Friday, January 12, 2007

“China’s human rights deteriorating”

No, no surprise. But as the new Human Rights Watch 2007 Report on China says:

Authorities greeted rising social unrest—marked at times by violent confrontation between protesters and police—with stricter controls on the press, internet, academics, lawyers, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).


The Chinese government continues to use a vast police and state security apparatus to enforce multiple layers of controls on critics, protesters, and civil society activists. Such controls make actual arrests—which draw unwanted international attention—less necessary in silencing critics.

The system includes administrative and professional pressures, restrictions on domestic and foreign movements, covert or overt tapping and surveillance of phone and internet communications, visits and summons by the police, close surveillance by plainclothes agents, unofficial house-arrests, incommunicado confinement in distant police-run guest houses, and custody in police stations. Many are charged with vaguely defined crimes such as “disrupting social order,” “leaking state secrets,” or “inciting subversion.”

I and others may be able to access this kind of information, but not internetters in China:

The “Great Firewall of China” restricts not only access to the internet, with its 123 million users in China, but also to newspapers, magazines, books, television and radio broadcasts, and film. During 2006, the Chinese government and Communist party officials moved aggressively to plug the wall’s holes and to punish transgressors. Premier Wen Jiabao justified the renewed crackdown, stating that “internet censorship is necessary to safeguard national, social and collective interests.”

Journalists, bloggers, webmasters, writers, and editors, who send news out of China or who merely debate politically sensitive ideas among themselves, face punishments ranging from sudden unemployment to long prison terms. Censors use sophisticated filters, blocking, and internet police to limit incoming information.


By their own admission, global corporations such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Skype continue to assist in the Chinese government’s system of arbitrary and opaque political censorship in an effort to ingratiate their companies with Chinese regulators. Yahoo! released the identity of private users to Chinese authorities, contributing to four critics’ lengthy prison sentences. Microsoft and Google censor searches for what they think the government considers sensitive terms.

On the international stage, echoing concerns I expressed in a paper I wrote:

In 2006 China was elected to the newly-formed UN Human Rights Council. Its candidacy statement asserted that “the Chinese government respects the universality of human rights and supports the UN in playing an important role in the protection and promotion of human rights.” However, Chinese diplomatic efforts have focused on doing away with independent UN investigations, on the grounds that “the internal affairs” of a state should not be subject to investigation. China continues to work closely with the “like minded” group of countries, which includes Iran and Zimbabwe, to roll back important human rights protections. […]

Although the European Union and others continued to pursue human rights dialogues with China in 2006, the sessions produced no concrete results and no further movement toward ratification by China of the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights (ICCPR).

Not just China, but the territories it (claims to) control are not faring better in the human rights situation:


Suspected “separatists,” many of whom come from monasteries and nunneries, are routinely imprisoned. […]

On September 30, Chinese People’s Armed Police shot at a group of approximately 40 Tibetan refugees attempting to cross the border into Nepal, killing a 17-year-old nun, Kelsang Namtso, and possibly others. The rest of the group fled, though witnesses reported seeing Chinese soldiers marching approximately 10 children back to a nearby camp. The official press agency Xinhua claimed that the soldiers were “forced to defend themselves,” but film footage showed soldiers calmly taking aim and shooting from afar at a column of people making their way through heavy snow.

Xinjiang (East Turkestan)

In 2006, China intensified its efforts to use the “war on terrorism” to justify its policies to eradicate the “three evil forces”—terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism—allegedly prevalent among Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim population in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Under current policies local imams are required to vet the text of weekly Friday sermons with religious bureaus. “Strike Hard” campaigns subject Uighurs who express “separatist” tendencies to quick, secret, and summary trials, sometimes accompanied by mass sentencing rallies. Imposition of the death penalty is common.

Hong Kong

Beijing has vetoed moves toward universal suffrage and ruled out direct elections for Hong Kong’s legislature in 2007 and for its chief executive in 2008.

