In his report on the right to food, the Special Rapporteur makes references to the household registration system as a source of exclusion from public benefits (Para. 17, Para. 19), to the relationship between the right to food and the right to freedom of expression (Para. 23), and to the difficulties posed by resettlement programs to ensuring the right to food (Para. 34).
Despite Chinese Constitutional guarantees on the right to expression, Human Rights Watch regularly documents restrictions on this right, ranging from censorship of the domestic media to persecution of peaceful government critics to the obscuring of information essential for public health and safety. Public health and food safety remain at risk as long as the domestic press is not allowed to convey information promptly and as long as the government withholds key information. For example, the Chinese government has not only failed to provide to workers in battery factories the necessary information to prevent lead poisoning, it has also systematically blocked those workers whose children have been affected from registering complaints or obtaining basic medical information about their children’s conditions. Other public health crises, ranging from chemical spills in water supplies to tainted infant milk formula, are alarmingly regular, and many could be staved off if the press were allowed to report freely.
In addition, despite repeated senior Chinese government officials’ public commitments to abandoning the household registration system, we appear no closer to that change actually happening. In the meantime, China’s 250 million migrant workers are denied access to public benefits when they choose to leave their province of origin. Some cities, such as Shanghai, have piloted programs allowing migrant workers to access local benefits. But hopes of nation-wide, systemic reforms are dim.
We continue to document the multiple rights violations endured by resettled populations, particularly resettled nomadic herders and other former rural residents, in Tibetan areas. Some of these people have not enjoyed the consultation or compensation they are due under Chinese and international law, and some report to Human Rights Watch that they are worse off with respect to access to sufficient food as a result of their resettlement; in addition, they lack access to any meaningful forms of redress.
Mr. President, the Chinese government’s accomplishments with respect to raising the standard of living and nutrition are indeed noteworthy, yet significant problems persist as a result of deliberate state policy. The Council can today urge the Chinese government to fulfill its domestic and international obligations, particularly with respect to the freedom of expression, the abolition of the discriminatory household registration system, and the rights of those resettled to do so with full information and compensation; we also urge that the government provide immediate remedies to those denied adequate food.
In closing, we ask: how will the Special Rapporteur and the Council urge the Chinese government to finally repeal the hukou system and respect the freedom of expression, such that the government’s conduct is consistent with international law, and that citizens are not disadvantaged or persecuted because of their place of birth or political views?