China should sign UN human rights treaties

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 April, 1997, 12:00am

Your editorial, 'Protecting rights' (South China Morning Post, April 12), contrasted the 'political' nature of resolutions criticising China's human rights situation at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, such as the one Denmark recently tabled, with the process of rights monitoring under UN treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

In fact, the two types of action address different circumstances. Not all human rights problems can be adequately dealt with through treaty monitoring processes.

The UN commission is the world body's highest human rights organ, composed of elected member states. It responds to emergency situations and makes policy on how to address newly-identified human rights problems. It also has a mandate to ensure that international human rights standards are being respected worldwide.

Since all UN member states are committed to respecting the rights and freedoms laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by virtue of their membership in the world body, no country should be able to evade criticism if it infringes these standards.

Thus the commission's consideration of a resolution on the human rights situation in China is legitimate and necessary.

While my organisation would welcome China's signing of the ICESCR, we also lobby every year for the passage of a commission resolution on China, which is important precisely because to date it has not signed or ratified the ICESCR and its companion treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Thus people on the mainland do not have access to the protections they afford. China is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council not to have signed these documents, the UN's primary human rights treaties.

Furthermore, China's citizens continue to be deprived of their fundamental rights, through widespread use of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, and political imprisonment, and through severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly. Every year, such abuses in China are detailed in commission reports and in documentation by non-governmental organisations.

In the absence of routine monitoring under the ICESCR and the ICCPR, a commission resolution is a vital response to China's serious violations of human rights. Unless the situation improves, we will be calling again for a resolution next year.

If Beijing wants to escape this pressure, it should begin to improve respect for basic rights and sign the two treaties as soon as possible.

SOPHIA WOODMAN Hong Kong Representative Human Rights In China