Beijing has issued a new White Paper on Human Rights claiming that the human rights situation in China has improved. The release of the White Paper, the eighth China has issued since 1991, is likely to be timed to coincide with the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. US officials filed a resolution this week urging the Commission to condemn Cuba but were silent on China (ICT Report: US backs away from UN resolution on China in Geneva)

The White Paper depicted rights violations by China’s security personnel as criminal aberrations by wayward officials. In February, the U.S. State Department released the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004, which found that Chinese authorities in Tibet “continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killing, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention without public trial, and lengthy detention of Tibetans for peacefully expressing their political or religious views.” The report additionally found that repressive social and political controls continued to limit the fundamental freedoms of Tibetans and risked undermining Tibet’s unique cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage.

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong was one of various newspapers to comment on the latest White Paper, which is part of Beijing’s intensive efforts to promote its achievements and counter western criticism. The Chinese authorities view any mention of Tibet or human rights issues by foreign governments as “interference” in China’s “internal affairs”. The SCMP article is enclosed below.

Beijing’s white paper on rights dismissed
Thursday, April 14, 2005

Josephine MA, Beijing; South China Morning Post

Beijing has again attempted to make a case that the mainland’s human rights situation has improved in an annual white paper on the issue – this time citing its booming economy and efforts to reduce taxes on farmers as evidence.

The State Council’s report, entitled “China’s Progress in Human Rights 2004”, highlights rapid economic growth, agricultural tax cuts, better employment opportunities, progress in poverty reduction and even the rising number of cars on the country’s roads to show that living standards have improved.

Beijing has long insisted that human rights should be defined as the right to survival and development.

The report acknowledges that abuses of power by government officials – particularly in the judiciary and police – remain a main area in need of improvement, and underscores cleanup campaigns by the government.

It said these campaigns targeted abuses including “illegal detention and searches, extortion of confession, evidence gathering with violence and torture of detainees”.

A total of 1,595 officials suspected of criminal activities had been punished as a result of the campaigns, it said. The government and the courts also ordered the release of almost 10,000 people detained illegally last year.

Nicolas Becquelin, research director of Human Rights in China, said the report was more a “diplomatic exercise” to counterbalance the repeated criticisms of the mainland’s human rights record by the international community – with little relation to reality.

“In terms of hardcore human rights like freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of religion, there has been no improvement whatsoever,” he said.

“The fact that people in China today have more space and certainly more freedom to conduct their lives does not mean that their lives are guaranteed and protected by the state.”

He said a spate of arrests and crackdowns on journalists, lawyers and intellectuals were signs that the government was not becoming more tolerant.

One such arrest occurred yesterday, according to Agence France-Presse. An American rights worker funded by a grant from the US National Endowment for Democracy was detained by police yesterday and interrogated about his work before being fined for not carrying his passport, the news agency reported.

Adam Briscoe, who works for the mainland non-government organisation Empowerment and Rights, said he was taken from the group’s Beijing offices and questioned for several hours about his work.

The group has been documenting human rights issues and large petition movements linked to the widespread requisition of land by officials and government entities.