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China and Indonesia criticized at UN meeting for use of national security laws to violate human rights

April 12, 1999

A joint press release from
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center and Human Rights in China

At today's session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights presented the following statement on human rights violations in China and Indonesia. The statement, made in conjunction with the New York-based organization Human Rights in China and several Indonesian human rights organizations, expressed concern about continuing abuses, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, under the authority of laws ostensibly designed to protect national security. Mr. Liu Nianchun, a Chinese activist recently released from prison into exile by the Chinese authorities, recounted being detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression, being subjected to judicial proceedings that lacked fundamental elements of due process and being tortured in prison. The United States government has announced it will introduce a resolution concerning human rights violations in China at this year's session of the UN Commission on Human Rights and is seeking support for the resolution from other governments. A representative of the RFK Center also discussed the recent upswing in the use of similar tactics by Indonesian security forces and called on the Commission to urge the Indonesian government "to ensure true national security and stability by taking urgent steps to improve protections for human rights."



Statement on Human Rights Violations in China and Indonesia

Fifty-fifth Session
12 April 1999
Agenda Item 11

Oral statement submitted by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, a non-governmental organization in consultative status (category II), and read by Mr. Liu Nianchun and Mr. Endi Djamin.

Respected Ms. Chair,

The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights (RFK Center) has, in previous years, brought to the Commission’s attention concerns about state violations of human rights under the authority of national security laws, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. These abuses represent a discrepancy between governments’ proclaimed adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and their actual failure to enforce the rights guaranteed by this core human rights instrument. Although the increasing number of countries that have ratified the Covenant is a step forward, many of these countries have, in practice, taken a troubling step backward by adopting restrictive laws or taking actions that violate their own legislation and the ICCPR. Throughout the region, states use the authority of national security laws to violate human rights with impunity and without accountability.

Ms. Chair,

My own case illustrates the Chinese government’s violations of civil and political rights.

My right to freedom of expression was violated in May 1995, when I was detained by security forces after I signed a petition urging the government to exercise tolerance toward Chinese citizens, eliminate the administrative detention system of Reeducation through Labor, and register the League for the Protection of Workers’ Rights as a legal trade union.

I was a victim of disappearance from May 1995 to July 1996, when I was held in incommunicado detention.

In July 1996, prohibited from exercising my right to due process, I was administratively sentenced to three years of Reeducation through Labor, which has been deemed “inherently” arbitrary detention by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

I was repeatedly subjected to torture. In June 1997, my sentence was extended and the labor camp authorities ordered fellow inmates to beat me up, a common practice in Chinese detention facilities. I staged a hunger strike in protest. As a result, the authorities placed me in solitary confinement and reduced my food portion.

Both the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Opinion and Expression raised my case with the Chinese government, as noted in their reports to the 54th session of the Commission.

Although China signed the ICCPR in October 1998, no date for ratification has been announced. The RFK Center would like to express its deep concern about actions that the Chinese government has taken since this signing, actions that clearly violate the ICCPR.

In its relations with the international community, the Chinese government claims that there should be “dialogue,” not “confrontation,” on human rights. Yet the Chinese government has repeatedly failed to allow a dialogue with its own citizens. The government systematically represses the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. The means of repression include arbitrary detention, imprisonment based on laws that criminalize the exercise of basic rights and trials that violate the right to due process, torture while in detention, and, particularly in cases deemed politically sensitive, courts that do not have the independence required by international fair-trial standards.

Last December, Xu Wenli, Qin Yongmin and Wang Youcai were tried on charges of “endangering state security” on the basis of acts that were unquestionably the peaceful exercise of their political rights. Their trials were riddled with violations of China’s criminal procedure law – as well as the ICCPR’s standards of due process. Because of pressures exerted on potential lawyers by government officials, the three men were deprived of the right to legal counsel and had to present their own defense. In Wang’s case for example, a lawyer from the northern Liaoning province was briefly detained by public security officers and prevented from traveling to Hanzhou, where the trial took place. The three men received sentences of 13, 12 and 11 years, respectively, for attempting to set up the China Democracy Party as a legal and independent political party.

The Chinese government continued throughout 1998 to sentence people administratively to terms of Reeducation through Labor. According to official figures, in late 1997 there were around 230,000 persons in Reeducation through Labor camps. Those deprived of their right to due process through this form of arbitrary detention include peaceful human rights advocates like Peng Ming, who received a one-and-a-half year sentence. Peng founded the now-banned China Development Union, a group that conducted social research and held discussions on such topics as political reform and the environment.

Other human rights defenders are now awaiting trial in China – some on trumped up ordinary criminal charges. Human rights activist Fang Jue was charged with “fraud” last August several months after he published a proposal for political change in the foreign press.

Those who seek to use the Internet are also subjected to fiolations of their right to freedom of expression. In January, Lin Hai, a computer-company owner, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for having provided some 30,000 addresses of Chinese Internet users to a U.S.-based on-line magazine called Big Reference News (Dacankao). Big Reference News compiles articles from overseas Chinese-language newspapers about topics – such as Tibet, human rights and democracy movements – that are absent from the domestic news media because they are deemed politically sensitive in the mainland.


The RFK Center urges the Commission to pay special attention to the use of state security laws to restrict the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. The RFK Center further urges the Commission to call on governments to amend these laws in order to be consistent with the standards of the ICCPR. Finally, the RFK Center urges the Commission to send a strong signal that international cooperation with the UN human rights regime embraces no exception. Governments that ratify human rights treaties of their own free will have no excuse for not enforcing them. And no government may use the legal veneer of draconian state security laws to violate basic rights that are well established as customary law.

Thank you Ms. Chair