Examination of Witnesses (Questions 89-99)|
8 MARCH 2006
Q89 Chairman: Mr Adams and Ms Francis,
thank you for coming this afternoon. I do not know if you heard
the previous session, but we are trying to look at a whole range
of issues. In this session we wanted to focus on human and political
rights in China, but inevitably there is an overlap with other
areas. Can I begin by asking a question about China's compliance
with international human rights law and the treaties it has ratified?
Does it actually comply with the treaties it has ratified? I understand
that there are a number of areas where China has a reservation,
including with regard to the rights of organised labour. It has
also signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights but not ratified it. Could you explain, from your great
expertise on these questions, how China is in compliance or not
in compliance with its international obligations?
Ms Francis: I would say that,
overall, China has failed to comply with the treaties that it
has signed up for. There are also certain treaties that it has
signed up for but has not yet ratified: for instance, the ICCPR.
Taking the ICCPR as an example, I think there are a number of
areas that are of concern in terms of its behaviour. These have
to do with systems of justice, personal liberty, fair trials.
China has very problematic areas in its judicial system, having
to do with the independence of the judiciary. It has a system
of political and legal committees that severely compromise the
independence of the judicial system, which fundamentally undermines
the independence or the ability for it to have fair trials. A
major concern is the ability to get a fair trial in China. In
terms of labour issues, China has signed on to quite a few of
the International Labour Organization treaties but it has systematically
not signed up to those that refer to freedom of association. It
has taken reservations on all of the key areas that refer to free
associations. China maintains quite a strict system of official
labour unions, and there is still no move towards allowing genuine
autonomous labour unions. In other areas, such as torture, China
has signed on to the Convention against Torture; yet, as the recent
Special Rapporteur on torture has found in his recent mission
to China, his conclusion was that torture remains widespread.
It took ten years for this mission to take place. There was an
effort over a ten-year period to get the mission accepted on the
terms of the UN and, even so, the Special Rapporteur still concluded
that there were not the kinds of conditions that would have been
ideal for him to carry out his mission. There was a great deal
of fear. He concluded that there was tremendous fear among the
people that he met. The UN Committee on the Child last year came
out with conclusions regarding rights of the child. In very important
areas such as education, despite the fact that the Chinese Government
guarantees public education to all children for, I believe, nine
years, there are increasing percentages of children in rural China
that do not effectively have access to public education, because
of the increasing rates of fees, informal fees, that are applied
to rural schools. So that again is an area of concern, where China
has signed up to these treaties and yet has failed. The question
of education was raised in the report of the Committee on the
Child, especially regarding rural children. There are other areas
that I can follow through, and perhaps later we can go into more
specific areas. That gives a little bit of an overview.
Q90 Chairman: Do you want to add
anything, Mr Adams?
Mr Adams: Yes. It is important
to note that there is a lot of interest in getting China to ratify
the ICCPR. It is the chief diplomatic aim of many countries that
have human rights dialogues with China. I sometimes think that
this is a bit of an over-hyped goal, because the signing and ratifying
of these documents has not noticeably changed Chinese behaviour
in many cases. So it would be good to have China ratifyit
is one of our goals institutionally, of coursebut it does
not mean that, tomorrow, much changes. It is true of many states.
China is not a huge exception in this regard. It would give us
more tools, it would give Chinese people more tools, to hold the
state accountable; but I do not think one can expect that the
act of ratifying will lead to major changes on the ground. The
other point I would like to make is that China often holds up
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
as its touchstone. It says that it is primarily interested in
the social and economic rights of its people and that therefore
political and civil rights have to wait. I think that you are
all familiar with the argument. In the transformation that you
discussed in the previous sessionthe big economic transformation
in the countrymany of the economic and social rights that
were in place in China have actually been degraded; education
being one, and healthcare being another big example. Many things
that used to be free and provided by the state are no longer available.
The divide that you were talking about and the tensions you were
discussing previously are in many cases fuelled by the problems
with access to education and healthcare, for example. There is
a huge problem with forced evictions. Land being a motivation
for that; greed being a motivation for that in some cases. Forcing
people out of their homes; not giving them proper compensation.
If you look at Tibet and Xinjiang, for example, those issues are
very live. So the compliance of China with its obligations is
weak; the area in which they used to say that they were doing
the best is now under great strain, under great question; and
state obligations for basic economic and social rights are weaker
than they have been in the last 30 years.
