February 11, 2009 / 3:34 PM / 10 years ago

China rebuffs West on ending death penalty, rights

GENEVA (Reuters) - China rejected calls from Western and some Latin American countries on Wednesday to end the death penalty and to agree to enforce a wide range of human rights including allowing independent labor unions.

A soldier unfurls the Chinese national flag as it is raised in front of the giant portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, October 15, 2007. REUTERS/David Gray

But it agreed to suggestions by Cuba that it ensure firm action against “self-styled human rights defenders working against the Chinese state and people” and from Iran to reinforce censorship of the Internet to limit “defamation of religion.”

China’s stance on these and related issues emerged in a final report from the United Nations Human Rights Council on discussions there on Monday of Beijing’s rights record, and on its later reaction to questions which were raised.

During the three-hour session, Chinese officials had already dismissed many recommendations on rights reform and greater rights for ethnic minorities such as Tibetans and Uighurs as political propaganda unworthy of discussion.

The debate came in the 2-1/2-year-old Council’s Universal Periodic Review procedure that all U.N. members are expected to undergo every four years.

The officials told the 47-nation Council and other countries present that Chinese policies were based on the rule of law and denied that child labor and torture of dissenters in secret “black jails” existed or were problems it should tackle.

But the detailed Council report spelt out exactly which suggestions for action that Beijing totally rejected — listing them only by numbers and declaring that they “did not enjoy the support of China.”


On the death penalty, these included recommendations that it be ended, or at least that more information be published on how it is applied and on the number of executions, that came not only from Western states but also Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

In Monday’s discussions, China said that although it was sparing in applying capital punishment it could not abolish it “in current circumstances” — on which it did not elaborate — and was firmly supported by Egypt.

Throughout the debate on its overall record, a wide range of developing countries hailed China as a beacon of progress and an example for them to follow, and many of them fiercely criticized Western delegations for “politicizing” the discussion.

Pakistan, whose remarks were spelled out in the report, declared that China “does not require external advice on securing the rights of its people” and said countries which raised Tibet were doing so because of a “political agenda.”

Sri Lanka, under fire from U.N. rights investigators over treatment of its Tamil minority and tactics in fighting the Tamil Tiger rebels, said China had ensured political rights and rejected “malignant criticism” by former colonial powers.

Some Western countries — Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy and Switzerland — had all their suggestions rejected. These included more freedom for lawyers and religious groups and more rights for minorities.

Mexico, which focused on rights defenders, extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances as well as the death penalty, also had all its proposals turned down.

However, the report said China would “examine” proposals from Australia — which Beijing officials condemned strongly during the debate over remarks on Tibet — and Canada for reducing the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.

Editing by Jonathan Lynn

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