February 13, 2001
BEIJING - Jean Chretien told Chinese authorities today that Canadians are disturbed by persistent reports of human rights abuses and urged the Communist government to make its judicial system independent and impartial.
In a speech advocating sweeping changes to China's justice system, the Prime Minister said the country's ongoing reforms will not be complete until all citizens are guaranteed fair trials and equal access to protection under the law.
"An independent judiciary is essential to the rule of law. It must be free from undue influence of any kind -- be it from those with money or power," Mr. Chretien said in prepared remarks at China's National Judges Colleges.
"For no matter how well the laws are written, there can be no justice without a fair trial overseen by a competent, independent, impartial and effective judiciary. A judiciary that applies the law equally for all citizens, regardless of gender, social status, religious belief or political opinion."
International human rights activists have long condemned China for systematic abuses that undermine the country's constitutional affirmation of the rule of law.
Torture and ill treatment of prisoners and detainees in China is widespread and growing, the international human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday. The group said in a report that abuses occur in a range of state-run institutions, from police stations to drug rehabilitation centres.
"The range of officials resorting to it is expanding, as is the circle of victims," the
London-based human rights watchdog said.
The Chinese legal system came under scrutiny in Canada last month when authorities released Kunlun Zhang, a former McGill University professor who was imprisoned in a labour camp for practising the banned exercises of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Mr. Chretien said China's path of economic reform will be incomplete unless it ratifies United Nations covenants respecting social and political rights and takes a "critical step" toward protecting them in law.
"This, Canadians would applaud. For they have been disturbed by reports of the lack of such respect in the past," Mr. Chretien said.
Mr. Chretien has sent conflicting messages on the importance of human rights during the trade mission. He angered human rights activists earlier this week when he told business delegates that Canada is too small to give instructions to a country such as China, which has 1.2 billion people.
But he also raised Canadian concerns about the Chinese government's treatment of
members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement [...].
James Moore, the Canadian Alliance deputy critic for foreign affairs, accused Mr.
Chretien of failing to properly raise the human rights issue.
"Now that he is on the ground there, he seems to have changed his tune by saying that Canada is too small of a fry to stand up for what is right," he said in the House of Commons.
Speaking yesterday in the west central Chinese city of Xi'an, Mr. Chretien said he believes Canada has more influence in foreign affairs today than ever before.