I'd like to thank Falun Gong for inviting Amnesty International to be part of this seminar on Human Rights Day -- a designated day by the United Nations to commemorate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed and ratified right back in 1948. Drawn up from the ashes of World War II, it was hoped we would have a set of principles that would make the world a better and fairer place-- but to many, including the practitioners of Falun Gong in China --it is still just an idealistic document.

I know most of you are probably familiar with Amnesty International, but I always think it is good to recap. Amnesty is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for human rights. We work for observance of all human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international standards. All our work is based on careful research and the standards agreed by the international community. Amnesty International is independent of any government or religious creed. We take action on some of the gravest human rights violations. The focus of our campaigning is:

  • to free all prisoners of conscience, people detained solely for their political , religious or other conscientiously held beliefs or because of their ethnic origin, sex, colour, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth or other status who have not used or advocated violence;
  • ensure fair and prompt trials for all political prisoners;
  • abolish the death penalty, torture and unlawful killings;
  • end political killings and disappearances

Amnesty also calls on armed opposition groups to respect human rights and works for the rights of refugees.

I lived in Hong Kong for eighteen and a half years and was very aware of the human rights abuses meted out by the Chinese authorities.

Amnesty International in a briefing released in September 2001 expressed concerned at developments in the human rights situation in China. Amnesty International feels the current situation represents a major set back for human rights and the 'rule of law' in China, and a new step backwards since the deterioration in human rights which started in late 1998.

In particular, the authorities have launched a new "strike hard" campaign against crime which led within a few weeks to a record number of executions, many of them believed to have been carried about out after summary trials. They have stepped up the crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, reportedly sanctioning for the first time the widespread use of violence against its members. They have also launched a new wave of arrests and forcible repatriation of North Korean asylum seekers, denying them access to any refugee determination procedures. In addition to these major developments, repression of dissent has continued, new restrictions have been imposed on the media, and numerous incidents of arbitrary detention, torture and other human rights violations have been reported across the country.

Over the past few months, Falun Gong sources in China and abroad have alleged that violence against Falun Gong practitioners detained over China is now systematic and officially sanctioned. They describe this as a new pattern and claim that a special government task force set up in Beijing to lead the campaign against the Falun Gong, the "610 office", has issued unwritten instructions allowing police and other officials to go beyond legal constraints in this campaign, discharging them of legal responsibility, if a Falun Gong practitioner dies in detention due to beatings. According to these sources, of over 250 practitioners reported to have died in custody since Falun Gong was banned in July 1999, about half have died this year and many of the deaths which are due to ill-treatment are officially reported as suicides.

Allegations that violence against the Falun Gong practitioners is now officially sanctioned have also been reported in August 2001 in a detailed article in the Washington Post, which cites unidentified government sources. According to the article, the central authorities devised a new approach to eradicate the group in February 2001, after eighteen months of mitigated success due to uneven or reluctant enforcement of the campaign by local officials. The new approach was reportedly based on three elements designed to produce results, the first being the sanction by the central leadership of the widespread use of violence against the practitioners who refuse to renounce their beliefs. The article cited the sources as saying there was previously no systematic campaign of violence to break Falun Gong, and that practitioners had previously suffered only the "normal amount" of police brutality, in the same way as other detainees.

Amnesty International is gravely concerned by the allegations of state sanctioned violence against Falun Gong practitioners. The organisation's concerns about the government's campaign against the group include the arbitrary detention of thousands of practitioners -- whether in "study classes," regular detention centers or labour camps -- unfair trials, and numerous allegations of torture of detained practitioners. Amnesty has documented these concerns in several reports. In these reports Amnesty has documented alleged active attempts by officials to cover up or destroy evidence in a large number of cases. This includes reports of hasty cremation of the victims before relatives could see the bodies or before autopsies could be performed, and the detention of people who sought to publicise information about the death in custody of relatives or friends.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Chinese government to stop all violence against Falun Gong practitioners and provide convincing evidence that all evidence and all allegations of torture of detained practitioners are being investigated, in line with Chinese law. It also calls on the government to release all practitioners arbitrarily detained in "study classes" and other places of detention.

I think it is appropriate on human rights day to quote from a man who contributed so much inspiration to those involved in the struggle of human rights and continues to do so to this day.

"There is little hope for us until we become tough minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half truths and downright ignorance." That was said by Martin Luther King -- and would seem to epitomize the current struggle of the Falun Gong practitioners in China who are continually struggling with the Chinese authorities for their most fundamental freedoms.

Robyn Kilpatrick

Amnesty International Australia, Victorian Branch Representative

December 10th, 2001