Category Archives: human rights

“New China Plan a Step Backward For Universal Rights Protection”

Beijing has issued a new human rights plan, and Human Rights Watch has given it a much-deserved evisceration:

The preamble to that “principle” reiterates the Chinese government’s existing public position that it “respects the principle of universality of human rights.” However, the “principle of practicality” places limits on the government’s enforcement of those rights by stating that it “also upholds [those rights] proceeding from China’s national conditions and new realities to advance the development of its human rights cause on a practical basis.” The absence of any criteria for “national conditions,” “new realities” or a “practical basis” for universal rights enforcement effectively renders this “principle” little more than an opt-out clause.

What will the Chinese government be opting out of? An obvious choice is the peaceful expression of opposition to an often abusive status quo, which it interprets as a threat to its monopoly on power, or it could be the use of forced disappearance and torture in response to unrest among ethnic minority populations in both Tibet and Xinjiang. Maybe they have in mind the often relentless persecution of outspoken defenders of human rights, such as the disabled activist Ni Yulan, sentenced in April 2012 to a two-and-a-half year prison term on spurious charges of “making trouble” and “fraud.” Perhaps the Chinese government is thinking of the continued use of “black jails,” unlawful detention facilities which ensnare thousands of petitioners from the rural countryside each year in Beijing alone.

The new NHRAP, which is supposed to run through 2015, mirrors its predecessor’s ambiguous statements of intent unsupported by any concrete measures for enforcement. Although the plan’s civil and political rights section calls for “preventing unnecessary detention” through judicial review of the legal necessity of such incarceration, it provides no mechanisms or guidelines to ensure that Chinese government officials and security agencies adhere to possible recommendations for detainee release.

Some of the most distressing aspects of the new NHRAP are in what it omits. The document makes no mention of reforming China’s household registration, or hukou, system which denies social welfare benefits to China’s 250 million migrant workers and prevents their children from accessing schools. The sole mention of the word “migrant” is a goal listed in the “cultural rights section” that “migrant workers will be brought into the public cultural service system,” with no substantive details. The plan also makes no mention of the abuse of China’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population. Despite the Chinese government’s growing international footprint through investment, resource extraction and infrastructure projects across the developing world, the plan provides no human rights standards for such activities abroad.

One aspect of the new plan continues a long tradition: the official distortion of the reality of China’s human rights situation. The plan states that the government will “guarantee citizens right to vote and be elected” despite the fact that the Chinese Communist Party maintains a 62-year monopoly on power by preventing the development of a pluralistic political system that would allow citizens to vote for their political leaders and parties of choice. The plan states that the government will “continuously support trade unions” without mentioning that the Chinese government prohibits independent trade unions and limits all labor organizing to the state-affiliated All-China Federation of Trade Unions. The plan’s assertion that the government will take measures “safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of news agencies, journalists and other persons concerned” is laughable given the Chinese government’s pervasive censorship system and the restrictions — backed by punitive financial and legal reprisals — placed upon journalists reporting on the many “sensitive” issues the government deems off-limits for news coverage.


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“Legalizing the Tools of Repression”

Nicholas Bequelin on the Criminal Procedure Law rewrite:

The more progressive-minded factions of the Communist Party and the government consider legal reforms to be integral to China’s modernization. They see enlightened self-interest in giving a greater role to the rule of law, and reforming the criminal code to offer due-process rights that resemble international norms is a key part of this effort.

The other camp is made up of the powerful security apparatus and the more conservative and hard-line elements in the party and the government. This faction has become increasingly powerful since it was assigned the leading role for the security of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

To this group, the law is purely instrumental — a tool of state power — and should not be altered to empower the citizenry and curtail the authority of the party. The hard-liners believe it is critical to allow security services to deal expediently with threats to the broadest possible interpretation of national security and public order, even if that means frequent miscarriages of justice.

Article 73 would allow the police to secretly detain citizens for up to six months on suspicion of “endangering state security” or “terrorism” — two vague charges that have long been manipulated by the government to crack down on dissidents, human-rights lawyers, civil-society activists and Tibetan and Uighur separatists.

Even more chilling, these secret detentions would be carried out in venues controlled by the police outside of regular detention facilities, greatly increasing the likelihood of ill-treatment. Gao Zhisheng, for example, was tortured while in such detention.

