Time for China to Ratify International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

China will continue defending its record on protecting human rights of ethnic minorities.

rights-china-civilOn October 22, 2013, China will undergo its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR). A mechanism that scrutinizes the human rights records of member states, the UPR formed part of the 2006 reforms of rights monitoring at the United Nations (UN). That reform process established the forty-seven seat Human Rights Council, which replaced the much criticized Human Rights Commission.

This is China’s second UPR; the first was in February 2009. Part of the process in the second round of reviews is to assess progress made on recommendations in the first round. One of the recommendations to China made by the Japanese delegation was to: Continue its efforts to further ensure ethnic minorities the full range of human rights including cultural rights

Of the 99 recommendations made to China, this one was among 42 accepted by China.

There seems little doubt that China will defend its record on protecting the human rights of its ethnic minorities; however, the reports of human rights monitors indicate the very opposite.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s recently published 2013 Annual Report found “human rights conditions in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region remained poor.” Furthermore, in its World Report 2013, Human Rights Watch wrote that the Chinese government “enforces highly repressive policies in ethnic minority areas in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.”

State policies targeting Uyghurs needing genuine scrutiny at the United Nations include restrictions on religious belief and practice, the phasing out of Uyghur as a language of education, harsh security measures, economic discrimination, forced relocations and curbs on freedom of speech.

If the Human Rights Council is not to become divorced from its mission as its predecessor, member states should not permit meaningful discussion of these allegations to dissipate into the UN process.

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In order to fulfill its human rights obligations to not only ethnic minorities, but also to all Chinese citizens, China should reconsider its rejection of a recommendation made by the Australian delegation in 2009: To ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as quickly as possible and with minimal reservations.

The ICCPR is the one of the more enforceable human rights instruments at the multilateral level and guarantees a number of rights that include freedom of expression, religion, as well as freedom from discrimination based on language and race. Furthermore, participatory rights are covered in Article 25—meaning marginalized people are guaranteed to choose representatives in order to determine the economic, social and cultural futures of their communities.

China’s own participation in multilateral bodies, such as the United Nations, in addition to its increasing economic and political reach necessitates an acceptance of universal standards embodied in the ICCPR. Ratifying the ICCPR is a sign of national confidence that China is ready to join the international community and that it places its faith in people rather than the ideology of power.

Henryk Szadziewski is a senior researcher with the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Read other articles by Henryk.