BEIJING: China on Monday touted “tremendous achievements” in human rights, citing legal improvements, poverty alleviation, and protections for minorities and freedom of speech, even as campaign groups point to a tough crackdown on dissent and civil society.
“The tremendous achievements China has made in its human rights endeavors fully demonstrate that it is taking the correct path of human rights development that suits its national conditions,” read the preface of a newly released government human rights report.
“Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2014” was issued by the State Council Information Office, which falls under the State Council, or Cabinet. According to the official Xinhua news agency, the report has been released 12 times since 1991.
It was published as China has made more robust efforts in recent years to deflect foreign criticism of its rights record, such as issuing its own report on human rights in the United States as a rebuttal to the US State Department’s assessment of the situation in China.
China, under the rule of the Communist Party, has traditionally stressed the collective nature of human rights as opposed to the largely individual approach of Western-style democracies.
International economic organizations including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have lauded Beijing for strides made in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty in the more than three decades since it embarked on economic reform and opening up.
But human rights groups have lambasted China for a harsh crackdown against critics of the ruling party that has seen scores of journalists, lawyers and academics detained and dozens jailed as well as taken it to task over what Human Rights Watch (HRW) last month said was “appalling” torture carried out by Chinese police on criminal suspects.
“Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2014” said that legal and judicial reforms were proceeding and stated flatly that: “The rights of the accused, detainees and criminals are protected”. It cited as an example the use of audio and video recordings of interrogations. HRW said in May, however, that such videos are prone to manipulation.
The lengthy report relies on copious data to back up progress, such as citing as evidence of improved living standards a slew of numbers including last year’s annual economic growth of 7.4 percent — though does not mention that it was the slowest rate of increase since 1990.
The report also cites the establishment of a “China Poverty Alleviation Day” in a section on reducing poverty, and included what it described as efforts to build “138 bridges to replace ropeways in seven provinces and regions” as progress.
Regarding freedom of speech, the report provided figures for the number of newspapers, magazine and books published, as well as statistics for Internet and social media users. But it did not mention what monitoring groups and foreign governments decry as a vast network of online censorship and control dubbed the Great Firewall of China.
In terms of minority rights, the report cited the number of places of religious worship in mostly Buddhist Tibet and figures for how many Chinese Muslims made the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia last year as examples of how the right to freedom of worship for minorities is “fully guaranteed”.
William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said Beijing deserves credit for at least placing “some rhetorical importance” on the issue of human rights through the report.
“Nonetheless, in certain areas — especially related to freedom of expression, civil society, and the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities — the white paper seems to have been written in an alternative reality,” he said in an emailed comment to AFP.
He cited “increasing restriction on the freedom of movement” of Uighurs — a largely Muslim ethnic group from the far western region of Xinjiang — and Tibetans “particularly with respect to their ability to get a passport and travel abroad”.