Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - The People's Republic of China


China has made little progress towards greater respect for human rights in 2008. Two events stand out as characterising China's approach. The first was the unrest in Tibet in March, which led to a widespread crackdown on freedom of religion and expression across Tibetanpopulated areas. The second was the Olympics, which saw human rights defenders detained or expelled from Beijing, and measures designed to provide greater freedom of expression for foreign journalists only partly implemented. We remain concerned about the number of executions and lack of transparency on figures. There has been no progress towards ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

However, there were two positive developments worthy of note. The first was China's ratification of the International Covenant on the Rights of Disabled People, and the positive awareness-raising of disability issues which resulted from China hosting the Paralympic Games in September. The second was the extension of the more liberal reporting regime for foreign journalists in China, put in place before the Olympics. We are disappointed, however, that domestic journalists are still subject to both formal and informal restrictions on reporting, and that certain areas of China, notably Tibet, are outside their scope.

Current concerns

We remain concerned about the ability of Tibetans to exercise their cultural, religious and linguistic rights. We are also concerned at allegations of a crackdown on religious practices in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, preventing individuals from displaying symbols of religious belief and observing religious festivals. We are concerned at the detention in December 2008 of a number of individuals who signed 'Charter 08', a document supporting democratic reform.

Our ongoing concerns also include: the scope of the death penalty and lack of transparency in its use; torture; the lack of an independent judiciary; obstacles to fair trials; arbitrary detention, including re-education through labour (RTL); unsatisfactory prison conditions and ill-treatment of prisoners; failure to protect human rights defenders; harassment of religious practitioners and Falun Gong adherents; restrictive policies in Xinjiang and Tibet; and limitations on freedom of expression and association.


Despite Chinese assertions that human rights would improve if Beijing were chosen to host the Olympic Games, there were several instances where repression increased. These included crackdowns on human rights defenders, journalists, NGOs, ethnic minorities and lawyers. Areas designated for authorised protests set up during the Olympic Games were not used, due to highly restrictive rules for what constituted a permissible protest.

The awarding of the Games did lead to improvements in two areas. Temporary regulations which relaxed controls on foreign journalists ahead of the Games were subsequently made permanent. Disabled persons' rights achieved a higher profile following the Paralympics and China's ratification of the International Covenant on the Rights of Disabled People on 26 June 2008. We will monitor China's progress in delivering on the commitments in the Covenant.

Women's rights

China has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Chinese women enjoy a relatively good level of social equality, including access to education and employment. However, the UN CEDAW Committee made a number of recommendations to the Chinese following their last report in 2006. This highlighted problems in discrimination; prostitution and trafficking; education; health; and the situation of rural women and girls. Encouraging signs include a "Care for Girls" advocacy campaign designed to raise awareness of the value of girls and women in underdeveloped areas, to correct the severe gender disparity. Economic support has also been offered to families with only female children in rural areas. The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women (Adopted at the Fifth Session of the Seventh National People's Congress on 3 April, 1992) has legislation on preventing and curbing domestic violence in 25 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. This came into force in 1992 through the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women (Adopted at the Fifth Session of the Seventh National Peoples Congress on 3 April, 1992). The All-China Women's Federation, a government-linked nationwide organisation, reports that China now has about 27,000 women and children's rights watchdogs to investigate infringements. We hope China will implement CEDAW's recommendations.

Children's rights

China has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the past three years, the Chinese government has introduced universal free compulsory education, which has significantly increased access to education for children from poor families. Trafficking and the treatment of children in care institutions remain issues of concern. The Chinese government claims to have taken effective measures to prevent and severely punish crimes in the trafficking of children. They deny that children in orphanages are mistreated. However, they acknowledge that the system has often been unable to provide adequately for some children, particularly those with serious medical problems.

New policy guidance issued on 5 September allows people to register their illegally adopted children without fear of punishment and protect the rights of adopted children. Prior to the new guidance, the legal rights of these children were not guaranteed such as permanent residence of a city, schooling and inheritance. We welcome this development.

A number of NGOs have suggested that child labour remains a problem in China. The Chinese government says they have put new measures in place this year to tackle child labour, including tougher punishments for organisers.

Promotion of democracy

The Chinese government have continued to resist pressure for fundamental political change. They continue to maximise economic modernisation while minimising its liberalising effects.

The UK engages with leading Chinese thinkers and policy advisers on political reform, through exchanges between officials and political leaders. We continue to share our experience of reform and to make the case for it.

Ratification of and compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

China is yet to announce a timetable for ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (which it signed in 1998). The Chinese government maintains that legal, judicial and administrative reforms are underway to bring China's domestic laws in line with the provisions of the ICCPR, but that this is a lengthy and complex process. The Prime Minister raised ratification with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Chairman of the National People's Congress Wu Bangguo in January 2008.


