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China: Cooperate With First UN Disability Rights Review

Beijing Should Provide Accurate Information, Allow Civil Society Participation

(New York) – China should demonstrate its commitment to the millions living with disabilities in the country by good faith participation in the United Nations review of its disability rights record. More than 200 million people live with disabilities in China.

China adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in August 2008, and will undergo its first-ever review by the treaty’s monitoring mechanism, a committee of 18 independent experts, in Geneva on September 18 and 19, 2012.

During past UN reviews, including its Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council and its review under the Convention Against Torture, the Chinese government refused to provide key information, obstructed submissions by independent civil society groups, and failed to implement critical recommendations.

“China’s participation in the Disability Rights Convention creates an opportunity to monitor and hold the government to account,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “But the review is only as good as Chinese officials allow it to be – if they manipulate the process, fail to answer tough questions, or provide information of dubious credibility, it will show disdain for persons with disabilities and for UN mechanisms.”

The government’s August 2010 submission to the CRPD Committee states that it “…has actively built an environment in which persons with disabilities can participate equally in the life of society, and has widely initiated a whole variety of different activities to aid those with disabilities.”

Human Rights Watch urged the committee to vigorously question the government’s claims in light of concerns raised by its own research, by disability advocates, and in media reports on issues ranging from lack of access to information and justice, failure to provide basic services, and ongoing abuses of disability rights activists.

In its submission to the committee, Human Rights Watch provided information regarding violations of 18 articles of the Disability Rights Convention. The submission recommends that the committee question Chinese officials about their efforts to:

  • Ensure education and employment opportunities to people who acquire disabilities as a result of lead poisoning;
  • Explain how safeguards on the rights of persons with disabilities will prevent discrimination against them;
  • Commit to adopting a Mental Health Disability Law that fully conforms to the standards and obligations under the CRPD, including by providing protections against arbitrary detention;
  • Guarantee access to legal recourse in cases of exploitation and violence against persons with disabilities; and
  • Document China’s fulfillment of its commitments to persons with disabilities under the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010).

In addition, Human Rights Watch urges the committee to press the Chinese government regarding its treatment of Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal activist who worked on disability rights issues in China and who recently arrived in the United States to study law after years of harassment, politicized imprisonment, and legally baseless house arrest in China.

Reviews by UN treaty bodies of individual countries’ compliance often result in actionable recommendations. Yet following past reviews under the Convention Against Torture, the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Chinese government has failed to publicize and implement those recommendations, partly by denying civil society organizations the opportunity to participate in those discussions. Human Rights Watch noted that unfettered participation and encouragement by civil society groups that work on disability rights is critical to ending social discrimination and implementing positive steps.

“When the Chinese government abuses disability rights activists, and denies access to education and services to a large portion of those with disabilities, it’s clear there’s a long way to go before meeting the Convention’s standards,” said Amanda McRae, disability rights researcher. “This review should conclude with meaningful commitments from the Chinese government to redress these abuses.”

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