Why is China’s leadership considering giving more powers to the security services, when it means bringing into disrepute what otherwise could have be an important legal reform?

One reason is that on any given day, 200 to 300 protests take place across China. The scale of the protests varies from less than a dozen people to tens of thousands. The protests are fueled by a host of labor, environmental and livelihood issues, compounded by corruption and abuses of power, primarily among local officials. Unable to take their grievances to the courts, a growing number of people are taking them to the streets. Often, only the police stand between “the masses” and the party.

Second, the leadership is increasingly concerned that it is losing the battle against the spread of “global values” among the citizenry — code in China for human rights, the rule of law and freedom of expression. Hard-liners believe they need the power to take dissidents and critics “off the grid,” both to silence them and to make an example of them to others. Legalizing “disappearances” provides just the tool.

The rise of the national security faction is one of the most foreboding trends in China. Whether Article 73 is adopted or not will signal a great deal about whether China is making progress toward the rule of law or solidifying the supremacy of the security state.


Filed under courts, enforced disappearance, human rights, law

“Is Prosperity Strengthening Beijing’s Iron Grip?”

The New York Times on how success is making the Chinese government stronger in some ways, leading to worse human rights conditions:

This is the historic price and promise of industrialization: It is no fun, but it is better than subsistence living back on the farm. And, modernization theorists like Seymour Martin Lipset have argued, as people get richer thanks to dismal jobs like those at Foxconn, they are able to demand more rights.

That is a powerful argument, and it has been true not only in the Western developed world, which industrialized first, but also in 20th-century stars like Japan and South Korea. But Daron Acemoglu, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, warns that we should not assume that the happy connection between prosperity and democracy will automatically hold true for China. That is because China is industrializing in the age of Apple — in an era of globalization and the technology revolution.

The result, Mr. Acemoglu argues, is that China is able to deliver strong economic growth without transforming its domestic political and social institutions.

But globalization and the technology revolution mean that China’s authoritarian rulers have been able to deliver strong economic growth without surrendering political and social control: “Instead of having to develop an entire industry, an emerging market economy can house just some of the tasks such as assembly and operation. This not only enabled China to grow very rapidly by relying on world technology and leveraging its cheap and abundant labor force, but has also mollified demands for structural, social and institutional changes that previous societies undergoing catch-up growth had experienced,” he writes.

Mr. Acemoglu sees a powerful, and worrying, paradox at work. It is the triumph of the open society in the West, with its focus on individual rights, independence and iconoclasm that created the technology revolution. But the impact of those discoveries on the world’s mightiest dictatorship may be to prolong its reign.

They didn’t share many of the details of his argument, but parts of that seem undeniable. As prosperity grows in China, the government dedicates more and more resources to repressing the people, and simultaneously uses increasingly sophisticated techniques. Are we sure this stage of development has only one possible outcome?

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“Where is Gao Zhisheng?”

C.A. Yueng from Under the Jacaranda Tree writes about Mr. Gao, still missing:

Ms Geng has been separated from her husband for nearly 22 months. When Gao Zhisheng briefly reappeared in early 2010, Ms Geng and her children had already fled to the USA to escape persecution. As she was about to give up hopes of ever seeing her husband alive, Xinhua News English services released information on 16 December 2011 to suggest that Gao Zhisheng had been sent back to jail to serve his full sentences for violating his parole conditions. However, apart from a letter sent from Shaya prison to Gao Zhisheng’s older brother Gao Zhiyi, neither Ms Geng nor her family has ever received any formal verdict or court ruling with regard to Gao Zhisheng’s sentencing.

They also have links to an interview with his wife and more analysis.

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“21 Hours in Beijing”

For a dose of horror check out Seeing Red in China, where contributor Ya Xue has translated the account of Chinese American activist Ge Xun’s detainment in China. Here’s the introduction- please do read the whole thing:

I came to the United States to study physics in 1986 and stayed and became an American citizen. I believe in universal values such as freedom and basic human rights. I admire the best of humans wherever I see it, and I do what I do openly with nothing to hide.

My mother died at 83 on January 24, 2012, in Beijing. I flew back on the 28th for her funeral. By the 31st my siblings and I had taken care of everything and made arrangements to put my parents’ remain together.

