UN Envoy Criticizes China's Reluctance in Ratifying Human Rights Treaties

The United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) finished her five-day visit to China on Friday.

In a press briefing in Beijing, the top UN rights envoy rebuffed China’s demand to deal with human rights "in its own way", according to the Associated Press.

"There is a framework of international standards that must be respected. It's not appropriate to say we're doing it in our own way," Commissioner Louise Arbour said on the last day of her trip to China. The UNHCHR aims to urge the Chinese government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

On Wednesday, Tang Jiaxuan, a state counselor and former foreign minister of China, made the following remark on the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Symposium in Beijing: "Every country should choose its own way to promote and protect human rights in line with its national conditions."

Tang also said there was no uniformed standard in regards to national human rights action plans, institutions or education.

Despite this, Arbour’s visit has proven reasonably successful. According to the Associated Press, the Chinese government eventually signed an agreement on Wednesday with the UNCHR to collaborate on reforming China's legal system.

Arbour commented that her visit had shown that China is "seriously" approaching the issue of ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is part of the seven principal international human rights treaties of the UN. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OUNCHR) shows that China has already ratified five treaties by June 2004.

The ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in China will be very significant, especially for improving the religious freedom in the country.

Article 18-1 of the Covenant reads, "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."

The Chinese government is known for its restriction on religious and media freedom.

Arbour pointed out that it was unclear if China would seek exemptions from granting democratic rights such as the freedoms of assembly and expression, even now it is approaching to ratify the Covenant.

"I will urge the government not to (make reservations) on these fundamental rights and freedoms," she said, according to AP..

In addition, Arbour is looking forward for more breakthroughs in the human rights record of China, although she acknowledged that could be a long journey.

"During my discussions with Chinese officials it was often said to me that change had to be gradual," Arbour said. "While I do not disagree, I believe the stage is set for expecting more than modest progress in the coming years."