Friday, January 23, 2009

Comments on China's National Report Submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on 10 November 2008

To my knowledge this report it not available on the UN Human Rights Council yet. That will be the authoritative version. But in the meantime a draft can be found here:
Other relevant documents here:,459.html

Charles Burton

Comments on China's National Report Submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on 10 November 2008

This document is complicated to interpret. Many parts of it could lead readers lacking specialized expertise in the political and social realities of China today to draw conclusions with regard to the state of China's compliance with the 25 international human rights conventions to which China is party that are inaccurate.

The weakest parts of the Report are those touching on matters relating to freedom of expression, right to political participation and freedom of association. But some parts of the Report evidently do provide insight into China's shortcomings in realization of economic, social and cultural rights and the measures the Government of China is considering implementing to address these.

Paragraph 6 contains the standard defensive disclaimer for China's serious shortcomings in its human rights record: "Given differences in political systems, levels of development and historical and cultural backgrounds, it is natural for countries to have different views on the question of human rights. It is therefore important that countries engage in dialogue and cooperation based on equality and mutual respect in their common endeavour to promote and protect human rights."

But Paragraph 7 sets out a more proactive statement of positive political political intent: "Governments at all levels are now conscientiously implementing the Scientific Outlook on Development, an approach that places people first and seeks to ensure comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development, in an effort to build a harmonious society characterized by democracy, the role of law, equity and justice."

Paragraph 9 notes that "The Constitution of the People's Republic of China expressly stipulates that 'the State respects and safeguards human rights'. Chapter II of the Constitution sets out in detail the fundamental rights and duties of citizens, including civil and political rights, such as the right to vote and to stand for election, freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration, of religious belief, of correspondence and of the person; and economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to work, to rest, to education, to social security and to engage in academic and creative pursuits. The Constitution also has specific provisions on the protection of the rights of women, the elderly, minors, persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities."
But in China the primary political issue is the lack of political will to actually implement these provisions of China's national Constitution.

Paragraph 13 includes an utterly specious claim that "Every citizen who has reached the age of 18 has the right to vote and stand for election. Elections are competitive, with direct elections at the county and township levels. For several years the voter participation rate throughout the country has been above 90 per cent." No reference is made to the desirability for genuine electoral democracy in China or of any intention to move toward it.

Paragraph 15 also includes content that is patently at odds with reality in China today: "China adheres to the principle that all ethnic groups are equal and implements a system of regional ethnic autonomy in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minorities. Organs of self-government are established in these autonomous areas to ensure the exercise of autonomous rights, including the right to enact legislation and the right of ethnic groups to independently administer their affairs in such areas as the economy, education, science, culture and health." Key issues here are serious shortcomings in provision of native-language education and suppression transmission of history that is at odds with mainstream Han interpretations. Cultural and religious freedom is also a major issue in most non-Han areas of China.

With regard to labour rights, paragraph 24 notes: "A system of labour standards covering working hours, rest, leave, remuneration, prohibition of child labour, and vocational safety and health is taking shape." But then in paragraph 27 there is a patently deceptive claim that "Employees have the collective right to conclude labour contracts with employers covering remuneration, working hours, rest, leave, labour safety, health, and insurance benefits."

The claim in paragraph 43 of the death penalty being applied with "extreme caution" is belied by the statistics that show that China has more executions that all other nations combined. The proviso of some provisions for mercy "if immediate execution is not essential" in this paragraph is disturbing.

In paragraph 49 indicates: "The Criminal Law, the Criminal Procedure Law, the Judges Law, the Public Procurators Law and the People's Police Law explicitly prohibit the extortion of confessions by torture or the illegal collection of evidence. The Criminal Law establishes as a punishable criminal offence the extortion of a confession by torture, the collection of evidence by force and the ill-treatment of detainees. Anyone who perpetrates such acts will be held criminally responsible. Under the Law on State Compensation, any citizen who suffers from physical injuries caused by torture applied in order to extort a confession, acts of violence, or the unlawful use of weapons or police instruments shall be entitled to claim State compensation. Every people's court at the intermediate level and above has a compensation committee." Nevertheless the reports of pervasive use of torture to extract confessions show no sign of abating. Reports of people being compensated for being subject to torture or of police and security agency and prison personnel being sanctioned for engaging in acts of torture almost nil.

Paragraph 59 is also a highly specious claim: "The Constitution explicitly provides that citizens enjoy freedom of speech and of the press, and have the right to criticize a State organ or its officials and to make suggestions." This provision in the Constitution is clearly not enacted.

Paragraph 80 rightly notes: "China is a developing country. Although its total GDP ranks among the world's highest, the country still ranks well below 100 in terms of per capita GDP. Imbalances in development between urban and rural areas and among regions persist, as does the imbalance between economic and social development. Economic and social development are hampered by such constraints as resources, energy and the environment."

Paragraph 84 also makes a highly valid observation: "The problem posed by the fact that public health services are not adapted to people's needs remains acutely obvious. The imbalance in the development of health-care services between urban and rural areas and among regions persists. Irrational allocation of resources, weak public health services, inadequate rural and community-based medical services, poor regulation of the manufacture and distribution of pharmaceuticals, the rapidly rising costs of medical care and medicines have all elicited strong reactions from the people." Similar observations could be made with regard to provision of educational services, and social welfare provisions particularly pensions and other poverty alleviation measures.

The last two paragraphs summarize the political and legal areas where China falls short through a positive spin but without any specifying of measures to ameliorate the existing situation:
101. Deepening political restructuring; expanding citizens' orderly participation in political affairs, improving democratic institutions, diversifying the forms and expanding the channels of democracy; holding democratic elections, further developing the process of democratic decision-making, democratic administration and democratic oversight, guaranteeing the people's rights to be informed, to participate, to be heard and to oversee; gradually adopting the same ratio of deputies to represented population in elections to people's congresses in urban and rural areas.
102. Advancing the rule of law as a fundamental principle and deepening the reform of the judiciary; advancing democracy and openness in the judicial system; further regulating law enforcement and judicial practice and strengthening judicial oversight; improving the human rights training given to public servants, providing education in human rights and the legal system to all members of society and enhancing citizens' awareness of their rights and obligations.

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