China's National People's Congress in session in Beijing. (Photo/Bloomberg/Nelson Ching)
DHARAMSHALA, February 27: More than a hundred leading Chinese scholars, journalists, lawyers, and activists have signed an open letter urging their national legislature to ratify a major human rights treaty a week before the inaugural session of the 12th National People’s Congress in Beijing.
The letter, seen as the latest challenge from intellectuals seeking to curtail arbitrary Communist Party power, was posted on several prominent Chinese blogging Web sites and Internet forums, but were often quickly removed.
"We solemnly and openly propose the following as citizens of China that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) be ratified, in order to further promote and establish the principles of human rights and constitutionalism in China," the letter begins.
Beijing signed the treaty in 1998 but the Chinese rubber stamp parliament has never ratified the document. The ICCPR, which is part of the International Bill of Human Rights created by the United Nations, obligates countries, which have chosen to sign and ratify it, to respect freedom of speech, assembly, religion, the right for a fair trial and others.
Ratification of the treaty would “promote and realise the principles of a country based on human rights and a China governed by its Constitution,” the petition said. “We fear that due to the lack of nurturing of human rights and absence of fundamental reverence and assurances for individuals’ freedom, rights and dignity, if a full-scale crisis breaks out, the whole society will collapse into hatred and brutality.”
The petition says there’s a “considerable gap” between the situation in China and the requirements of international human rights treaties. It calls on the State Council to submit a proposal to the National People’s Congress, which should then ratify the treaty immediately. If the NPC can’t do so this year, it should explain why not and provide a timetable toward ratification, the petition said.
The upcoming meeting of the NPC will see the installation of Xi Jinping as China's president, taking over from Hu Jintao.
In December, many of the same intellectuals also signed a strongly worded open letter demanding political reform within China, including an independent judiciary and meaningful democratic change.
"If reforms to the system urgently needed by Chinese society keep being frustrated and stagnate without progress," December's letter warned, "then official corruption and dissatisfaction in society will boil up to a crisis point and China will once again miss the opportunity for peaceful reform, and slip into the turbulence and chaos of violent revolution."
However, chances of the Congress ratifying the ICCPR are slim according to China experts.
Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher in Hong Kong for Human Rights Watch told the New York Times
that the Chinese government “appears reluctant” to ratify the treaty, despite saying over many years that it was preparing to do so.
“The Chinese government signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1998, but ratification by the legislature would bring greater international scrutiny through a monitoring committee,” Bequelin told the Times
The open letter was meant to be released in a prominent Chinese newspaper on Thursday, according to the China Media Project
at the University of Hong Kong, but censors found out about it and thus had to be leaked in advance.