In August 2006, pro-Beijing lawmakers adopted a sweeping surveillance bill allowing extensive wiretapping—including of lawyers and journalists. The government has refused to specify when it will reintroduce anti-subversion laws shelved three years ago after the largest demonstration in Hong Kong since 1989.

To be fair, this is what China has to say about the HRW report (in response to a question by a reporter):

The organization you mentioned has conducted the so-called watch on China for many years. Regrettably, though claims to watch, the organization always suffers eyesight problems some other times, it wears colored glasses or squints. Since it is deeply biased, instead of out of good will, its reports are often politically motivated with false content

In accordance with the constitutional principle of respecting and safeguarding human rights, the Chinese Government is working on promoting all-round economic and social progress, pushing forward the judicial reform as well as improving democracy and legal system so as to build a equitable, just and harmonious society and realize all-round development of human beings. China's human rights conditions have been constantly making headways. Relevant organizations should face up to China's progress in human rights, take off their colored glasses and view China in a fair and just way. Different countries have different national conditions, so it is normal for them to differ on human rights issue. We are ready to conduct dialogue with other countries on the basis of mutual respect and equality. We oppose to exerting political pressures on other countries under the pretext of human rights and interfering in other countries' internal affairs.

Yes, we are just so poorly sighted and seeing the world in pink and purple.

Welcome to the country hosting the 2008 Olympics!

Related news...

  • A blind human rights activists loses his appeal against four years jail for "disrupting traffic and damaging property". Is it coincidence he exposed the horendous background to China's one-child policy and foreced sterilisations?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Netherlands in violation of torture

The Netherlands was chastised by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg today for violating the prohibition on torture. The Court decided in the case of Somali asylum seeker Salah Sheekh who was threatened to be (wrongly) deported from the Netherlands, despite the fact that the circumstances in his home country threatened to expose the asylum seeker to instances of “to torture or other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

The now 20-year-old Sheekh fled his country in 2003, after a series of violent and traumatic incidents, including rape, pillage and murder by militia members targeting members of his minority clan, which resulted in severe traumas for his family members and the death of his father. He arrived in the Netherlands, and:

18. Upon his arrival, the applicant indicated that he wished to apply for asylum. He was refused entry into the Netherlands and deprived of his liberty. He was taken to the asylum application centre (aanmeldcentrum, “AC”) at Schiphol to lodge his request for asylum (verblijfsvergunning asiel voor bepaalde tijd) on 13 May 2003. […]

His application for asylum was rejected by the (now ex-) Minister for Immigration and Integration (Verdonk):

25. By a decision of 25 June 2003, the Minister refused the applicant's asylum request. The fact that the applicant had failed to submit documents establishing his identity, nationality and itinerary was held to affect the sincerity of his account and to detract from its credibility. […]

26. The Minister further considered that the applicant had made unreliable statements as to his date of birth and his age. Although he had submitted that he was 17 years of age, an examination had shown that he was at least 20. This was also deemed seriously to affect the credibility of his account.

The application more lenient application of asylum based on trauma experienced by the applicant was also rejected, because the Minister did not believe Sheekh was not traumatised enough:

30. The Minister concluded that it had not appeared that there existed a real risk of the applicant being subjected to treatment in breach of Article 3 of the Convention upon his return to Somalia. Moreover, the applicant was not eligible for a residence permit within the framework of the leniency policy for traumatised asylum seekers (traumatabeleid), given that the alleged murder of his brother had occurred as long ago as March/April 2002 and the alleged rape of his sister as long ago as 1998 and June/July 2002.

A series of appeals to the rejection of asylum was lodged by Sheekh, but all were rejected, after which the Minister issued him with an EU Travel Document so that he can be deported back to his country.

