Testimony of Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Felice D. Gaer: The Protection of Human Rights, Including Religious Freedom Is Critical to Strong and Vibrant Society and Economy
July 28, 2003
On July 24, 2003, the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) organized a discussion entitled, "Will Religion Flourish under China's New Leadership?" Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom(CIRF), Mr. Felice D. Gaer participated in the discussion.
Following is an excerpt of Gaer's testimony.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before this Commission on religious freedom conditions in China. The members of the Commission are to be commended for holding this important hearing. I would like to submit this statement for the Commission's record.
Since its establishment, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has spoken out about the widespread and serious abuses of the right to freedom of religion and belief in China. It has provided numerous policy recommendations regarding the steps that the U.S. government should take to encourage the protection of religious freedom in China.
The topics discussed here today are particularly timely. In less than two weeks, the USCIRF will be traveling to China for the first time. We plan to visit Tibet as well as other parts of China. On our return, we look forward to reporting our findings to the Congress.
Religious Freedom Conditions
Today, Chinese government officials continue to claim the right to control, monitor, and restrain religious practice, purportedly to protect public safety, order, health, and so forth. However, the government's actions to restrict religious belief and practice go far beyond what is necessary to legitimately protect those interests; in other words, far beyond what is permissible under international law. While China's Constitution provides its citizens with the "freedom of religious belief," it does not protect the right to manifest religious beliefs, highlighting the importance for China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which contains explicit provisions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and which it signed in 1998.
The crackdowns against religious believers are believed to be sanctioned at the highest levels of government. Indeed, Chinese laws, policies, and practices severely restrict religious activities, including contact with foreign religious organizations, the training and appointment of spiritual leaders, and religious education for children in accordance with the convictions of their parents. As a result of government policies and practices, persons continue to be confined, tortured, imprisoned, and subject to other forms of ill treatment on account of their religion or belief. [...]
The Chinese government has also reserved for itself the right to determine the legality of religious activities and the legitimacy of religious leaders. In 1999, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress adopted a resolution, which has the force of law, to ban all "heretical cult organizations." [...]Under these laws, groups like the Falun Gong and several unregistered Christian churches that have been designated as [...] by the government have suffered tremendously.
According to Falun Gong practitioners, as many as 100,000 have been sent to labor camps without trial. They claim that as many as 700 may have died as a result of police brutality either while in prison or after their release.
Mr. Chairman, as China continues its political and economic transformation, the United States must consistently remind the Chinese government that the protection of human rights, including religious freedom, is critical to strong and vibrant society and economy. The rights of the Chinese people must be protected, and the United States should be prepared to assist in this regard.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I look forward to your questions.
Category: April 25 Events