Q91 Mr Horam: I am very interested
in what you have to say. I understand precisely where you are
coming from, and there is obviously concern. None the less, as
we heard from the previous evidence, there is a rising level of
protest among people and they are not afraid to have riots, to
take what we would call trade union action, to protest in all
sorts of ways. This is clearly some sign of assertiveness and
a lack of willingness to kowtow to the regime in certain circumstances.
What is the significance of this? Do you think that this is important?
Is something happening at the ground level?
Mr Adams: There is a long history
of public complaining in China.
Q92 Mr Horam: It is not new.
Mr Adams: The petition system
is thousands of years old. It was quashed by the Communist Party
when they came to power. It has revived itself over the last couple
of decades. There is a very big debate in China about whether
it is being allowed as a steam valve or whether it is representing
something deeper. Most people who look at this think that it is
essentially a pressure release valve for a one-party state. People
have to have somewhere to go with their grievances. Interestingly,
the Chinese Government actually produces statistics. The last
statistic was 87,000 public protests last year in the country,
following 74,000 the previous year. It is not clear to me what
interest is served in reporting these figures, but I think
Q93 Mr Horam: Do you think they are
reliable, these figures?
Mr Adams: They are certainly a
minimum level. They are certainly not going to overstate these,
but I think that they have a reason for reporting them, which
is to tell the public that there is some space for political discussion.
I would not say that people are not afraid. In some parts of the
country they are not afraid. They lose their fear and they have
even had riots but, throughout the country, I think that fear
is still a very salient characteristic of people who are opposing
local officials. We published a report on petitioning very recently.
We found that people are basically so desperate that they are
willing to take any risk that it takes, and they work their way
up through the system. Often they end up in Beijing but, in Beijing,
there is a system of what are called "retrievers". It
is an official system of having people go and find people who
have made their way to Beijing to protest against local officials
and to send them back, physically. In many cases they are tortured
and abused on their way back. There are two reasons. One is that,
in Beijing, they do not want these people hanging around the streets.
It is rather embarrassing for the capital of an incipient superpower.
Secondly, local officials send people to get them, because they
do not want to be told on; they do not want to get in trouble,
in case they have actually done something that is wrong. Where
corruption is involved, that is a bit of a vulnerability for local
officials. They can be held accountable for corruption. For other
kinds of things they have less of an exposure.
Q94 Sir John Stanley: I read the
section on China in the Human Rights Watch World Report for 2006.
For my money, I would have it as compulsory reading for all British
ministers visiting China.
Mr Adams: I am glad someone reads
Q95 Sir John Stanley: The opening
sentence reads, "While many governments have praised recent
developments in China, the country remains a one-party state that
does not hold national elections; has no independent judiciary;
leads the world in executions; aggressively censors the internet;
bans independent trade unions; and represses minorities such as
Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians". Against that backcloth,
I would like you both, if you would, to give us your view as to
where we are going in the broad sweep, in terms of human and political
rights for real in China. Are they marking time? Are they advancing,
or are they actually going backwards?
Ms Francis: I would say that,
with the administration of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, we have seen
a deterioration overall since they came into office in 2003, compared
to the reform period. There had been an expectation when they
came into power. People were quite hopeful that after Jiang Zemin,
the last leader, there would be a further liberalisation. There
was the hope of both Chinese society and the West that there would
be a gradual, inexorable trend towards liberalisation. I think
that both Chinese society and the West were quite taken aback
by the steps backwards, in terms of human rights, in terms of
civil society. Within that several-year period we have even seen,
in the last several months, an intensification of the human rights
situation. My feeling regarding the Chinese Communist Party is
that the contradictions between its desire for continued rule
and the pressures of economic reform and economic opening to the
world periodically come to a head and then die down. I think that
contradiction, that sort of tension, has reared its head again.
We would all like China to be able gradually to reform and gradually
to become a more democratic, liberal, humanitarian society, as
we see in other countries in Asiain South Korea and Taiwan.
There are examples of authoritarian regimes, even one-party or
military authoritarian regimes, able to make that gradual transition.
We all hope that that will be possible; but for that to be possible
the Chinese Government will have to take much more serious steps
towards political reform. Unfortunately, they have not taken those
steps towards political reform. We think of China as having just
started its reforms and we give it a lot of slack. We give it
slack because it is large, and so on, but in two years' time it
will be 30 years since China started its reforms. It is far overdue.
Deeper changes to the legal system, deeper changes to freedom
of the pressdeeper changes are very much in order. Otherwise,
there could be a crisis. In fact, with the recent National People's
Congress having opened a few days ago, the government recognises
an impending crisis and they are, quite belatedly I think, trying
to respond to that. Their focus is primarily on the rural areas.
