Main­land China brushes off global hu­man rights crit­i­cisms


Main­land China au­thor­i­ties on Mon­day touted “tremen­dous achieve­ments” in hu­man rights, cit­ing legal im­prove­ments, poverty al­le­vi­a­tion, and pro­tec­tions for mi­nori­ties and free­dom of speech, even as cam­paign groups high­light a tough crack­down on dis­sent and civil so­ci­ety.

“The tremen­dous achieve­ments (main­land) China has made in its hu­man rights en­deav­ors fully demon­strate that it is tak­ing the cor­rect path of hu­man rights devel­op­ment that suits its na­tional con­di­tions,” read the pref­ace of a newly re­leased gov­ern­ment hu­man rights re­port.

“Progress in (main­land) China’s Hu­man Rights in 2014” was is­sued by the State Coun­cil In­for­ma­tion Of­fice, which falls un­der the State Coun­cil, or main­land “cabi­net.” Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial Xin­hua news agency, the re­port has been re­leased 12 times since 1991.

It was pub­lished as the main­land au­thor­i­ties have made more ro­bust ef­forts in re­cent years to de­flect for­eign crit­i­cism of its rights record, such as is­su­ing its own re­port on hu­man rights in the United States as a re­but­tal to the U.S. State Depart­ment’s as­sess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion on the main­land.

The main­land, un­der the grip of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CCP), has tra­di­tion­ally stressed the col­lec­tive na­ture of hu­man rights as op­posed to the largely in­di­vid­ual ap­proach of West­ern-style democ­ra­cies.

In­ter­na­tional eco­nomic or­ga­ni­za­tions in­clud­ing the World Bank and In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund have lauded Bei­jing for strides made in lift­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions out of poverty in the more than three decades since it em­barked on eco­nomic re­form and open­ing up.

But hu­man rights groups have lam­basted the Com­mu­nists for a harsh crack­down against crit­ics of the rul­ing party that has seen scores of jour­nal­ists, lawyers and aca­demics de­tained and dozens jailed as well as taken it to task over what Hu­man Rights Watch (HRW) last month said was “ap­palling” tor­ture car­ried out by the Com­muis­tled po­lice on crim­i­nal sus­pects.

“Progress in China’s Hu­man Rights in 2014” said that legal and ju­di­cial re­forms were pro­ceed­ing and stated flatly that: “The rights of the ac­cused, de­tainees and crim­i­nals are pro­tected.” It cited as an ex­am­ple the use of au­dio and video record­ings of in­ter­ro­ga­tions. HRW said in May, how­ever, that such videos are prone to ma­nip­u­la­tion.

‘Al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity’

The lengthy re­port re­lies on co­pi­ous data to back up progress, such as cit­ing as ev­i­dence of im­proved living stan­dards a slew of num­bers in­clud­ing last year’s an­nual eco­nomic growth of 7.4 per­cent — though does not men­tion that it was the slow­est rate of in­crease since 1990.

The re­port also cites the estab­lish­ment of a “China Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion Day” in a sec­tion on re­duc­ing poverty, and in­cluded what it de­scribed as ef­forts to build “138 bridges to re­place rope­ways in seven prov­inces and re­gions” as progress.

Re­gard­ing free­dom of speech, the re­port pro­vided fig­ures for the num­ber of news­pa­pers, mag­a­zine and books pub­lished, as well as statis­tics for In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia users. But it did not men­tion what mon­i­tor­ing groups and for­eign gov­ern­ments de­cry as a vast net­work of on­line cen­sor­ship and con­trol dubbed the Great Fire­wall of China.

In terms of mi­nor­ity rights, the re­port cited the num­ber of places of re­li­gious wor­ship in mostly Bud­dhist Ti­bet and fig­ures for how many main­land Mus­lims made the pil­grim­age to Mecca in Saudi Ara­bia last year as ex­am­ples of how the right to free­dom of wor­ship for mi­nori­ties is “fully guar­an­teed.”

Wil­liam Nee, China re­searcher at Amnesty In­ter­na­tional in Hong Kong, said Bei­jing de­serves credit for at least plac­ing “some rhetor­i­cal im­por­tance” on the is­sue of hu­man rights through the re­port.

“Nonethe­less, in cer­tain ar­eas — es­pe­cially re­lated to free­dom of ex­pres­sion, civil so­ci­ety, and the pro­tec­tion of the rights of eth­nic mi­nori­ties — the white pa­per seems to have been writ­ten in an al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity,” he said in an emailed com­ment to AFP.

He cited “in­creas­ing re­stric­tion on the free­dom of move­ment” of Uighurs — a largely Mus­lim eth­nic group from the far west­ern re­gion of Xin­jiang — and Ti­betans “par­tic­u­larly with re­spect to their abil­ity to get a pass­port and travel abroad.”

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