On 10 March, the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising in Lhasa, 500 monks from Drepung Monastry staged a peaceful protest demanding religious freedom and the release of colleagues arrested in October 2007. A number of other protests also took place. Following beatings and arrests, violent protests took place in Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibetan areas on March 14 which resulted in large numbers of detentions and both Han and Tibetan deaths.

Since March, the Chinese government has instigated a crackdown in Tibet and its surrounding Tibetan regions. Freedom of religion, expression and association of Tibetans continues to be severely restricted. We remain extremely concerned about the current situation in Tibet and its surrounding regions. Chinese authorities claim only 23 people were killed during the March 14 violence, but NGOs claim the number was in the hundreds. We are unable to substantiate this. Chinese authorities claim that Tibet is now stable and secure, but a heavy security presence in Tibet and a significant security presence in nearby provinces suggest underlying tensions remain.

We are also concerned about reports of ongoing patriotic education campaigns in schools and monasteries which require Tibetans to reaffirm their loyalty to the Chinese state and denounce the Dalai Lama. Harassment of and restrictions on religious groups go against Article 18 of the ICCPR, which we continue to urge the Chinese to ratify.

We are concerned about sentencing of Tibetans in November in connection with the demonstrations in Lhasa in March. Together with EU partners, we continue to urge China to guarantee fair trials for all the accused, including access for defendants to counsel of their choice and access for independent observers to trials.

We continue to urge the Chinese authorities to lift restrictions on access to the region, which would aid an independent assessment of the situation. We urge them to reinforce this by inviting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN special rapporteurs, including the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief, to visit Tibet.

We remain in close contact with the Chinese over Tibet. We continue to raise this issue at every opportunity, calling for restraint on all sides, an end to violence and for a constructive and meaningful dialogue between the two sides. Prime Minister Gordon Brown also expressed his determination in parliament on 26 March to draw to the attention of both sides that changes need to be made through a process of reconciliation. He passed this same message to the Dalai Lama when they met in May. Further action taken by the UK on Tibet this year is dealt with under 'UK action' on page 130.

China-Tibet dialogue

The United Kingdom was disappointed to see that the 8th Round of Dialogue held in Beijing between October 30 and November 5 ended in acrimony between the two sides. We had hoped that the proposals presented by the Tibetans would have been a starting point for serious and substantive discussions. Therefore, we share the Tibetans' frustration that the Chinese refused even to discuss the memorandum. Following the meeting of the Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala, Foreign Office Minister, Bill Rammell issued a statement commenting on the meeting and urging both sides to resume the dialogue as soon as possible.

Death penalty

Death penalty statistics continue to be regarded as a state secret. This makes it difficult to assess official claims that the restitution of final review of immediate death sentences by the Supreme People's Court in January 2007 has reduced the number of executions by up to 30 per cent in 2008. On the basis of published media reports within China, at least 470 people were executed and 1,860 people sentenced to death during 2007. However, we believe the actual figure to be much higher.

From June 2007, the Supreme People's Court stipulated that first-instance death penalty cases must be held in open court and that courts must hold public trials for appeals in capital cases. However, death penalty trials have continued to be held behind closed doors and detainees have been denied prompt and unsupervised access to lawyers in line with the new Lawyers Law, which came into force on 1 June 2008. We remain concerned that Chinese law still does not completely prohibit the use of illegally obtained evidence in criminal trials, which means that death sentences may still be imposed following trials which do not meet international standards. Chinese law continues to provide for the use of the death penalty for 68 offences. The Chinese government tells us it is not used for most of these offences, but is still imposed non-violent crimes such as corruption and drug-related offences. We remain concerned that this policy does not comply with article 6 of ICCPR.

North Korean refugees

We have seen reports that 20,000-40,000 North Koreans are illegally in China. Many may be there for economic reasons but, with the UNHCR denied access to the border region, it is impossible to confirm their status. North Koreans are believed to be forcibly repatriated but we have no way to substantiate how many numbers are affected. Many North Koreans in China are women who have been trafficked into China to work in the sex industry or sold into marriage to Chinese men. Children who are born to North Korean women illegally in China are effectively stateless and cannot access education and healthcare services.

Reform of administrative detention

The Chinese government says that 300,000 individuals are sentenced to re-education through labour (RTL) each year. The majority are sex workers and drug users. However, Falun Gong adherents and human rights defenders are also targeted. We remain concerned that RTL does not comply with ICCPR articles 9 and 14 on liberty of person and fair trial rights. Progress on legislation to reform RTL remains stalled in the National People's Congress.