They see the crisis and intensification of protest in the rural
areas as the most threatening to their regime. They are throwing
a certain amount of money at that problem, without undertaking
the underlying institutional changes that they really will have
to undertake for this to proceed smoothly. So my feeling is that
this administration has gone backwards. They are not committed
to expanding the freedom of the press, freedom of expression,
freedom of association, to resolve those underlying issues to
the extent that they need to in order to make this a smooth process.
Mr Adams: You can look at the
last couple of years since President Hu has come into power, where
they have intensified a crackdown on internet activity and they
have passed new media laws. You now have to be licensed to be
a journalist. You have to make a pledge to commit to the party
ideals. They have closed lots of newspapers. They are cracking
down on blogs. So there are different trends here. If you ask
a Chinese person, "Are things better now than 20 years ago?""Yes".
"Are things better now than 10 years ago?""Yes."
They would laugh at you if you thought otherwise. "Are they
better than five years ago?""Yes." "Are
they better than two years ago?" Ah, now we have a different
question, and in some places we will have different answers. What
has happened is that these different forces which have been contradicting
each other have become quite apparent over the last couple of
years. China is deathly afraid of independent political activity.
They are afraid of "colour revolutions". They are very
conscious of it. It is a term that they are bandying about. They
do not want that to happen. They are worried about the influence
of George Soros, for example, and other people who may fund local
NGO activity. Soros has a record in other countries. They are
lopping all this together, so that any independent activity is
now getting more scrutiny than it was before. University students
used to be able to use the internet freely. They used to be able
to use pseudonyms, just like a lot of us use pseudonyms or we
do not use our full name. They now have to register it completely.
They have to say who they are and have to identify themselves,
to be able to have an account as a student at university. So in
many ways big, in many ways small, the space is actually closing
in the last couple of years. I think it is because they intend
to buy off their problems, where possible, but they intend absolutely
to hold on to political powerand there is no debate about
Mr Hamilton: Following on from what Sir
John said about social freedoms, I want to ask you a question
about religion. I understand that there have been new regulations
on religious affairs, which became effective on 1 March 2005.
I know that Human Rights Watch have called it "little more
than a continuation of long-established policies that limit religious
freedom". There is some practice of religion in China. Three
to four per cent are Christian, one to two per cent are Muslim,
and I think that there are even some Jews near Shanghai. My question
really relates to what I think have been termed as independent
groups, which are of course subject to monitoring, harassment,
arrest and severe ill-treatment. The state definitely distinguishes
between a religion and what they call a cult. You can guess what
I am moving towards. Can you tell me what the situation is at
the moment regarding Falun Gong? Whether it has a large membership,
whether it is regarded as a cultwhich is clearly iswhat
is its status as far as being registered as a religion is concerned,
and are Falun Gong adherents still persecuted in the way they
have been up till now?
Andrew Mackinlay: And why they feel threatened
Q96 Mr Hamilton: Yes. Why do they
feel so threatened?
Ms Francis: Falun Gong was outlawed
in 1999 by the Communist Party. It was deemed a heretical, illegal
organisation. The reason it was branded as such was that in that
year it organised, silently, quietly, very effectively, a large
demonstration in Beijing, right at the steps of the office of
the Communist Party. This is the main reason: its ability to organise.
Its size and its ability to organise are what scared the Communist
Party. They were protesting the prior treatment that they had
been subjected to. Since that time, it has been an illegal organisation
and the crackdown began in 1999. It is still an illegal organisation.
In fact, anyone who has anything to do with Falun Gong is at risk
of detention. It is very hard to know the numbers, because people
cannot register. So we really cannot know the numbers, although
the numbers and the depth of organisation externally are quite
remarkable. Judging from that, we do not know if that correlates
to membership continuing within China. The situation is that it
remains illegal; it remains extremely dangerous for anyone to
have anything to do with Falun Gong. We know from interviews we
have done that Falun Gong members tend to be subjected to some
of the worst treatment in the prison system and also within the
re-education through labour system.
Q97 Mr Hamilton: Does the Communist
Party feel so threatened because of the ability of Falun Gong
to organise or is there something deeper than that?
