“Chinese Human Rights Plan Must Address Past Failings to Succeed”

Last week China released its report on the success of the first Chinese human rights action plan, furiously patting itself on the back. Apparently China has made huge advances in its protection of human rights, which would surprise… just about everybody.

Somehow I missed the reaction piece from Human Rights Watch, which judges the report and finds it lacking:

In theory, a national human rights action plan—a recommendation for all states stemming from the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights—can provide an opportunity for a government to honestly identify and seek resolution of urgent human rights problems. The Chinese government deserves some credit for making an attempt at such a plan. Its first plan was notable for the government’s explicit rhetorical shift from a traditional prioritization of “rights of subsistence and development” over civil and political rights by specifically acknowledging that “all kinds of human rights are interdependent and inseparable.”

In its details, the plan was less impressive. Rather than outlining innovative approaches to tackle well-documented human rights problems, it did little more than reiterate existing commitments under international and domestic law as well as the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Rather than reflecting broad government support, the plan lacked the input and participation of the security agencies—which are responsible for the overwhelming majority of China’s human rights abuses. In addition, the Plan also lacked any substantive benchmarks or the kind of detail that would allow for meaningful assessment of progress.

The Chinese government’s demonstrable disdain for human rights over the plan’s two year duration speaks volumes about its intentions. In 2009-1010, the government systematically continued to violate many of the most basic rights the plan addressed. It took unambiguous steps to restrict rights to expression, association and assembly. It sentenced high-profile dissidents to lengthy prison terms on spurious state secrets or “subversion” charges, expanded restrictions on media and internet freedom as well as tightened controls on lawyers, human rights defenders, and nongovernmental organizations. It broadened controls on Uighurs and Tibetans, and engaged in increasing numbers of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, including in secret, unlawful detention facilities known as “black jails.”

Wang Chen’s assessment of the plan makes no mention of such abuses. Instead, his assessment is larded with irrelevant statistics (“By the end of 2010, China had formulated 236 laws … 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,600 local rules and regulations”), meaningless ambiguities (“Over the past two years, China has perfected laws and regulations to protect the rights and interests of ethnic minorities”), and bald-faced lies (“extorting confession by torture and illegal detention by law enforcement personnel has been strictly forbidden”). This does not bode well for the next plan, slated to run from 2012-2015.

Like when they claimed that Germany has a bigger internet control problem than China, it’s always funny to see these statements collide with the real world. The report was released to state press and eunuch reporters, and it’s probably lucky for him that HRW’s Phelim Kine wasn’t there in person to rip it up like that.

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