Human rights activists continually hope for the best in China and, as the world witnessed during and after the Beijing Olympics, their hopes are continually dashed.
The Brussels-based organization Human Rights Without Frontiers put together presentations and materials on China’s human rights record gleaned from a conference held at the European Parliament on December 2, 2008.
Collaborating with the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, the organization published their report in May 2009.
If the goal of this book is to give an overall view on the state of human rights in China today, then I would say: mission accomplished. The book covers human rights violations from Tibet and Darfur, the use of the death penalty, and freedom of belief, to the organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners and much more.
The book does not shy away from strong statements. The only positive development comes from within the European Union (EU) where policymakers say that a dialogue does not mean that we have to give up the values we consider to be universal.
One of the biggest obstacles is obtaining hard proof about human rights allegations. Emmanouil Athanasiou (FIDH) comments: “The State Secret System makes it very difficult to obtain reliable information on a wide variety of issues. It’s the single most significant obstacle to the prevention of torture in China..... Ahead of the Olympics, the regime did everything to protect its ‘good’ reputation and worked very hard not only to clean the capital from garbage and ugly buildings but also to clean it from migrants, the homeless, political dissidents and human rights activists..... It’s unwilling to take note of any kind of criticism because simply, it has the luxury to ignore it!”
On the issue of the death penalty Marie Holzman (Solidarité Chine) asks: “Is this punishment truly used to punish the guilty, or only to convey the message that the Communist Party is master of life and death of all the citizens it has decided to control?”
China remains the country that executes the greatest number of people each year.
The list of death penalty offenses increases constantly and includes “voluntary transmission of contagious diseases” and “pick pocketing.” The court often adds “and others” to the allegation, thereby greatly expanding the margin of interpretation.
Willy Fautré (HRWF Int’l) addresses the lack of improvement on religious freedom after the Olympics. The government recognizes five so-called “normal” religions: Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam, although the regime “monitors” and “supervises” their activities which is ironic given the atheist nature of the regime. It restricts religious practice to registered places and organizations to control the growth and scope of activities.
A terrifying example of this control is the persecution of Falun Gong that started in 1999 after it became a very popular form of qigong in China. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee formed the “610 office,” an organization with the sole mission of “cracking down on Falun Gong.”
610 offices were set up in every Chinese city, village, government agency, institution, and school. Since 1999 more than 3,000 practitioners have been confirmed tortured to death, and over 10,000 sent to labor camps. More than 6,000 were sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years and hundreds of thousands were illegally arrested or detained.
In their presentation, internationally-recognized human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific David Kilgour highlight an even more horrifying issue concerning the persecution of Falun Gong.
In 2006 they wrote a report on “organ harvesting in China.” They concluded that between 2001 and 2006 China killed Falun Gong practitioners in the tens of thousands so that their organs could be sold to foreign “transplant tourists.” The reportedly short waiting times that had been advertised for perfectly-matched organs would suggest the existence of a computerized matching system for transplants and a large bank of live prospective donors.
Based on data from the China Medical Organ Transplant Association, between 2000 and 2005, 60,000 transplants were performed. Last year alone close to 10,000 kidney transplants and nearly 4,000 liver transplants were completed. There are many more organ transplants than from identifiable sources and this is explained by organs harvested from Falun Gong practitioners.
Leah Straus’ presentation on environmental issues produced shocking figures. Her report stated that over 750,000 people die prematurely each year in China because of air and water pollution. No one in China is immune to the threat pollution poses daily. Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death. And it’s getting worse day by day.
The report gives horrifying details. Every 30 seconds a child is born in China with physical defects as a result of environmental degradation. Industrial dumping has left sections of many rivers “unfit for human contact.” Only one percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breath air considered “safe” by the EU standards and 20 of the 30 most polluted cities worldwide are in China. Smog in Beijing blocks 10 to 25 percent of the sunlight.
In 2007 China forced the World Bank to remove pollution-death estimates from a report it prepared for the Environmental Ministry. Chinese officials told the bank the numbers were too sensitive and might contribute to growing civil unrest.
Leah Straus concluded that “To respect international human rights, Chinese government must take specific measures to safeguard individuals from the threat of pollution. The economic miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace…”
Friends of Tibet’s Inge Hermans concurs by stating that the Chinese regime uses the Tibetan plateau as a nuclear waste dump and allows other countries to do the same, making huge profit.
Hermans says “Whoever dominates the Himalayas, dominates Asia. Whoever possesses Tibet is master of the water reserves for all of Asia. The pollution due to the waste dumping threatens the water supply of the population of Asia.” Hermans says the regime also plans to transform Tibet’s great grasslands into giant industrial complexes.
The Chinese regime is very sensitive with regards to the Tibetan issue although the Dalai Lama has frequently stipulated that he strives for autonomy under Chinese law instead of independence.
The Chinese government struck Tibet hard as the Olympics approached. Inge Hermans said, “Many of us hoped that the Olympic Games in Beijing would provide the opportunity of placing a sort of ‘Trojan Horse’ of human rights into the heart of China. On the contrary, the repression of the Tibetan people has never been more efficient and brutal. China has isolated Tibet completely from the outer world. This is total censorship.”
“Are we in the West not also responsible for what has happened in Tibet and China over the last several decades? Hasn’t our insatiable hunger for “more” brought all this on? The hard cash, the cheap labor, cheaper costs when there are nearly nonexistent social controls—all have served to blind us from the terrible facts.
“Once we closed these wildly profitable deals with the Chinese, we suddenly became much less concerned about all of our good intentions regarding working conditions, the environmental or civil and political rights. What we in the West have long since deemed intolerable and unacceptable should also not be accepted by us in countries with which we trade. Many millions of Chinese citizens are paying the price for our hypocrisy.”
This report summarizes the deplorable human rights situation in China. I encourage everyone to read this book because human rights involves each and every one of us.
"Human rights in China After the Olympics" by Human Rights Without Frontiers Int'l and edited by Willy Fautré (2009) is contributed by Susi Dennison, Emmanouil Athanasiou, Marie Holzman, Mamtimin Ala, Vincent Metten, David Matas, David Kilgour, Leah Strauss, Reggie Garcia Littlejohn, Sang Hun Kim, and Jonathan Holslag and published by Human Rights Without Frontiers International (Brussels) and is available at amazon.com .