Ms Francis: I think it is a combination
of those. China has no official religion and I think this is in
some sense a problem. Unlike the Soviet Union that in a sense
could foster the Orthodox Church and have that as part of the
system, China does not have its own indigenous religion. Because
the Communist Party in a sense wants to be the religion, it wants
to be the church and the state combined, it therefore feels threatened
by any ideological or religious belief system that might put its
rule into question. I think that is why any form of religion,
not just Falun Gong but Christian and Muslim groups, is a threat
to their legitimacy. It is a problem for China because I think
there is a real need within Chinese society for some sort of spiritual
outlet. The sheer number of Christians is growing; we are quite
certain about that. That growth in the number suggests that there
is a need within society which the Chinese Communist Party is
not fostering or for which it is not allowing outlets. I think
a long-term problem for the Chinese Communist Party is how to
resolve this need for some sort of spiritual outlet, yet there
is fear of the consequences. This new rule, the crackdown, effectively
was a way to bring all religious organisations under its wing,
so that now all religious groups have to register with the local
authorities. If anything, it is a mechanism for more control.
Q98 Mr Illsley: Basically you are
saying what these people are preaching or doing is not an issue.
I have read stuff in the past that has been put before us stating
that Falun Gong is a suicide code but you are saying it does not
really matter. The point then is that if, all of a sudden, the
Chinese discover Christianity and there are a few thousand Christians
organised in the same way, the same thing would apply?
Ms Francis: The same thing is
happening. The same thing is happening with the underground Christian
churches. People are constantly being arrested. The police are
constantly raiding their services. The Falun Gong had been more
open and I think they have organised more externally to China,
and that makes it more of a threat perhaps. They are much more
vocal and more organised externally, which is partly why the intensity
of crackdown is high, but it is there for all of the groups.
Mr Hamilton: Would not the same apply
to Buddhists as well?
Q99 Mr Pope: There is some irony
that we move on to somebody called Pope, is there not? I wanted
to ask about the human rights dialogue between China and the UK
and also between China and the EU. It seems to me that a despotic
regime like Iran would welcome a human rights dialogue with polite
countries like the UK, meeting up twice a year for civilised chats
behind closed doors with nice, polite ministers. That would provide
a perfect cloak for me to continue repressing my people. I have
been a long-term critic, as you may guess from those comments,
of this policy of engaging in a human rights dialogue. I wondered
if you could give me your assessment as to whether or not it has
been a success and whether it is worth continuing with it. My
own view is that we should abandon it. I would be interested to
hear your views.
Mr Adams: Your Foreign Office
staff should be commended. May I say for the record that within
the confines of the dialogue they are pushing pretty well. I have
just attended a meeting in Brussels of all the dialogue partners
with China, and there was nothing but pessimism in the room. Nobody
claimed the dialogues were a success. Some governments, at least
at the civil servant level, would certainly stop them. There is
a feeling, however, that they do not know what to do in their
absence. I do not think that is a good enough answer, but that
is where dialogue governments are coming from. My feeling is that
the Chinese basically are running circles around dialogue partners.
The one thing that a dialogue does is to marginalise human rights.
It does not mainstream them. From talking to people who were at
the embassies, we know that they do not think they have to deal
with human rights because they are waiting for the dialogue. The
Chinese actually say the same thing back to governments: "We
do not need to talk to you when people in your embassies do bring
human rights up. If we need to talk to you, let us wait for a
dialogue." Sometimes the dialogues are postponed or held
hostage to other events. Secondly, when the dialogues do take
place, it will be no surprise to you that the Chinese do not really
want to engage with the subjects that are being brought to their
attention. They stonewall; they delay; they have the wrong person
there. You have missions of foreign service officers going over
a subject as important, let us say, labour rights, and allowing
one hour per year to talk with the Chinese about that. That hour
can be frittered away very easily. That is the dialogue process
on that subject. We hear this from lots of governments; your government,
the EU people, the Americans, you name it, they have all had similar
experiences. Interestingly, some governments write reports that
say that things are going great and progress has been made. They
list the subjects that were discussed but there is no qualitative
analysis to it. When you talk to them, there is a very different
story from what you read in terms of their public reporting on
it. I think that it is absolutely crucial that the UK in particular
finds its public voice on human rights with China, that it be
raised at the highest levels, and not be marginalised to a dialogue.
It does not have to be either/or. In fact, when Tony Blair was
asked at a press conference when President Hu was here what subjects
he was going to discuss, and I do not know whether you saw the
proceedings on TV, when he came to say the words "human rights"
he swallowed them. He could not bring himself to say them. He
said, "We will discuss security, political reform, economics
and security". He actually repeated himself.