On Monday, a Chinese delegation stood before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for a review of its human rights situation. At the meeting, Beijing denied all accusations of torture, death penalty or imprisonment of political opponents. Meanwhile Chinese human rights activists claim the situation does not seem to show any signs of improvement.
Students protesting against excesses in Tibet before the Beijing Olympics
Outside the United Nations building in Geneva, hundreds of exiled Tibetans shouted protests against the torture and human rights violations inflicted by Chinese authorities in their homeland Tibet. Just a short distance away, within the protected walls of the UN building, the Chinese ambassador to Geneva Li Baodong maintained there had been no torture, since torture was prohibited by law in China.
The Chinese ambassador was speaking before the Universal Periodic Review, a process recently launched by the United Nations Human Rights Council, under which all UN member nations are expected to submit themselves to scrutiny of their human rights records.
At the review, China came under fire from Western countries for alleged torture, death penalties and imprisonment of political opponents. Other issues brought up were the improper treatment of minorities like the Muslim Uighur community and the suppression of Tibetan protestors.
Rights violations still rampant in China
Beijing rejected all the claims, saying it was just an attempt to destroy China’s image through political propaganda. Yet human rights activist Tienchi Martin-Liao from the US-based Laogai Research Foundation said that many inhuman practices were still in force in China, like the Laogai system of labour camps for prisoners, or the Laojiao system.
“Laojiao means the authority, security or police can put everyone, every single citizen into jail for 3-4 years without any legal process. This is actually not a part of the legal system, it is an administrative measure,” says Liao.
China also had a few supporters at the Universal Periodic Review, among them countries like Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Myanmar, themselves under criticism for their human rights records. Chinese delegation members from various government ministries declared that the people of China enjoyed free speech and that the country lived in peace and harmony.
No improvement possible without transparency
Yet the situation on the ground seems to be far from peaceful. Rights activists say that many lawyers are becoming bolder and are speaking out against the injustice. But still, many of these lawyers are also being put into prison, says Liao.
Liao says that China will crack down hard on the freedom of the people, if it feels insecure about controlling the situation in the country. “But I am afraid that this year has been very hard for China. The economic crisis has hit China very hard, and millions of workers have lost their jobs. And this will challenge the government. I don’t think there will be any improvement in the human rights this year,” says Liao.
The human rights activists argue that as long there is information control and lack of transparency on the part of the Chinese authorities, there is little that can be done to improve the human rights situation.