China's new leaders must focus on rights
November 1st, 2012
11:39 AM ET

China's new leaders must focus on rights

By Salil Shetty, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Salil Shetty is secretary general of Amnesty International. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Speculation is rife about the changing of the guard at the upcoming 18th Communist Party Congress, with questions swirling about what a new leadership will mean for China and the world.

I won’t add to the who-what-why-when speculation, interesting though it has all been.

But the new Chinese leaders must bear some fundamental principles in mind – if the country is to gain the real stability it needs, the government must reconcile its actions with its claims. The reality is that although real progress has been made in reducing poverty, huge challenges remain.

China is a leading player on the global stage, and the country’s economic influence is undeniable. But with global power should come responsibility, at the U.N. Security Council and elsewhere. Instead, China has often used its clout to ensure as little debate as possible about serious human rights violations committed around the world.

Over the past 18 months, Beijing has talked of being “deeply saddened” by the death toll in Syria, now estimated at more than 30,000. And yet, China played a key role in ensuring that the Security Council failed to act to prevent the nightmare that civilians are living through in Syria today.

At the United Nations in New York in July, meanwhile, China joined with the United States and Russia to delay an Arms Trade Treaty that could help save countless lives, and which governments in Asia, Africa and around the world have argued for.

At home, the gap between the rhetoric and the reality is also wide.

Freedom of expression is promised in the Chinese constitution, yet citizens are denied this right time and again. Daily across China, there are hundreds of protests demanding basic rights and demonstrations against official lawlessness. Those who speak out can be severely punished.

The incarceration of the Nobel Prize winning Liu Xiaobo for seeking increased freedom of expression and political participation for the Chinese people caused outrage around the world. His case is well known. But his is just one case of injustice among many.

Three months ago, for example, Zhu Chengzhi was formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” His last known whereabouts are a detention facility in Shaoyang city, Hunan Province, where he is being held incommunicado.

According to his friends, the reason why Zhu was detained is because he photographed the scene where his good friend, the dissident Li Wangyang, died, and shared those pictures on the internet.

The local authorities maintain that Li’s death in hospital in June was suicide. But, as the protests by tens of thousands on the streets of Hong Kong reminded us, many questions remain unanswered. The authorities, meanwhile, refuse calls for an independent investigation according to international standards.

For understandable reasons, a key source of popular discontent in China has been the issue of forced evictions. Amnesty International recently released a report that documents in depressing detail the lawlessness of the forced evictions of ordinary Chinese from their homes or farmland, without consultation, compensation or suitable alternative accommodation. This violates China’s international human rights obligations on an enormous scale.

Current Premier Wen Jiabao has acknowledged problems with forced evictions. But other officials have defended abuses in the eviction process as the necessary price of modernization. In the words of housing rights advocate Mao Hengfeng: “What’s the point if a few of us live well and shut our mouths but the government continues to abuse other citizens…? What we ask for is not a personal settlement, but public justice.”

Meanwhile, lawyers who dare to defend human rights are themselves punished. Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is again in detention in Xinjiang for violating the conditions of his suspended sentence for “inciting subversion.” His crime? Defending the rights of his clients. For his efforts, he and his family have suffered years of surveillance, harassment and torture.

The above examples can be multiplied many times over. But Chinese leaders must understand: security will not be won by repression at home, nor by attempting to draw a veil over repression elsewhere in the world.

If China is to continue to build on its achievements in the 21st century, basic rights must be observed and enforced. If China’s new leaders continue to put rights to one side, it will be bad for the Chinese government, bad for the people of China – and bad for the world.

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Topics: China

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soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. JAL

    The new family of the prodigal star:
    We were in a diner, and this wise man was alone on stage, with his piano.
    "Play some Billy Joel", I shouted. He then played, much like he wrote the songs.
    We were festive, so much that he invited me on stage. I said,
    "no, put on the record player instead, and come join me and the family down here."

    November 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  2. j. von hettlingen

    The New York Times reported about half a million skilled Chinese professionals leave their country in 2010, looking for better life abroad, despite economic boom at home. Their concerns are the country's "development at all cost strategy" at the expense of the environment. Also the social and moral fabric is getting thinner. It lacks an overall sense of solidarity and common good. People are becoming more and more self-centred. This thinking might serve the government, as long as they don't interfere in state politics. But in the end, it does more harm than good to the country.

    November 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      please read: LEFT their country.

      November 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Maersk

      The New York Times also reported that about half a million skilled American kwok zucking kwok zuckers, including you, are now zucking Chinese kwok in China. Should I be jumping up and down because of this?

      November 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
      • Bill rich

        There is one difference, sucker. Americans go to PRC for better opportunities. PRC people go to US for safety of their wealth, personal safety and freedom from pollution.

        November 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Java

      People immigrate for better dream, Chinese too. however, Chinese have one big virtue, at the end of the journey, they always went back home to better their motherland.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
      • Java

        I welcome the idea of more Chinese migrate and study abroad; just like their new leaders, they will be the greatest assets for China future.

        November 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
      • Java

        Taiwan Chinese are most welcome in China base on the same heritage.

        November 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • George

      That explains why unemployment rate is rising this month, too many inflow of Chinese migrants.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:22 am |
  3. krm1007 ©™

    This article is humorous. What about the millions of girls being slaughtered in India ??? What about them ??? As I posting this comment another few hundred girls were trashed in India !!!

    In India, millions of girls are strangled, slowly starved or simply tossed in the trash. Moreover, in India, at least 1,370 girls are aborted every day. As a comparison, some 250 Indians die every day in road accidents. Terrorists killed about six people, on an average, every day in 2009. In the last two decades of economic debacle, 10 million girls have died as such in India.

    Indians have killed more human beings (girls particularly) than Al Qaeda and Talibans put together.

    November 2, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Bill rich

      I totally agree. Each and every article on CNN must address all issues in all 200+ countries in the world. Missing any single issue in any country in any single article is a crime and a comedy.

      Come to think it, krm1007's comment is a jokeas it did not address the sea level rising of the Marshall Islands.

      November 10, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  4. resetg

    The United States is a hypocrite. Both democracy and freedom are lies

    November 4, 2012 at 1:51 am |
  5. thumbsihave2

    The Chinese Communist Party leadership cannot reign in the products imported from abroad, nor blunt the experiences that Chinese students have abroad. Those two will usher in change. Whether it is a bloody or calm transfer of power to the people of China will be the question.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  6. Bill rich

    ChiNess leaders, with guns (PLA) firmly in their hands, will not need to respect any rights Chinese people think they should have no matter how important others think these rights are for their firm hold on power by the CCP. Simply put: They've got power, now cry your eyes out.

    November 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
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