Kashgar, Xinjiang province, China.

© 2008 Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

(New York) - United Nations member states should not green-light further abuses by staying silent about China's problematic human rights record during the UN's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process on February 9, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today. The UPR, through which all UN member states are examined once every four years, allows member states and the UN's Human Rights Council (HRC) to take stock of China's human rights record.

The government of the People's Republic of China has committed itself to strengthening human rights protections. But extensive human rights violations, including sharp limits on the exercise of fundamental freedoms, continue and need to be addressed.

"As UN members prepare to debate China's rights record, they should remember that this opportunity is one chronically denied to the vast majority of Chinese people," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Those members' decisions to speak should not be dictated by bilateral issues or fears of how the Chinese government will react, but rather by the urgent need to address critical human rights issues."

Human Rights Watch said that in order for the review to be meaningful, it should include discussion of Tibet and Xinjiang, ongoing violations of freedom of expression, extrajudicial forms of arrest, and torture. These and other issues are highlighted in Human Rights Watch's submission to the review process through the NGO stakeholder mechanism, available at: https://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/09/30/china-upr-submission.

Human Rights Watch continues to document extensive human rights violations in China, including sharp limits on the exercise of fundamental freedoms. These limits are compounded by the fact that the ultimate source of authority at every level of government is not the government itself but the Communist Party of China (CPC). The legal system, including the judiciary, remains explicitly under the "supervision and guidance" of the CPC. These imperatives bar any direct criticism of the CPC by any individual or organization. Every year, hundreds of prosecutions for "subversion" and "separatism" attest to the strict enforcement of these prohibitions.

In addition to these institutional constraints, urgent human rights concerns in the People's Republic of China include: harassment and prosecution of dissidents and human rights defenders; the use of re-education-through-labor and administrative detention; deprivation of liberty without court procedures; forced confessions and torture in the justice system; active and overt political censorship of media and internet content; executions; child labor - including in state schools - persecution of religious believers who refuse to join state-controlled churches; large-scale forced evictions and involuntary resettlements to make way for infrastructure projects; discrimination against rural citizens formalized by the household registration system; and repression of ethnic Tibetans in Tibet and Uighurs in Xinjiang.

"Chinese officials often say that no country is immune from human rights problems, but what makes China a focus of particular concern is that it continues to persecute people who denounce these violations," said Richardson. "UN member states have an obligation to look beyond the Chinese government's rhetoric on its human rights performance by raising specific cases of rights violations and demanding swift and substantive action to address such abuses."

Although information about rights review is supposed to be widely disseminated inside each country, and the process is meant to allow for considerable citizen input, virtually no information about China's review has been circulated inside the country.

The Chinese government has a long history of censoring information it deems politically sensitive, most recently parts of US President Barack Obama's inaugural speech commenting critically on communism and fascism. The New York Times and the BBC websites have been intermittently blocked, and Hong Kong-based media Ming Pao and Asiaweek have also been affected.

Human Rights Watch urged the Chinese government to accept specific recommendations on a reasonable timetable with a view toward establishing effective remedies. It welcomed the Chinese government's stated willingness to engage in discussion of human rights issues, but is concerned with comments to Human Rights Watch and to governments that it will reject discussion of what it deems "political issues," such as Tibet.

"The government is trying to limit discussion of the most serious abuses in China today, not illuminate them," said Richardson. "A successful review is one that produces a roadmap of how the Chinese government will work to ameliorate abuses over the coming four years."

Human Rights Watch urged all embassies and United Nations agencies in China to assist Chinese citizens in watching the webcast, including hosting open viewing sessions in their facilities. Webcasts of the UPR can be viewed at: http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/archive.asp?go=090209.

"This is a big test for the Human Rights Council," said Richardson. "Its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, lost a great deal of credibility because of the politicized way in which it considered China's human rights record. There should be no politics this time around, just a cold, hard look at the situation in China."