Hong Kong

Our overall assessment is that over the period covered by this report the one country, two systems' principle, as set out in the Joint Declaration has generally worked well in practice and the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law continue to be upheld.

Constitutional development

Hong Kong's Basic Law states that the 'ultimate aim' is the election by universal suffrage of both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive. Last December, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) submitted a report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee on the outcome of a public consultation on constitutional development. In his report, the Chief Executive recognised that 'implementing universal suffrage for the Chief Executive first in 2012 is the expectation of more than half of the public'.

However, on 29 December 2007, the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress ruled that the Chief Executive could be elected by universal suffrage no earlier than 2017; and that the Legislative Council could be elected by universal suffrage thereafter (effectively 2020). The decision' also allowed that the methods to elect both the Chief Executive and Legislative Council may be amended for the 2012 elections. On 25 February, the Foreign Secretary, during a visit to Hong Kong, expressed his disappointment that the possibility of universal suffrage for the 2012 elections was ruled out, said he hoped that all parties concerned would be able to agree on constructive proposals to make the 2012 elections more democratic in preparation for full universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020.

On 21 February, Donald Tsang formed a Task Group on Constitutional Development, which concluded its discussions on the two electoral methods for 2012 on 27 June. Once the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has consolidated the options for amending the electoral arrangements for 2012, it is expected to carry out another round of public consultation on the basis of these options before putting forward proposals to the Legislative Council.

UK action

The United Kingdom continues to take an interest in human rights in China. It pursues this work under three pillars: high-level engagement; dialogue and project work on the ground.

During 2008, the Olympics and Tibet featured prominently in our human rights engagement with China. The Prime Minister spoke to Premier Wen on 19 March urging the Chinese government to address the underlying issues in Tibet. Since then, he has had a series of correspondence with Premier Wen on Tibet and also discussed the issue with a personal envoy of Premier Wen in London on 25 April. This has been further reinforced by the Foreign Secretary through discussions with Foreign Minister Yang, most recently on 12 June and 25 October. The Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed our concerns about Tibet during his visit to China on 14 and 15 April. FCO Minister Lord Malloch-Brown raised our concerns with Vice-Minister Wang Yi during the same visit. The Prime Minister met the Dalai Lama in London on May 23 to pass the same messages to him.

In October, the Foreign Secretary issued a written ministerial statement in which he clarified the UK's position on Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. He stated that, by making our position clear in this way, we were better able to voice our concerns at the human rights situation in Tibet and would continue to do so firmly. He urged the Chinese authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama to engage in a constructive and meaningful dialogue to address the underlying human rights issues.

The UK has also made a number of public statements throughout 2008, including the Foreign Secretary and Lord Malloch-Brown on the situation in Tibet on 18 March. On 20 October, FCO Minister of State Bill Rammell welcomed the new foreign media regulations and on 24 November commented on the Tibetan exiles' meeting in Dharamsala.

We held one UK-China Human Rights dialogue, involving a range of Chinese and UK officials and experts. This took place in Beijing on 28 January 2008. A wide range of issues were discussed including the role of the police in the protection of human rights. There was a workshop on the rights of ethnic minorities and a two day field-trip to Tibet. Ministers and officials have held a number of meetings during the course of the year with various NGOs and parliamentarians, notably an open discussion on the Olympics hosted by Lord Malloch-Brown and Tessa Jowell and a post-Olympic question and answer session with Bill Rammell on 29 October

We have also underpinned the high-level lobbying, dialogue and stakeholder engagement with a number of projects during 2008. These included: strengthening lawyers' rights; promoting independent monitoring of detention centres; independent prison monitoring; improving prison management; and monitoring the impact of the new foreign media regulations. At present the FCO has allocated £680,000 over the next three years towards future human rights and democracy projects. The Ministry of Justice continues to support an annual training scheme for Chinese judges, and the British Council to support the Young Chinese Lawyers Training Scheme.

Forward look

We believe that greater respect for human rights contributes to stability and aids growth and is in China's own interest. We will approach engagement with China on human rights issues from this perspective in 2009. We will focus on our three pronged approach set out above under 'UK action'. We will ensure that human rights continue to feature in our high-level bilateral dialogue with China, from the Prime Minister down. We will pursue specific human rights concerns, including ethnic minority rights in Tibet and Xinjiang, through our senior-official level human rights dialogue with China. As well as our own bilateral action, we will also work actively with our partners in the EU through engagement in the EU-China Human Rights dialogue; contributions to EU statements on human rights issues, such as the situation in Tibet, and participation in demarches on human rights like Hu Jia. We will continue to dedicate funding to practical projects promoting human rights progress.


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