China: UN rights chief highlights both progress and concerns at end of visit

Louise Arbour briefs journalists

2 September 2005 – The United Nations human rights chief said today a rapidly changing China had great potential in the area of human rights but she also raised a number of concerns with leading officials, including the system known as re-education through labour and the extensive use of the death penalty.

“In a spirit of cooperation and constructiveness we can sometimes be critical,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour declared in Beijing at the end of a one-week visit to the country.

“I leave China encouraged about taking this work forward, energized by the prospect of helping the country face daunting challenges, and guardedly optimistic about the enormous potential for positive change,” she added, underscoring the memorandum of understanding (MOU) she had signed with the Government.

She said the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) would work with China to help it remove obstacles to ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to implement recommendations of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Ms. Arbour saluted progress in the realization of economic and social rights in China, highlighting how economic growth has been instrumental in improvements in life expectancy, reducing child mortality and increasing literacy, and pointed to China's ratification of five of the seven major international human rights treaties and its cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms.

Regarding extensive use of the death penalty, she said it applied to offences that do not meet the international standard of “most serious crimes.” She welcomed the anticipated resumption of the jurisdiction of the Supreme People's Court in the review of all capital punishment cases.

Commenting on the lack of reliable data on the extent of the use of the death penalty, she said “transparency is critical for informed public debate on the issue.” She also raised with authorities individual cases illustrative of some of the changes needed as China prepares to ratify the ICCPR.

She also raised in her discussions with officials the need for judicial review of all decisions regarding deprivation of liberty.

Throughout her talks with the authorities, she said she highlighted the importance of China’s exercising its global role to help advance human rights internationally. “I called on China's support for the Secretary-General's reform initiative, including in the human rights area, and specifically regarding the creation of a human rights Council and the doubling of capacity for the Office of the High Commissioner,” she added. “I also urged China to take a proactive leadership role in the advancement of human rights, not only in the Security Council but also more broadly in instances where it might constructively exercise its influence.”

The leaders with whom Ms. Arbour held discussions included Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress Gu Xiulian, Justice Minister Wu Aiying, Supreme People's Court President Xiao Yang, Vice-President Shen Deyong, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Vice Minister for Public Security Liu Jinguothe.

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