The Epoch Times
Mar 17, 2004

Amnesty International responded to the recent announcement by China's National People's Congress that it would enshrine human rights in the Constitution by pointing out that the amendment must be backed up by legal and institutional reforms to ensure the protection of human rights in practice.

"We welcome this amendment as an indication of greater political willingness to address the serious and widespread human rights violations that continue to be perpetrated across the country," Amnesty International said. "But fine words are not enough, they must be backed by concrete action."

The Chinese National People's Congress, perhaps in response to recent international attention to its human rights record, passed a Constitutional Amendment stating that states that 'the State respects and protects human rights'.

China's Constitution already lists a number of freedoms, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, demonstration and religious belief. In practice, however, these freedoms have been seriously restricted throughout the country, leading to widespread abuses, including the detention and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people in violation of their fundamental human rights.

Ironically, while the National People's Congress was voting on the amendment, hundreds of peaceful petitioners and reform activists were being imprisoned around Beijing to prevent them from 'disrupting' the People's Congress with appeals for the rule of law and guarantee of the rights the Constitution already supposedly protects.

The detainees included Hua Huiqi, a house church leader and campaigner against forced evictions, who was reportedly detained by police and taken to Fengtai police station in Beijing where he was severely beaten by several police officers.

Chinese Catholic Bishop Wei Jingyi was arrested last week in northeastern China. He has been arrested several times before for leading non-government-sanctioned Catholic Church services in people's homes. The U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation reports that 26 Roman Catholic clergy members are in Chinese prisons at this time.

Hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained, beaten and sent to labor camps without trial. Use of torture is widespread in these labor camps.

The Laogai Research Founfdation estimates that as many as six million Chinese may be imprisoned, without trial and without rights, in labor camps in China.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported recently that at least 60 people are in prison in China for questioning government policy on the Internet.

According to Amnesty, the Constitution is largely symbolic and its provisions are rarely invoked in court.

"If the amendment is to have any practical effect, it must be reinforced by a fundamental review and overhaul of other laws, including the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Laws, as well as other legal and judicial reforms," Amnesty International said.

China has ratified several international human rights instruments, including the Convention against Torture; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, yet has failed to take the practical measures necessary to implement many of their provisions. Another key human rights instrument, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has been signed but not ratified by China, although the authorities have indicated their intention to ratify this treaty as soon as possible.

"Ratification of human rights standards is an important first step, but it must be accompanied by practical measures to implement their provisions at the domestic level," Amnesty International said.

To date, the Chinese authorities' cooperation with international mechanisms of human rights monitoring and investigation has been limited and highly selective. Several UN human rights monitoring mechanisms as well as international human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International, continue to be denied access to China to conduct effective research.

"We urge the Chinese authorities to build on this Constitutional reform by showing a greater openness and willingness to engage with independent human rights monitors," Amnesty International said.