For the rest of my stay I planned to meet a few people, among them, Ding Zilin (丁子霖), or the “Tian’anmen Mother” (天安门母亲) as she has been known. She is a retired professor, and her son, a high school student, died during the June 4th crackdown in 1989. For more than two decades, she has been working hard, against harsh and persistent obstruction by the government, to preserve the memory of the event, recover more truth, and help families of other victims. Without her own son by her side, I wished to bring her perhaps a little bit of comfort and love. I called and made an appointment to visit her at 3pm the next day.

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Filed under activism, enforced disappearance, human rights, Tiananmen, violence

“The Forbidden Citizen”

A Sophie Richardson has an article in Foreign Policy about why 2012 will be a rough year for Chinese dissidents. After making her case, she concludes:

So it’s time to change the game plan.

The United States and other countries should tell the Chinese government that it cannot dictate who its leaders meet. U.S. President Barack Obama should welcome into the White House activists like Yu Jie or Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer prior to the visit in February of China’s likely next president, Xi Jinping, underscoring the importance of free speech and responsible civil dissent. Such gestures make America’s rhetorical commitments to human rights manifest.

Governments have to consistently find — and use — their voice on rights. Officials from at least two EU member states were passing through Hangzhou when the poet Zhu Yufu’s sentence was announced. Neither said a word publicly, missing a perfect opportunity to manifest these countries’ stated bedrock commitment to human rights. Perhaps most important, governments need to make the defense of the freedom of expression in China an inescapable topic of all public and private discussions with Chinese officials. Doing so will help offer a degree of protection for individuals and demonstrate a seriousness of purpose that is difficult for Beijing to ignore.

In many countries, political transitions entail policy innovation, vigorous debate, and competition for popular support in elections. This will manifestly not be the case in China this year, and some people there will suffer terribly for merely pointing out this reality. Western governments should not be shy in noting the same. Failure to recognize the efforts of those who struggle daily to hold the Chinese government to the letter of the law and to exercise their rights only increases Beijing’s sense of entitlement and impunity. It’s already been a long year for dissidents in China — and it’s only been a month. Let’s not make it worse for them.

I don’t know how much of an impact the United States and EU are willing (or able) to make, but any effort would be better than what they’re putting in now. No, China is not willing to destroy its economic ties with major nations over a Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer visit or a Liu Xiaobo mention, and it’s time to stop using that as an excuse for silence.

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“Will China Dragon Bite in 2012?”

Phelim Kine has a new piece in The Diplomat looking at how this year might play out for Chinese dissidents:

Strike hard and take prisoners. That’s the Chinese government’s message on how it will respond to perceived dissent in this Dragon year of 2012.

Just ask the writers Chen Xi, Chen Wei, and Li Tie. Chen Wei received a nine year prison term on December 23 on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” for online government criticism. Three days later, a Guiyang court handed down a 10-year sentence on the same charge to Chen Xi, for similar online criticism of China’s one-party rule. Then, on January 18 of this year, a Wuhan court sentenced Li Tie to a 10 year prison term for “subversion of state power” for writings that included reference to the officially taboo topic of the June 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

But while repression is nothing new in China, the government’s intolerance toward perceived dissent has grown since the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Its victims include imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, serving an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion” over his role in drafting Charter ’08, an online petition advocating peaceful political change in China. His wife, Liu Xia, who hasn’t been charged with any crime, is believed to be under house arrest to prevent her from campaigning on her husband’s behalf. In February 2011, she said in a brief online exchange that she and her family were like “hostages” and that she felt “miserable.”

The government’s overriding obsession with maintaining its monopoly on power make it likely that these abuses will continue under the leadership of Xi Jinping. Foreign governments could help reverse this trend and give support to Chinese who want a more accountable government by more vigorously engaging the government on such violations.

In the longer term, governments truly committed to improving their approach to human rights abuses in China can’t rely on rhetoric alone. Instead, foreign governments, particularly the United States, the E.U. and the U.K., need to make progress on individual human rights cases a real benchmark for engagement with China and make clear that lack of progress will impact bilateral relations. Failure to do so will only ensure that in 2012 and beyond, yet more Chinese citizens will fall victim to their government’s dissent-stifling tactics of fear and intimidation.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, activism, enforced disappearance, human rights, Liu Xiaobo