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(New York) – The Chinese government, which is currently seeking a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council, should ratify without further delay an important international human rights treaty on civil and political rights it signed 15 years ago, Human Rights Watch said today.

China signed the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), on October 5, 1998, but has yet to ratify it, despite repeated promises to do so. Human Rights Watch believes that there are no credible reasons for the Chinese government to further delay ratification, absent which the government is not fully bound to uphold the treaty’s protections.

“China wants to join the UN’s top human rights body, but it won’t submit itself to the standards that body is sworn to apply,” said Sophie Richardson, China Director.

China is the only country among the permanent members of the UN Security Council not to have joined the ICCPR which guarantees essential rights ranging from the right to trial before an independent and impartial court to freedom of expression and political participation through regular and free elections. States parties to the ICCPR are subject to a periodic examination by the UN Human Rights Council that assesses progress and deficiencies in the implementation of the treaty’s obligations.

China’s current legislation and practices violate or deny many of the rights set out in the ICCPR, from the right to vote in genuine periodic elections to the right not to be arbitrarily detained. The government also routinely harasses, detains, imprisons, and tortures human rights activists and government critics. This includes the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, who is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” for his role in drafting Charter 08, a petition calling for the implementation of the rule of law and free elections.

In February, 120 scholars, lawyers, and journalists in China signed a petition to the government urging the National People’s Congress to ratify the ICCPR. In July 2013, nearly 100 Shanghai residents signed a joint letter calling on the government to ratify it. Ironically, a number of those individuals involved in the initiatives have since been detained for peacefully exercising the freedoms in the ICCPR, such as Guangdong activist Guo Feixiong and Beijing activist Ding Jiaxi.

Human Rights Watch urges the Chinese government to submit the ratification of the ICCPR for approval by the National People’s Congress without any reservations to the treaty. Human Rights Watch also urges UN member states to use the opportunity of China’s October 22, 2013 Universal Periodic Review to urge it to immediately ratify the treaty. UN General Assembly members should do the same when China runs for the Human Rights Council on November 12, 2013.

“The time has arrived for the Chinese government to announce concrete plans to swiftly ratify the ICCPR,” Richardson said. “It will improve China’s global credibility, but above all, Chinese citizens are themselves increasingly demanding basic human rights.”

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