China’s new human rights plan emphasizes economic rights at expense of civil liberties

The Chinese authorities have released a National Human Rights Action Plan that, in some areas, includes concrete targets for 2010.

Amnesty International has welcomed the plan, saying that it signals the growing importance the Chinese authorities place on the protection of human rights and adherence to international human rights standards.

The organization said that the targets, if achieved, would be important steps forward for human rights, but pointed to major gaps in the plan.

“The emphasis is on economic, social and cultural rights at the expense of civil and political rights,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director. “But it should be clear that the Chinese people can’t enjoy one set of rights without the others.”

The action plan 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, including Re-education Through Labour, which deprives individuals of their liberty for up to four years without the opportunity for a fair trial.

In several areas of civil and political rights, for example on death penalty, eradication of torture and freedom of religion, the new proposals simply repeat existing laws and policies that have failed to adequately protect human rights.

“For China’s human rights action plan to have real impact on the ground, authorities will have to take concrete steps that will meaningfully improve life for the people,” said Roseann Rife. “These include steps to address specific civil and political human rights violations such as those highlighted in concluding observations and recommendations of UN human rights monitoring mechanisms and treaty bodies.”

In November 2008, an expert from the UN Committee against Torture noted serious 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 reiterated its call for the Chinese authorities to ratify the ICCPR, which China signed in 1998. The Chinese authorities have repeatedly stated their intention to ratify.