Rights Activists Slam China's Homegrown Take on Human Rights

2017-12-08
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Hong Kong protesters call for the release of Liu Xia from house arrest, Dec. 8, 2017.
Hong Kong protesters call for the release of Liu Xia from house arrest, Dec. 8, 2017.
RFA

An overseas-based rights group has hit out at Beijing's attempts to "weaken" international human rights norms, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party held a conference promoting its home-grown view of human rights.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told the South-South Human Rights Forum, which wrapped up in Beijing on Friday, that China would "never waver from the path of pursuing the path of human rights with Chinese characteristics."

The forum ended with an agreement that "the right to subsistence and the right to development are the primary basic human rights," official media reported.

"Developing countries should pay special attention to safeguarding the people's right to subsistence and right to development, especially to achieve a decent standard of living, adequate food, clothing, and clean drinking water, the right to housing, security, work, education, health, and social security," Xinhua quoted an official communique as saying.

But the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which collates reports from groups operating inside China, warned against an "aggressive global campaign" by Beijing to dilute human rights in the international community.

President Xi Jinping, having consolidated his power at home following the 19th party congress in October, has now turned his focus to the international community in the hope of exporting China's view of human rights.

China model

"In the past few decades, this 'China model' has left behind countless people in China, victimized by breakneck growth at the expense of basic protection from discrimination, exploitation, and abuse of power," CHRD said in a report issued ahead of Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

It cited the mass evictions of thousands of migrant workers from their accommodation in Beijing, and widespread discrimination against ethnic minority and religious groups, people with HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, women, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ groups.

"The path of China’s 'success' is littered with ruined lives," the report said.

"Many Chinese have lost homes, land claims, jobs, wages, and clean air and water," it said, pointing to a nationwide campaign of detention, sentencing, and harassment of more than 300 human rights lawyers, rights activists, and their families since July 2015.

Liu Qing, a director of the New York-based group Human Rights in China, pointed to the Communist Party's tight controls over what people can do, say, or write publicly.

"Yes, the right to existence is a basic human right, but that's not where it ends," he said. "There are some differences between human beings and pigs or dogs, after all."

"Beijing has always viewed human rights as the right to existence, but the most basic human rights have to do with the political and civil rights of citizens," Liu told RFA. "That includes freedom of expression, association, and publication."

'Farcical conference'


Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia agreed.

"The Chinese government is trying to substitute the right to existence for freedom of expression and other basic human rights," Hu said. "But without freedom of expression, it's all too easy for your right to exist to be taken away too."

"Haven't they just thrown all those human rights lawyers into jail?"

Against that context, Hu said, the conference looked "farcical."

"It's just a bunch of Chinese people getting together with some of the countries they are colonizing, and and contesting the right to a platform with Western countries," he said. "The Chinese people will only hear one point of view."

According to CHRD, China's economic success is the result of "squashed protests, silenced complaints, and swollen jails and extrajudicial holding cells."

It warned that China’s foreign policy objective of becoming a "leading global power" means that it will seek to change world opinion about human rights, rather than to comply with it.

CHRD called on Beijing to release all political prisoners, to stop targeting marginalized groups, and to allow the development of an independent judiciary to address grievances.

"U.N. member states must hold the Chinese government accountable for diminishing or compromising the principles of human rights [and] for failing to implement the human rights treaties China has ratified," it said.

Charter 08

Rights activists in Hong Kong said they would use Human Rights Day to keep up pressure on Beijing to release Liu Xia, the widow of late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo, who has been under house arrest since his award was announced in October 2010.

Hong Kong lawyer Albert Ho, who heads the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, said this year also marks the ninth anniversary of Charter 08, which was the main reason for Liu's jailing.

"The Charter was a very important document, because it showed the Chinese people that they could fight for genuine freedom and liberation," Ho said. "That was the real dream that the Chinese people wanted to strive for."

"This Chinese dream of Xi Jinping's looks on the surface to be all about rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, but in reality, nobody is allowed to say anything that challenges the regime, which is violent and inhumane," he said.

"I hope Liu Xia knows how much support she has among the people of Hong Kong," he said.

Joshua Wong, a former student leader of the 2014 pro-democracy movement, said the Lius are living testimony that the "China model" is all about projecting an image of a country on the rise, but lacks core values of democracy or human rights.

"I would like to say to Liu Xia, who is still under house arrest: you are not alone," Wong said. "Large numbers of Hong Kong people have signed a petition; it is our duty to save her."

Reported by Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lam Kwok-lap for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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