02/11/2009, 00.00
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UN asks about human rights, China’s answer is economics

Beijing denies rights violations, hiding behind improvements resulting from economic development. Experts note however that the economic crisis cut the few rights workers have. Now member state representatives are set to issue recommendations.

Geneva (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China has rejected charges of human rights violations made by other states in the United Nations Council on Human Rights Council in Geneva. Representatives of Germany, Great Britain, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and the Czech Republic raised issues during the proceedings, which began on Monday, including restrictions on religious freedom in Tibet and Xinjiang, censorship, persecution of pro-democracy activists, re-education-through-labour camps, the independence of judges, the rule of law, child labour and the growing gap between rural and urban areas.

Representatives from other states like Nigeria, Sudan and Sri Lanka said they “highly appreciated China's great efforts in promoting human rights, building a harmonious society” and promoting economic development.

China's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Li Baodong, rejected claims that his country restricted freedom of speech or religious freedom or that anyone was persecuted for his or her opinion. He expressed “regret” that some countries like Australia raised “highly politicised” questions like Tibet or the Uyghurs. In the end though, he did not answer any questions on specific issues or points raised.

More generally in their submission to the Council the Chinese stressed improvements brought to the population by economic development.

Still China did come in for criticism on this front as well, in particular for its treatment of migrant workers. Recent gains in the new labour contract in terms of a minimum wage and job security have been swept away by the economic crisis. At least 20 million migrant workers are now out of a job, many unable to collect their severance pay or the last months of their salary.

Labour activist and former Tiananmen Square protester Han Dongfang, one of the foremost specialists on workers rights in mainland China, said that after the onset of the present crisis the new labour contract adopted by the government as a revolutionary step forward “is completely dead,” a year after it was introduced. The authorities have given up on it and no longer require it be respected; now trying only to reduce the number of plant closures.

China’s report will be examined by representatives from Nigeria, India and Canada. Recommendations should be made within the day today.


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