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Xi Jinping, General Secretary, Chinese Communist Party

Zhang Dejiang, Chairman, Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress

No. 23, Xijiaominxiang

Xicheng District

Beijing 100805

The People's Republic of China


Dear General Secretary Xi,

I write on behalf of Human Rights Watch on the occasion of the annual plenary session of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), which will be held in Beijing from March 5-13. Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization that monitors and reports on human rights in about 90 countries around the world.

Over the past decade, people across China have increasingly expressed concern about a variety of state policies, ranging from arbitrary detention to the lack of political rights to environmental degradation. Some share those views by submitting comments to the NPC website, some on weibo, and some sign documents like the rights manifesto Charter 08. It is clear that Chinese citizens want a direct say in state policies and have become increasingly vocal about them. In the past, the NPC has effectively ratified all policy proposals put before it by the party-state, but in order to garner any legitimacy, it is imperative the NPC respond to issues of clear public concern.

We therefore urge that the NPC take immediate legislative action on three major issues on which there is significant popular support for reform. These are: 1) the abolition of all forms of arbitrary detention; 2) the adoption of a comprehensive domestic violence law; and 3) the immediate ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In addition, Human Rights Watch calls on the NPC to take effective measures to ensure that individuals will not be retaliated against for voicing criticisms about government policies during the annual meeting.


Abolish all forms of arbitrary detention

Over the past year, your government has undertaken some limited reforms; among the most encouraging was the abolition of the abusive administrative detention system known as Re-education Through Labor (RTL) in late 2013. Not only had those detained in RTL facilities been denied access to a trial or any judicial proceeding, many—including peaceful government critics and practitioners of religions not condoned by the state, among others—were also held there simply because their views are considered problematic by local authorities. In recent years, several high-profile cases of RTL detention sparked widespread opposition to the system.

Following the announcement of RTL’s abolition, government officials acknowledgedthat the practice had contravened China’s Constitution because it allowed individuals to be detained by the police—an administrative authority—without trial or approval of a court. Yet even after abolishing RTL, the government maintains several other administrative detention systems, which are equally arbitrary and devoid of judicial proceedings. They include Custody and Education and Drug Rehabilitation centers, which allow detention without trial of individuals suspected of engaging in sex work and drug use. The conditions in these facilities involve forced labor and forced treatment, both serious human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the use of shuanggui—a secretive, extralegal detention system designed for Chinese Communist Party members carried out by the Party’s disciplinary commission. A number of high-profile cases in which officials died in shuanggui exposes the high risk of torture in the system, especially during the current national drive to punish corruption, which has included many party members. Although the Supreme People’s Procuratorate announced in November 2013 that the use of shuanggui should be reduced and that criminal cases involving officials should be transferred to the procuratorates for investigation “as soon as possible,” there is no publicly-available evidence that such changes are moving ahead.

Across the country, petitioners continue to be detained in secret and unlawful facilities known as “black jails” for complaining to higher authorities about misconduct at the lower level. These facilities are managed by local governments or private security companies hired by them. The Chinese government has never officially acknowledged the existence of these facilities, including upon being questioned at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2009.

The NPC should use this current session to abolish all forms of arbitrary detention systems and to enact measures to close existing administrative detention facilities as detailed above. The judiciary – not the police –should be responsible for considering charges, determining guilt, assigning appropriate punishment and evaluating the lawfulness of detention. Individuals accused must have access to court proceedings, the right to assistance of counsel of choice, and all other fair trial guarantees.


Adopt comprehensive legislation on domestic violence

Domestic violence is increasingly recognized as a severe problem in China. A January 2013 report by the Supreme People’s Court and the All-China Women’s Federation found that one in four women in China are subjected to domestic violence. Another striking piece of statistics by the Supreme People’s Court shows that nearly 10 percent of all intentional manslaughter cases in China involve domestic violence.

Provincial and local governments across China began adopting regulations on domestic violence as early as 1996, but many focus on general principles and lack specific provisions to effectively protect women from domestic violence. Because there is no clear standard stipulating the conditions under which investigations and prosecutions should be initiated, such investigations and prosecutions are rare. Even when such cases do come before courts, judges tend to treat domestic violence as a marital dispute and issue light or no punishments to abusers. In cases where women respond violently to their abuser, law enforcement agencies tend to discount their claims of abuse and often fail to take them into account as a factor that could mitigate either culpability or sentence.

Since 2008, the state-run All China Women’s Federation has recommended that the NPC draft a specific law to address domestic violence. The second National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-2015) made a similar commitment. But apart from an announcement that such drafting was in its work plans in early 2012, there has been no government information on details, timing, or when such draft laws might be discussed, released for public comment, or adopted.

As a state party to several international treaties that guarantee women’s rights, the Chinese government is obliged to take effective measures to address domestic violence and its consequences for women and children. These actions should include effective legal measures, including criminal sanctions; civil remedies, and compensatory provisions; preventive measures, including public information and education programs to change attitudes about the roles and status of men and women; and protective measures, including shelters, counseling, rehabilitation, and support services. China should enact a comprehensive law against domestic violence in accordance with the good practices detailed in the United Nations Handbook on Legislation on Violence Against Women.


Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Fifteen years after having signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Chinese government has yet to ratify it. Member states to the ICCPR are obligated to respect, protect, and ensure fundamental rights and freedoms, among them protections against mistreatment in detention and unfair trials, and the rights to free association and expression and to political freedoms.

The government’s position has long been that it was working on “preparing the conditions for ratification,” but without ever committing to a timetable. In May 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao said that China was readying itself to ratify the ICCPR “as soon as possible.” Yet there has been little noticeable progress since that time.

Domestic and international pressure to ratify the ICCPR has grown in recent years. During China’s second Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council in October 2013, dozens of states from all over the world urged the Chinese government to ratify the treaty. Groups of Chinese citizenshave also recently issued calls on the government to do so.

Human Rights Watch urges the ratification without reservations of the ICCPR to be presented to the NPC as a matter of priority by the government, as a clear sign of commitment to improving human rights protection in the country.


Measures to ensure freedom of expression

Every year, thousands of petitioners travel to Beijing in the hope of airing their grievances. Others, including activists and dissidents such as members of the Tiananmen Mothers, have used the occasion to speak up about human rights abuses and official accountability. In previous years, they faced detention, arrest, and harassment during the annual NPC meeting. In the past year, your government has mounted its harshest crackdown on peaceful public criticism of state policies and practices in recent memory, detaining and sentencing activists ranging from lawyer Xu Zhiyong to anti-corruption campaigner Cao Shunli.

Human Rights Watch urges the Chinese government to demonstrate its commitment to Article 35 of the Constitution and the rule of law to ensure that no individuals will be deprived of liberty for peacefully expressing their opinion, especially during this occasion. This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, and we can think of no better way to begin to reconcile with and account for that past than by allowing such expressions.

We look forward to discussing these and other human rights matters with you and your government in the coming years.



Sophie Richardson

China Director

Human Rights Watch

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