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U.N. Commission’s silence on China’s rights record “irresponsible,” says HRIC

April 22, 1999

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights today shied away from condemning the deteriorating human rights situation in China. The Commission ignored reports, both from its own human rights mechanisms and from independent NGOs, that the Chinese government routinely violates its citizens’ most fundamental rights. HRIC considers the Commission’s decision to refuse even to discuss such serious, systematic rights abuses to be unjustifiable and irresponsible.

“It was the brutal crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement that led the Commission to start scrutinizing China’s human rights record. Ten years later, China is experiencing a period of severe repression. Yet the Commission is silent. The world’s highest human rights body has failed to uphold its mandate,” said Xiao Qiang, HRIC’s Executive Director.

The “motion of no action” introduced by China was approved with a majority of 22 votes, with 17 against and 14 abstentions. Tantamount to exercising veto power, this motion is a procedural device that effectively prevented the Commission from discussing on the resolution on China’s human rights situation tabled by the United States. Commission member states were thus prevented from discussing the substance of the resolution and from voting on it. Examining the situation of human rights in all countries in the world is a mandated part of the Commission’s agenda.

Since China has not ratified the two major U.N. human rights treaties—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—routine procedures for exercising international scrutiny over the broad range of human rights issues in the PRC are unavailable. Furthermore, the government does not permit the establishment of domestic rights monitoring organizations, and hardly allows any discussion of rights abuses in the media. Thus such international measures as Commission resolutions are crucial in pushing for rights-related changes.

“Eventually, China will have no alternative but to institutionalize protection of human rights. In order to establish human rights norms as the guiding principles of this transition towards a system more in accord with international standards, it is critical to hold China accountable now for its human rights abuses. This is both a moral imperative and a practical necessity. HRIC wishes to thank all the countries who opposed the no action motion. History will judge who voted on the right side,” Xiao Qiang added.

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