The decision was based on a series of Country Reports compiled by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which deemed large parts of Somalia “relatively safe”, despite reports and complaints from the UN, Médecins sans Frontières, Amnesty International and refugee organisations to the contrary:

100. In its Position Paper on the Return of Rejected Asylum-Seekers to Somalia of January 2004, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) stated, inter alia, the following:

“Throughout the country, human rights violations remain endemic. These include murder, looting and destruction of property, use of child soldiers, kidnapping, discrimination of minorities, torture, unlawful arrest and detention, and denial of due process by local authorities. ...

The challenges faced by both Somaliland and Puntland in integrating Somali refugees back home remain a critical humanitarian, recovery and development concern. In both areas, tens of thousands of returnees from exile continue to live in slums on the outskirts of towns where they are often indistinguishable from other vulnerable groups, and as such face many of the same problems accessing basic social services and becoming self-reliant.


This is true also in Somaliland and Puntland. They already host some 60,000 and 31,000 IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons, addition mine] respectively, which by far exceeds their absorption capacity. In the absence of clan protection and support, which means weak or negligible social networks, a Somali originating from another area would be likely to join the many other underprivileged IDPs who suffer from lack of protection, limited access to education and health services, vulnerability to sexual exploitation and abuse and labour exploitation, eviction, destruction and confiscation of assets. Depending on the goodwill of the local community and what meagre humanitarian assistance may be available, persons perceived as 'outsiders' may be forced to live in a state of chronic humanitarian need and lack of respect for their rights. Specifically, in Somaliland, a self-proclaimed independent state, those not originating from this area (non-Somalilanders) would be considered as foreigners, and face significant acceptance and integration problems, particularly taking into account the extremely difficult socio-economic situation of those native to the territory. ...

Thus as pointed out by the UN organisation responsible for refugees, in large areas of Somalia, any one who is not a member of the same clan / ethnic group (like Sheekh who is of the minority Ashraf group) will be subject to prejudice, hardship and even physical violence. And especially in a ‘state’ like Somalia where the government has collapsed and lost all functions of guaranteeing maintaining peace and security, people and property are basically protected by the good-will and recognition of people of the same ethnic / clan background.

108. In this report, published on 17 March 2005, Amnesty International […] states as follows:

“The minority groups, who have no armed militias, have been extremely vulnerable during the period of state collapse and absence of a justice system and rule of law to killing, torture, rape, kidnapping for ransom, and looting of land and property with impunity by faction militias and clan members. Such incidents are still commonly reported and are being documented by local human rights NGOs.”

The Court, weighed the argument by Sheekh that he would be subject to dangers and threats to life and property if deported against the argument of the Dutch government that there is no such danger in the “relatively safe” areas. In construing the nature of the obligation enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, Contracting Parties (of which the Netherlands is one):

135. [have] the right, as a matter of well-established international law and subject to their treaty obligations including the Convention, to control the entry, residence and expulsion of aliens. […] However, in exercising their right to expel such aliens, Contracting States must have regard to Article 3 of the Convention which enshrines one of the fundamental values of democratic societies and prohibits in absolute terms torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, irrespective of the victim's conduct, however undesirable or dangerous. The expulsion of an alien may give rise to an issue under this provision, and hence engage the responsibility of the expelling State under the Convention, where substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person in question, if expelled, would face a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 in the receiving country. In such circumstances, Article 3 implies an obligation not to expel the individual to that country […] [emphasis mine]

139 […] Nevertheless, there is a marked difference between the position of, on the one hand, individuals who originate from those areas and have clan and/or family links there and, on the other hand, individuals who hail from elsewhere in Somalia and do not have such links in Somaliland or Puntland. […] As far as the second group is concerned, however, the Court is not persuaded that the relevance of clan protection in the “relatively safe” areas has diminished to the extent as suggested by the Government. It notes in this respect that as regards the expulsion of a Somali national to a part of the country from where he or she does not originate, UNHCR is of the opinion that “considerations based on the prevailing clan system are of crucial importance” (see paragraphs 100 and 102 above). Clan affiliation has further been described as the most important common element of personal security across all of Somalia (see paragraph 105 above), and thus not merely in the “relatively unsafe” areas.

