Beijing defends human rights efforts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 February, 2009, 12:00am

UN ambassador dismisses concerns raised by western countries

China's oft-criticised human rights record came under scrutiny at the United Nations yesterday as UN ambassador Li Baodong sought to defend its human rights efforts in a new mechanism called the Universal Periodic Review.

The Chinese delegation, headed by Mr Li, highlighted changes to the legal system as evidence of the country's commitment to human rights.

But representatives from other countries raised strong concerns about freedoms in some restive regions.

The review, established under the UN Human Rights Council, examines the human rights records of all 192 UN member states once every four years.

'China has worked consistently to improve its legal system ... has endeavoured to promote democracy, enhance democratic institutions ... seeks to guarantee judicial independence and the fair administration of justice through continued reforms ... and promote law-based governance and to increase government transparency,' Mr Li said.

The presentation was reviewed by diplomats from more than 100 countries, but just 60 had the chance to speak, with opinion divided.

Several countries, including Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Canada, raised questions about restrictions on freedom of religion in areas including Tibet and Xinjiang.

Concerns were also raised about suppression of the press and the public's freedom of expression, harassment and arrests of human rights activists, child labour and the income and social status divide between urban and rural areas.

Germany, Japan and Britain raised questions about re-education through labour, harassment of rights lawyers, lack of information transparency, the reform of the judicial system and rule of law.

In contrast, representatives from Sudan and Sri Lanka said they 'highly appreciated China's great efforts in promoting human rights, building a harmonious society'.

They also praised China's economic development.

Mr Li applauded such countries for their support and understanding and dismissed criticisms raised in the review.

'China has never restricted freedom of speech, there is no media censorship, we guarantee full religious freedom, and journalists, lawyers, human rights advocates have full freedoms,' Mr Li said.

'The public can express their opinions freely, and nobody will be punished or investigated for making opinions.

'We very much regret to see some countries, such as Australia, have raised questions that are highly politicised.'

The review conference hall was packed with delegates from more than 100 countries, international NGOs and media workers.

The Chinese delegation comprised officials from the Supreme People's Court, the National People's Congress Legal Work Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Council Information Office.

The review of China's record was expected to be a closely watched part of the two-week review session, due to long-standing criticism of alleged human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang, among other issues.

The UN said the Universal Periodic Review mechanism was a way to promote human rights work in member countries, providing the opportunity for each state to detail action it had taken to improve its human rights situation and to fulfil its obligations.