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Report: Beijing’s rights promises unfulfilled

China not living up to 2009 ‘action plan,’ critics charge

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An international human rights group is charging China's government with continuing to violate its citizens' human rights and undermining its own plan to protect civil and political rights during the past two years.

China's government in April 2009 unveiled its first-ever National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP), which sought to promote and protect human rights for a two-year period that ended last month.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday released a critical report, "Promises Unfulfilled," that concluded the Chinese government had violated many of the key goals of the NHRAP by tightening restrictions on rights of free expression, association and assembly.

The communist government described the plan as the result of "broad participation" of 53 government ministries and agencies, and government-organized nongovernmental organizations.

However, not included in the list were China's security services, the state organs that rights groups say are complicit in most human rights violations.

The NHRAP, which is not a legally actionable document, was largely viewed by human rights advocates as a public relations exercise designed to deflect international criticism.

The Chinese government's willingness to draft and publicly release the plan was praiseworthy, but "deficiencies in the action plan, and government failures to adequately implement some of its key commitments, have rendered it largely a series of unfulfilled promises," the Human Rights Watch report stated.

"If this plan had been vigorously pursued and had not been accompanied by a slew of government-tolerated abuses it could have marked a real change in the Chinese government's human rights performance," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

The report stated that in the past two years, the Chinese government expanded restrictions on the media and Internet freedom; tightened controls on lawyers, human rights defenders and nongovernmental organizations; broadened controls on ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans; and engaged in increasing numbers of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, including in secret, unlawful detention facilities known as "black jails." Torture of people in Chinese custody also remained routine, and death-penalty statistics were closely guarded.

The report was released ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to the U.S., that is scheduled to commence on Tuesday.

Human rights activists are urging President Obama to build on the strong statements he made last year in support of jailed democracy activist and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and deliver an unambiguous statement that China's rights record has deteriorated.

"This is arguably going to be one of the real tests of the Obama administration's commitments to human rights issues. It is not going to get any easier than when you get to do it on home turf," Ms. Richardson said.

A State Department official, who spoke on background, said the Obama administration will "continue to stress to Chinese leaders that vigorous protection of human rights, including religious freedom, is the strongest foundation for a stable, prosperous society."

The official said the U.S. administration is "aware of the report and reviewing it carefully."

"The promotion of human rights is an essential aspect of our global foreign policy, and something we discuss candidly with the Chinese leadership," the State Department official said.

Harry Wu, executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation in Washington, who spent 19 years in a forced labor camp in China, is skeptical.

"Americans don't really care about human rights in China," Mr. Wu said, adding that this has been a complaint he has had against both Republican as well asand Democratic administrations in Washington.

"You want to engage with China in business? Fine. But you have to talk about human rights as well," he said.

Human rights advocates had little confidence that China's rights record would improve after the NHRAP was unveiled.

"Back then, very few people had high hopes," said Yang Jianli, who spent five years as a political prisoner in China after participating in pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

"There was no evidence to show that the government was sincere," said Mr. Yang in a phone interview from Boston, where he heads Initiatives for China, an organization dedicated to advancing peaceful democratic change in China.

The international spotlight was shone on China's dismal rights record last year after Mr. Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Chinese government refused to release Mr. Liu; placed his wife, Liu Xia, and friend and fellow dissident Yu Jie under house arrest; and prevented the Lius' friends and family from traveling to Oslo for the Nobel Prize ceremony.

Human Rights Watch said the Chinese government's response to the Nobel decision "shows the chasm between the aspirations embodied in the NHRAP and the government's actual behavior."

Mr. Yang, a longtime friend of the Lius, said he has no idea of Mrs. Liu's whereabouts and is worried that she has been "made to disappear."

Thousands of Tibetans and dozens of Uighur Muslim men and boys also disappeared after they were reportedly detained in "black jails" following periods of ethnic unrest.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

The Human Rights Watch report did have a word of praise for the Chinese government's efforts to eradicate poverty. It described those as "commendable."

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