146. The Court considers that the treatment to which the applicant claimed he had been subjected prior to his leaving Somalia can be classified as inhuman within the meaning of Article 3: members of a clan beat, kicked, robbed, intimidated and harassed him on many occasions and made him carry out forced labour. Members of the same clan also killed his father and raped his sister (see paragraphs 7-9 and 12-13 above). The Court notes that the particular – and continuing – vulnerability to this kind of human rights abuses of members of minorities like the Ashraf has been well-documented (see, for instance, paragraphs 103-104 above).

This is a special case, because usually before going to the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, the applicant must exhaust all local remedies, meaning that he must have gone through all the appeal courts right up to the highest court (in the case of the Netherlands, the Administrative Division of the Council of State [Afdeling Bestuursrechtspraak Raad van State]). The Court however said that in the light of previous cases dealing with asylum, “in practice a further appeal would have stood virtually no prospect of success”. So Sheekh could bbypass this procedural requirement of exhaustion of local remedies (paras. 119-127)

Sheekh has been given a residence permit and is permitted to stay in the Netherlands.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Just got this petition from a friend. An eighteen year old Iranian girl faces the death sentence for unintentionally stabbing to death one of three men who tried to rape her and her niece.

Urgent action is needed to help save a young life whose only crime was an attempt to defend herself. Nazanin and many like her are caught between two undesirable options. On one hand, Iranian Penal Code severely limits the possibility of using 'self-defense' as a legitimate defence to aggression. On the other hand, if Nazanin had allowed the rape to take place, she could still be imprisoned, flogged or stoned for having sex outside of marriage unless four male witnesses to the actual rape would testify on her behalf.
More coverage here.

Far-right in EP

First, after numerous concessions, and turning a blind-eye to economic and social woes of the two new members of the European Union, Bulgaria and Romania were allowed to (limp) in.

And now it appears the new members will be bringing some ‘contribution’ to the EU:

The European Parliament looks set to have the first far-right grouping within its corridors by mid-January, with MEPs from new member states Bulgaria and Romania helping to make the formation possible.

Under EU rules, there need to be at least 19 MEPs from five different member states for a political group to be formed.

[…] the group is likely to have at least 20 members and will have a "minimal consensus" programme being broadly against immigration, against Turkey's EU membership, against the EU constitution for its "tendencies...towards a central government."

The loose programme marks the disharmony between the different national elements with one of their main motives for forming a group being to get more say in the European Parliament.

"It is more a technical than a political group," Alessandra Mussolini, grand daughter of the facist Il Duce, told APA.

"We are mainly getting together out of necessity. Survival is only possible in a political group," she added, referring to the fact that groups have a right to more funds and political positions in the European Parliament, something non-attached MEPs do not have.

And I thought one of the fundamental conditions of EU membership was to eliminate racial discrimination and respect human rights and freedoms in the aspirant member state.

The far-right parties of Bulgaria and Romania are set to join other parties across Europe, including the French Front National and Belgian Vlaams Belang, and the UK’s (far-right) British MP Ashley Mote. The latter recently had this to say about how, in the light of the fading true meaning of Christmas, Britain is losing its identity because:

This may be Christmastime, but I bring you a bleak message. And it is too important to ignore.

In a nutshell, it is this: the indigenous population of this country will be in a minority within fifty years, unless huge changes are made, and fast.

The Britain we know and love, and our way of life, faces destruction. The threat comes from within.


We have a responsibility to pass our inheritance on to our children, and to their children. We surely don’t need reminding of the millions of lives laid down to protect and preserve these precious rights and freedoms, which today are our birthright as British subjects.

There is much to do, and no time to lose.

Our only claim to the British Isles is that we are here. Our forebears settled and developed it. We now control it – at least for the moment – and we must defend it or lose it.