The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution condemning China’s violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, religion and belief, repression of minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang and violations of the right to non-discrimination for people living with HIV/AIDS. The resolution should urge judicial proceedings that meet international standards. It should also urge China to cooperate fully with UN monitoring mechanisms.
Human Rights Watch has documented abuses directed against political dissidents, religious believers, labor activists, tenants’ rights advocates, people living with HIV/AIDS, alleged “separatists” in Xinjiang and Tibet, and North Korean asylum seekers.
Freedom of association and the right to strike.
China’s constitution and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (which China has ratified) guarantee the right to freedom of association, but China prohibits independent trade unions. Labor protests have multiplied in many regions. In May 2003, after problematic trials, Liaoning province labor activists Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang received seven and four-year sentences, respectively, for their role in organizing protests. Family members report that both men are seriously ill.
Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region.
China uses the U.S.-led “war on terror” to leverage international support for its crackdown on ethnic Uighurs in northwestern Xinjiang. Chinese authorities do not distinguish between peaceful and violent dissent, or between separatism and international terrorism. The state’s crackdown on Muslim Uighurs has included summary trials and mass sentencing rallies.
There have been credible reports of the extensive use of torture and the death penalty. The Chinese government has closed printing houses producing unauthorized religious literature; instituted mandatory “patriotic re-education” campaigns for religious leaders; stepped up surveillance of Muslim weddings, funerals, circumcisions, and house moving rituals; arrested clerics; raided religious classes; banned traditional gatherings; and leveled mosques.
The Chinese government continues to impose severely repressive measures limiting any display of support for an independent Tibet. China curtails the Dalai Lama’s political and religious influence through control of religious and cultural expression of Tibetan identity.
In 2002, after a trial marred by lack of due process, a court sentenced Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a locally prominent lama, to death with a two-year suspended sentence. He had been charged with causing explosions and “inciting the separation of the state.” His alleged co-conspirator, Lobsang Dondrup, was executed. Several of Tenzin Delek’s associates remain in prison; close to a hundred others were detained, many for attempting to bring information about the crackdown to the attention of the foreign community. Credible sources report ill-treatment and torture in detention.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic.
China faces what could become the largest HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world. But widespread discrimination by state agencies and individuals forces many people with HIV/AIDS to hide without access to treatment or care. People living with HIV/AIDS interviewed by Human Rights Watch report that hospitals test them without their consent or knowledge and refuse care if they test positive for HIV. Persons at high risk of HIV/AIDS, such as injection drug users, face detention without trial in prison-like “forced detoxification centers.” Such methods drive persons at high risk underground, out of reach of any state AIDS prevention programs.
In the 1990s, profitable but unsafe state-run blood collection centers spread HIV in many regions of the country. The state has failed to investigate the role of local authorities in the epidemic or to hold officials accountable. Some responsible officials have been promoted. Although China has taken steps by promising to offer anti-retroviral treatment to impoverished persons with HIV/AIDS, the lack of legal and institutional reforms to protect their rights means such promises will be difficult to realize.
China’s rapid economic development has led to forced evictions in urban and rural areas. Residents complain of lack of advance notice, low compensation, and violent evictions by hired thugs and bulldozers. Chinese laws permit forced evictions to continue even while residents are suing to prevent them; many courts refuse to hear the cases. Protests have escalated, and there has been a series of suicide protests. In response, police have jailed tenants’ rights advocates. The Chinese government has promised policy reforms, but while local Party officials can intervene to influence courts, these will be difficult to implement.
Restrictions on the Internet.
Chinese authorities continue to restrict use of the Internet. In May 2003, a Sichuan provincial court sentenced Internet activist Huang Qi to a five-year prison term on charges of subversion. Others have been apprehended or sentenced for posting political opinions on bulletin boards or chat rooms.
Chinese users cannot access foreign sites government officials consider “sensitive,” domestic sites are arbitrarily shut down, and Internet service providers—including international ISPs such as Yahoo—are prohibited from publishing news that has not been officially cleared. Monitoring and censorship of electronic mail is routine, and China is reportedly training “cyber police” to monitor the activities of Chinese activists.
Repatriation of North Korean asylum seekers.
China has forcibly repatriated North Korean refugees who have fled the harsh political and economic conditions in their homeland. China is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol which prohibit such repatriation. China has not permitted the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to establish a presence on the China-North Korean border.
Police officials, prosecutors, and judges routinely compromise the legal rights of defendants. Although the 1997 Criminal Procedure Law revisions reinforced the rights of defendants, there is no presumption of innocence; defendants are denied timely access to counsel or to counsel of their own choosing; and defense counsel’s ability to gather and present evidence is severely limited before and during any trial. China maintains “re-education through labor,” a system of administrative punishment that incarcerates thousands of citizens each year without benefit of judicial review.
The Commission on Human Rights should:
• Call on the Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those held for peacefully exercising their rights of free speech, expression, and association, including those accused of religious or political offenses, labor activism, and so-called separatist activities; to abolish the reeducation-through-labor system; to legislate against discrimination on the basis of HIV status; to investigate and hold accountable officials who profited from blood collection centers that spread HIV and covered up the epidemic; to amend Chinese laws and regulations to bring them into conformity with international human rights law; to rescind the reservation to article 8(1)(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and to permit workers to form and join their own trade unions and to bargain collectively.
• Urge China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed in October 1998.
• Urge revision of the Criminal Procedure Code and Law on Protecting State Secrets in line with international human rights standards.
• Insist that China honor its refugee protection obligations, immediately halt all repatriation of North Koreans entering China, and begin a dialogue with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees about access to the China-North Korea border.
• Urge China to cooperate fully with U.N. mechanisms, including by inviting thematic rapporteurs to visit the country.