(by Patrick Goodenough, March 12, 2008, CNSNews.com) – Several weeks after China agreed to resume human rights dialogue with the United States, the State Department on Tuesday took a softer line with Beijing in its annual report on human rights around the world.
Although the main body of the new report covered numerous rights abuses in China and said its “human rights record remained poor,” China was excluded from a section in the report’s introduction that names particularly egregious violators.
Instead, China was placed in another category — authoritarian countries that have experienced rapid social change but haven’t undertaken democratic reforms and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights.
The section on “the world’s most systematic human rights violators,” which in the last two reports included China, this year cited North Korea, Sudan, Burma, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Eritrea.
Despite headlines suggesting otherwise, the annual report does not in fact feature a “list of top ten” worst violators. In this it differs from the department’s annual reports on terrorism, which list state-sponsors; and on religious freedom, which list “countries of particular concern” — China among them.
In last year’s human rights report — covering 2006 — China was among eight countries discussed in a section on the “world’s most systematic human rights violators.” In the 2005 report, China and six others were named, and the authors made it clear that the examples were “illustrative, not exhaustive,” and that countries’ performances were not being compared one to another. Prior to that, the reports’ introductory section had a different format.
Nonetheless, China’s move to a different section of the introduction this year raised eyebrows at a time when human rights advocates have been stepping up their scrutiny of China in the months leading up to the Beijing Olympic Games.
Jonathan Farrar, the acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, was questioned during a press conference Tuesday about the apparent shift on China, and asked whether this was a “gesture” to Beijing or had anything to do with its hosting of the Olympics.
Farrar replied only that the assessment of China, as a country “undergoing economic reform where the democratic political reform has not kept pace,” was a “completely accurate” one.
Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders detected a shift in the U.S. stance.
While it agreed that the situation in China could not be compared to that in North Korea, “Washington’s decision occurs at the worst possible time, just when the situation is worsening prior to the opening of the Olympic Games,” it said.
“This move is seen as a major setback for human rights organizations, who have been striving especially hard in these last five months before the Games to improve the status of human rights in China,” the organization added.
In recent days, rights groups have reported new incidents in China including the detention of a top human rights lawyer and the arrest of scores of Tibetan monks demonstrating to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese occupation. Several pro-democracy activists who have linked calls for more freedom to the Olympics have been incarcerated.
Also reported has been a crackdown on citizens who travel to Beijing to petition the government as permitted by law, but are allegedly being intercepted, detained and punished. And a new report has highlighted hardships faced by Chinese migrant workers employed in pre-Olympics construction projects in Beijing.
Late last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a visit to Beijing that the Chinese government had agreed to resume its human rights dialogue with the U.S.
Her Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, said Beijing was ready to resume the dialogue “on a basis of mutual respect, equality and noninterference in each others’ internal affairs.”
China suspended the dialogue in 2004 to protest American criticism at the United Nations of China’s rights record.
In a diplomatic tit-for-tat, China’s State Council has responded each year since 2000 to the annual State Department human rights report by issuing its own, entitled “Human Rights Record of the U.S.,” “U.S. Rights Violation Record” or similar.
In these reports, Beijing has accused the U.S. of turning a blind eye to its own faults while criticizing other countries. The reports typically examine domestic issues in the U.S. including homelessness, race relations, firearm use and the amount of money spent in political campaigns; and foreign issues including the war in Iraq, conduct of the war on terror, and arms sales.
The Xinhua news agency said Wednesday that this year’s report on the U.S. rights record would be released on Thursday.
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1. China has not improved in the area of human rights violations since last year. What reasons are suggested to explain why the U.S. removed China from the list of top Human Rights violators?
2. In what category was China placed instead?
3. Which countries were included in the State Department’s list of top human rights violators of 2007?
4. a) In which years was China included in the introductory section of the State Department report describing it as one of the “world’s most systematic human rights violators?”
b) Why was China not in that section before those years?
5. Why is China’s removal from the list of top human rights violators seen as coming at a bad time by human rights organizations?
6. Late last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a visit to Beijing that the Chinese government had agreed to resume its human rights dialogue with the U.S. Do you think the dialogue has been/will be effective in persuading the Chinese government to end its violations of human rights? Explain your answer.
Read a related article on China’s One Child Policy here.
From FreedomHouse.org’s 2007 report on human rights violations in China:
- Though constitutionally recognized, religious freedom is accorded little respect in China. …Members of unauthorized religious groups…are harassed, detained, and imprisoned.
- Academic freedom is restricted on sensitive political issues. …Academics risk losing their positions if they publicly criticize the party or state policy.
- Freedom of assembly is severely restricted in China. … with the constitution specifically prohibiting activities that undermine “party leadership” or go against the “interests of the state.”
- Chinese workers are not allowed to form independent labor unions.
- Although labor laws exist, they are poorly enforced. Employers frequently ignore minimum wage requirements and fail to implement required health and safety measures.
- The [Communist] party controls the judiciary. …The authorities continue to use torture to coerce confessions that are frequently admitted as evidence….
- One of the major sources of discontent in both rural and urban areas is the confiscation of land without adequate compensation…
- Although antidiscrimination laws exist, religious groups, minorities, the disabled, and people with HIV/AIDS face severe discrimination in mainstream society.
- China’s population control policy remains in place. Couples may have no more than one child, although there are a number of exceptions. …Compulsory abortion or sterilization by local officials enforcing family-planning regulations still occurs
- Serious human rights violations against women and girls continue. The one-child policy and cultural preference for boys over girls, including sex-selective abortion, has led to a shortage of females, creating a market for human trafficking.
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