United Nations — Commission on Human Rights, 56th Session

Statement on Human Rights in China by Rights & Democracy

We believe China is one of the major violators of human rights in the world and because of its size, power, and key position in Asia, it deserves special attention by this Commission.

th Commission on Human Rights

Statement on Item 9-

The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.
March 29, 2000


I represent the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, a Canadian institution with an international mandate to defend and promote all the rights set out in the International Bill of Human Rights. We have a major interest in and serious concerns with the human rights situation in several countries. However, due to a shortage of time, today we will concentrate on China. We believe China is one of the major violators of human rights in the world and because of its size, power, and key position in Asia, it deserves special attention by this Commission.

In carrying out our mandate, our staff has travelled to China and Hong Kong where we have developed partnerships with a number of organizations doing the difficult work of compiling data regarding human rights violations inside China. These include pro-democracy groups, trade unions, labour support groups, women’s rights groups, etc. Similarly, in Canada, we maintain close relations with the Canadian Labour Congress, PEN Canada, Amnesty International Canada, Toronto Association for Democracy in China and the Canada Tibet Committee.

Based on these partnerships and the persistent reports of other similar organizations, we have concluded that China’s human rights record has not improved despite three years of bilateral human rights dialogue with many countries (including Canada) and despite economic and judicial reforms. In fact, it is clear that human rights abuses in China have increased significantly in the past year.

  • Harsh sentences have been handed down to Falun Gong practitioners, who were exercising their right to freedom of worship. Other religious groups such as Muslims, Buddhists and Christians have also faced repression and denial of their rights.
  • Torture while in detention has been widely reported. This includes the use of electric shocks, prolonged solitary confinement, beatings and gender-specific forms of abuse. Several of the victims of torture have died as a direct result.
  • There have been hundreds of reports of arbitrary detention and disappearances. Many of those detained have been denied legal counsel, access to their families and due process – this despite much celebrated reforms to the Criminal Procedure Law.
  • Freedom of expression is routinely denied in China, especially to those promoting democracy and human rights. Long sentences have been handed out for authoring publications viewed as threatening to the government and even for postering, leaf-letting and other minor offences.
  • The negative impacts of economic reforms have fallen more heavily on women than on men. A disproportionate percentage of those who have lost their jobs are women and those who have found new employment in the new industrial sector are subjected to a variety of abuses.
  • Independent trade unions remain illegal even though the right to form and join a trade union is guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Arrest of labour activists is widespread and sentences of several years are common for efforts to organize workers outside the state-sanctioned process.
  • The Government of China continues to detain the 10-year old Tibetan child, recognized by the Dalai Lama to be the 11th Panchen Lama. All requests for access to the boy, including a request from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have been denied. He is now in his 5th year of detention without charge or access to legal counsel.
  • We have reports that in 1999 the death penalty was used 2700 times in China (maybe more) and this included crimes other than murder.
  • In 1997, Canada and other countries entered into bilateral human rights dialogue with the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). In doing so, they moved scrutiny of China’s human rights record away from the public, accountable processes of this Commission and into backroom discussions, which have no clear objectives or markers for measuring progress. While we appreciate the effort to engage Chinese authorities in a human rights discourse and we agree that dialogue is an important component of any strategy designed to resolve conflict, we are convinced that bilateral dialogue alone has not been and will not be enough.

    The human rights abuses I have outlined today are only a very small part of a very long list. The International Centre believes that it must speak up on behalf of those inside China who cannot come here to Geneva to tell their stories, and we urge the members of the Commission to do the same.

    I urge delegates to use this Commission as it was meant to be used and to support a resolution condemning China’s serious human rights violators. In turn, I ask China to be a real leader in its region by respecting the Human Rights Conventions, which it has signed.