceful exercise of the basic rights enshrined in the ICCPR and the ICESCR, and to repeal or amend the laws under which they are held, particularly the "state security" section of the Criminal Code, and the regulations allowing for administrative detention under Reeducation Through Labor. Those who should be released include some 2,000 individuals found guilty of alleged "counterrevolutionary crimes," participants in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, as well as the thousands of other political, religious and ethnic prisoners throughout China.
[*] Of the two optional protocols, the first empowers the Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the ICCPR, to accept individual complaints about violations by the state party in question, while the second commits a state to work towards abolition of the death penalty. The two covenants, the two optional protocols and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights together make up the International Bill of Rights.