Beijing reviews key human rights treaty

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2005, 12:00am

Revelation by Politburo Standing Committee member prompts speculation the mainland may ratify the covenant

A senior Communist Party leader said yesterday that Beijing is reviewing a key international human rights treaty, prompting speculation about mainland ratification of the sensitive International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights after years of delay.

'The Chinese government is actively considering major issues involved in the covenant and will start the legal process of ratification once the conditions are mature,' Politburo Standing Committee member Luo Gan said yesterday at the opening ceremony of the biennial congress of the World Jurist Association at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Mr Luo told more than 1,500 delegates from 60 countries and regions that Beijing had made great progress in protecting citizens' freedom and rights, citing the 21 international human rights conventions the country has acceded to.

Beijing signed the civil and political rights covenant in 1998 and its sister pact, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a year earlier.

While the economic treaty was ratified in 2001 by the National People's Congress, the civil and political one has been shelved due to concerns over sensitive issues like freedom of expression, religion and association, according to analysts.

Rao Geping , from Peking University, said the move towards ratification of the covenant, corresponding to the mainland's economic development, showed human rights had become part of mainlanders' lives.

'Although we still have some problems, we have seen a relatively fast improvement in human rights,' Professor Rao said.

Xu Zhiyong , a legal expert at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said the move was 'an encouraging sign'. If ratified, the human rights accord, along with other international conventions, would oblige Beijing to improve rights and the mainland's legislative situation.

Professor Rao said he expected the mainland authorities to express reservations about provisions in the covenant deemed not applicable on the mainland, a practice also followed by other countries.

The right to set up or join trade unions and the limits on the imposition of the death penalty were likely to top the list of Beijing's reservations, say analysts.

Human rights groups said it would be a good step forward if Beijing ratified the covenant.

'It would be important symbolically and important also in a practical way if Beijing actually honours its commitments,' said Bruce Van Voorhis, spokesman for the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, said while participating countries went unpunished for contravening the covenant, it would have a moral effect on China.

'In the end it depends on the government and whether it has the commitment,' he said. 'But even if it's just moral forces, it would still have a big effect because the government doesn't want to lose face.'

Additional reporting by Elaine Wu