By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON, March 31 – The United States accused China of a broad array of human rights violations on Monday including summary executions, torture, forced confessions, suppressing political dissent and denying religious freedom.
In its annual human rights report, the State Department said China took steps to address international concerns during the year by releasing some dissidents, inviting U.N. monitors to visit, allowing representatives of the Dalai Lama to enter China and expanding permitted religious activity in Tibet.
But these were undermined by its actions toward the end of the year that a senior U.S. official said had left Washington uncertain about the direction of human rights in China.
“The government’s human rights record throughout the year remained poor, and the government continued to commit numerous and serious abuses,” the Department said in its section on China, which ran to an estimated 70,000 words.
“Late in the year, (the) positive developments were undermined by arrests of democracy activists, the imposition of death sentences without due process on two Tibetans and the trials of labor leaders on ‘subversion’ charges,” it added.
“Authorities were quick to suppress religious, political, and social groups, as well as individuals, that they perceived to be a threat to government power or to national stability,” it added. “Citizens who sought to express openly dissenting political and religious views continued to face repression.”
While saying China carried out some reforms in the areas of democracy and the rule of law — allowing direct elections at the village level in several provinces — the report reserved some of its harshest words for the Chinese judicial system.
“Abuses included instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention and denial of due process,” the report said.
“In many cases, particularly in sensitive political cases, the judicial system denied criminal defendants basic legal safeguards and due process because authorities attached higher priority to suppressing political opposition and maintaining public order than to enforcing legal norms or protecting individual rights,” it added.
It said more than 200,000 people were serving sentences in reeducation-through-labor camps and it cited estimates that as many as 2,000 people remained in prison for their activities during the June 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy demonstrations.
“As we have said to the Chinese, we have seen some slippage over the past year and it is of concern to us and we have raised it with them on a number of occasions,” Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters.
Powell said the United States had not yet decided whether to back a resolution against China at the U.N. Human Rights Commission and a senior aide suggested this was because it had not decided which way China was leaning on human rights and the most effective way to prompt change.
“The question we have not yet figured out is what is the future? Is that (progress in) 2002 the future or is the last couple of months the future,” said Lorne Craner, the assistant secretary of state responsible for the report. “The purpose of a resolution is to elicit progress … and that is what we are wrestling with.”
The report also cited concerns that China might be using the “war on terrorism” launched after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington as a pretext to crack down on Muslim Uighurs who are fighting for self rule.
“Many observers raised concerns about the government’s use of the international war on terror as a justification for cracking down harshly on suspected Uighur separatists expressing peaceful political dissent and on independent Muslim religious leaders,” it said.