China urged to go further in new human rights commitments

By agency reporter
April 16, 2009

China's recently-released National Human Rights Action Plan has been generally welcomed by human rights groups, although they have highlighted some weaknesses and urged further change.

The Plan's publication signals the importance that the Chinese authorities place on the protection of human rights and adherence to international human rights standards, says Amnesty International.

Activists and analysts say the Action Plan includes some concrete targets for 2010, which if achieved, would be important steps forward for human rights.
The emphasis is on economic, social and cultural rights at the expense of civil and political rights, says Amnesty.

Although the Plan's preamble recognises that human rights are indivisible and interdependent, meaningful reforms on civil and political rights are seriously under-represented. China must actualise its recognition that human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. Full enjoyment of human rights cannot be fulfilled by focusing on only particular rights.

Human rights monitors say the Action Plan also fails to address many serious and on-going human rights violations in China.

These violations include the harassment, detention and imprisonment of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience who have been targeted solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression; censorship of the internet and other media and the continued use of forms of administrative detention. These include Re-education Through Labour, which deprives individuals of their liberty without the opportunity for a fair trial.

For China's Human Rights Action Plan to have real impact on the ground, Amnesty says the authorities will have to take concrete steps including the addressing of specific civil and political human rights violations such as those highlighted in concluding observations and implementation of the recommendations of UN human rights monitoring mechanisms and treaty bodies.

In November 2008, an expert from the UN Committee against Torture noted a serious information gap in discrepancies between legislative protections against torture and their implementation on the ground.

As a signatory of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, China has an obligation to protect the civil and political rights enumerated in these treaties.

Amnesty International has this week reiterated its call for the Chinese authorities to ratify the ICCPR, which China signed in 1998 and has repeatedly stated an intention to ratify.

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