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Monday, October 5, 1998 Published at 19:53 GMT 20:53 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

China signs key human rights treaty

Pro-democracy campaigner Wang Dan was released by the Chinese

China has signed a major international treaty guaranteeing freedom of speech and protection against arbitrary detention and torture.


[ image: Mr Qin signs the treaty]
Mr Qin signs the treaty
China's UN ambassador Qin Huasun vowed his country would promote and protect human rights after signing the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in New York.

The Chinese Government has said its decision shows it respects international standards on human rights and the rule of law.

But just hours before the ceremony at the UN headquarters, Beijing police hauled a prominent activist in for questioning.

Some human rights monitors remain sceptical China will fully implement the treaty.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said: "Since China is currently in violation of almost every article of the covenant, we hope its decision to sign indicates a change in human rights practices.''


Duncan Hewitt: Dissidents challenge China to back signature with actions
The treaty states that all people have the right of self-determination. It prohibits torture, cruel or degrading punishment and provides for democratic elections and freedom of movement, thought, religion and expression.

The BBC's Beijing Correspondent, Duncan Hewitt, says China's decision has been hailed as a significant step.

The US said the move played a part in its decision to drop an annual motion criticising China's human rights record at the UN.

But some critics say the biggest change it represents is in China's handling of public relations.

Calls for rapid implementation

Many believe the key is in implementation. China has yet to ratify the other international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights which it signed last year.


[ image: Tiananmen Square in 1989: pro-democracy movement crushed]
Tiananmen Square in 1989: pro-democracy movement crushed
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, called on China to "take an extra step and apply the standards enshrined in the two covenants even before ratification."

Mr Qin said Mrs Robinson's recent trip to China had helped both sides understand each other better.

"I would like to reaffirm here the willingness of the Chinese government to further its co-operation with the United Nations in the field of human rights, in an effort to push forward together the development of the international cause of human rights," he added.

Once it ratifies the treaty, China will have to submit reports on how it is complying.

China's constitution has long guaranteed freedoms of association and expression.

But in practice these have been over-ridden by other clauses relating to national security and the leading role of the Communist party.

China may retain reservations

UN officials say the move symbolises an increasing emphasis on the rule of law.


[ image: Mrs Robinson calling for rapid implementation]
Mrs Robinson calling for rapid implementation
Some dissidents also believe it will make it harder for Beijing to reject international human rights criticism as interference in its internal affairs.

But legal experts say China may retain formal reservations on some aspects of the convenant.

Beijing still argues that individual freedoms cannot take precedence over the need to provide food and stability for its huge population.

A foreign ministry spokesman said recently that the detention of dissidents who tried to register a new political party through official channels did not contradict the covenant.

Our correspondent says the right to self-determination guaranteed in the covenant's first article is also unlikley to be tolerated for Taiwan or Tibet.

Dissident pulled in for questioning

The activist detained in Beijing was Qin Yongmin who tried to register his news letter, "China Human Rights Observer" to coincide with the signing of the treaty.

Hong Kong human rights monitors said officials told Mr Qin to give up his plan or he would be punished by law. A few hours later he was taken away by police from his home, and detained for one hour.





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