Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from the Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs, 4 July 2006

  During the Westminster Hall debate on 15 June, I undertook to send a note to the Committee before my visit to China concerning how I intend to approach human rights issues with the Chinese government,

  Over the last 15 years the pace of change in China has been relentless. Every day life has improved for millions of Chinese not least through a reduction in poverty levels. New research by the World Bank suggests that between 2001 and 2004 over 60 million people were lifted out of poverty. But there are still around 135 million people (10.5% of the population) living on less than a US $1 a day and it is right that the Chinese Government has reaffirmed its commitment to addressing inequality and poverty in the new Five Year Plan (2006-10). The Government has also promoted improvements in basic freedoms for its citizens, for example there is now more economic choice, and freedom to move around and outside the country.

  That said, the Government continues to have serious concerns across a broad range of human rights issues in China. These include: the severe restrictions on freedom of association, freedom of expression (including the arbitrary harassment and detention of lawyers, journalists and activists), the right to practice ones religious beliefs; the ongoing extensive use of the death penalty; the extensive use of torture as reported by the UN Special Rapporteur following his visit to China last year; the deprivation of cultural and religious rights of citizens in Xinjiang; the treatment of Falun Gong supporters; and aspects of the one child policy, such as forced abortion. I receive a steady flow of letters requesting updates and clarification of the Government's position on these issues.

  We pursue a policy of critical dialogue, engagement, advocacy work and projects to address these issues and to encourage real improvements on the ground in China. In addition to the formal biannual UK-China Human Rights Dialogue, we use ministerial and senior-level contacts and EU mechanisms to raise our concerns about legal developments, restrictive practices and specific incidents in China which, in our view, are incompatible with international human rights standards. We encourage the Chinese Government to change its behaviour and try to share our own practice and experience on human rights. In this respect, the FCO funds a number of human rights projects, which focus on priority topics such as reforming criminal trial procedure, reform of the death penalty review system, raising awareness of China's international obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and prison reform.

  We continue to receive fetters from individuals concerned about the issue of organ harvesting from death row prisoners. We have raised our concerns with the Chinese Government and welcome its announcement of a new regulation to ban the sale of organs to come into effect on 1 July. But we remain concerned that the regulation does not preclude the use of organs from prisoners, and will continue to stress the importance of adhering to World Medical standards for organ transplants, which require donation to be based on free and informed consent. We also want China to accelerate death penalty reform and ultimately to abolish the death penalty.

  The Government is aware of reports of organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners in China. We have seen no evidence to substantiate these reports.

  The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically denied the allegations in a statement of 10 April. We continue to raise our concerns about human rights abuses of Falun Gong adherents in other contexts.

  The Government remains concerned about human rights abuses in Tibet, in particular the political education of monks and nuns, the economic and environmental impact of Han Chinese immigration and restrictions on the expression of Tibetan's political, cultural and religious rights, and the fate of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (recognised by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama but who has been kept out of public view by the Chinese authorities). We receive regular letters from NGOs and members of the public on these issues. We regularly press the Chinese Government to permit access to Gedhun Choekyi Nyima by an international, independent figure to verify that he is well. We will continue to raise our concerns about Tibet and the Panchen Lama with the Chinese Government at every suitable opportunity.

  Urging the Chinese Government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights remains a key priority. I raised this with Yang Jiechi, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the first session of the Human Rights Council, on 20 June. We will continue to encourage the Chinese Government to commit to a timetable for ratification.

  As mentioned above, the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue is a key part of our engagement. It represents an important political signal to the Chinese authorities that we continue to attach high importance to the human rights situation in China and acts as an effective vehicle for putting across our messages in detail, at a high level and with input from experts, to influential Chinese officials. The 14th round of the dialogue will take place next week in Beijing (3-7 July). As well as discussing human rights themes (this time freedom of association and the role of defence lawyers in the criminal justice system), we use the dialogue to seek responses on individual cases of concern. I will not list such cases here but we have a database on file that records when each case has been raised by the UK and other European partners and any response that has been received from the Chinese Government. We are always willing to consider action on specific cases and regularly invite input from relevant non-Government Organisations (NGOs).

  I met representatives from these NGOs on 28 June and listened to their concerns and will consider carefully how I may represent their views during my visit to China later this month.

  It is important for us to remember that human rights violations happen to real people in real places, and we must continue to pursue new methods of working to build co-operation and dialogue. Membership of the new Human Rights Council gives China a further opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to improving its human rights record. All Council members must submit to review their fulfilment of human rights obligations and we look forward to working with China to draw up the modalities of this review mechanism.

  These are the issues that I want to address with the Chinese government. However, as I said in the debate, if you feel I have overlooked any issues of particular concern to you please do let me know.

Rt Hon Ian McCartney MP

Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs

4 July 2006

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