China Fails in Rights Targets

Rights abuses increased in China while Beijing followed an ‘action plan’ to curtail them.

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liuapartment305.jpg A security guard tries to stop photos being taken outside Liu Xiaobo's home in Beijing, Dec. 28, 2010.
An overwhelming majority of goals under China’s maiden National Human Rights Action Plan have not been fulfilled as Beijing instead moved to tighten restrictions on citizens, a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

The Chinese government used the 2009-2010 National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP), aimed at protecting civil and political rights in China, as “a vehicle” for blunting international criticism of China’s human rights record, said Sophie Richardson, HRW’s Asia advocacy director.

“Our ultimate assessment really is that the action plan has failed to deliver on key commitments, particularly with respect to civil and political rights, and it’s hard not to conclude that the document was primarily a public relations exercise,” Richardson said.

In the report, entitled “Promises Unfulfilled,” the rights group said that by clamping down on civil and political rights, the Chinese government was actually responsible for enabling a number of abuses originally targeted by the NHRAP.

“During the same period that the NHRAP has been in effect, we have watched the Chinese government deliberately, systematically, and overtly violate some of the most basic human rights there are,” she said.

She noted that the central government was responsible for a number of high-profile rights abuses during the period of the NHRAP’s implementation, including the imprisonment of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, the enforced disappearance of civil rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, and the arbitrary detention of another prominent lawyer Chen Guangcheng.

Goals undermined

HRW said that the NHRAP was also undermined by the Chinese government’s practice of sentencing dissidents to lengthy prison terms on “subversion” charges, expanding media and Internet restrictions, and tightening controls on lawyers, rights workers, and NGOs.

The government also increased controls on the Uyghur and Tibetan ethnic minority communities and increasingly made use of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions in illegal “black jails,” the group said.

In addition, the torture and illegal detention of suspects in Chinese custody was “routine,” it said.

One Chinese lawyer was quoted in the report as saying that “100 percent of Chinese criminal defense lawyers believe coercion of confession by torture is extremely serious in China.”

The Chinese government did not make adequate efforts to prevent abuse of the death penalty or to cooperate with international bodies on rights issues despite pledges in the NHRAP to amend these practices, HRW said.

It noted progress, however, in poverty busting efforts under the plan.

According to official statistics, the Chinese government reduced the number of citizens living in absolute poverty by more than 200 million since 1978.

In December 2009, eight months after the plan’s implementation, the Chinese government boasted of having achieved up to 65 percent of its goals.

Wang Chen, the minister in charge of the State Council’s Information Office, made the claim in the only public review by the Chinese government of the plan. He did not give any basis for the rosy statistics.

A statement released early last week said the government plans to review the NHRAP in the first half of 2011, although no particulars were provided on how the assessment would be carried out.

Flawed beginnings

The NHRAP, published in April of 2009, included objectives for protecting economic, social, cultural, and civil and political rights and highlighted China’s international obligations on human rights as well as human rights education programs within the country.

The NHRAP was developed in collaboration with 53 government ministries, agencies, and government-organized NGOs, as well as with academics from nine think tanks coordinated by the Information Office of the State Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Noticeably absent from the list of contributors were representatives of China’s public security organs, which Richardson noted are “often complicit in or the main vehicles for human rights abuses.”

“[This] at least implicitly suggests that the agencies that are most responsible for abuses had not bought into even the consultations about this topic.”

Richardson added that while the action plan included a list of goals and a timeline for acting on them, it failed to include language which made it a “legally actionable document.”

She recommended China create an independent review commission including the original participants but also scholars and lawyers who are critical of the government but respected “both inside and out of it” to assist in redrafting the NHRAP.

“We also believe … that there should be a public debate inside China about what this document ought to do and that should result in a plan that actually has benchmarks, timelines and that includes some of the issues that were left out of the original document.”

Reported by Joshua Lipes.

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