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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights hears from stakeholders on situation in Lithuania and China

Committee on Economic, Social
  and Cultural Rights

5 May 2014

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning discussed with non-governmental organization representatives the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Lithuania and in China, including Macao Special Administrative Region and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, whose reports will be considered by the Committee this week.  The reports of Armenia and the Czech Republic will also be reviewed this week, but there were no representatives of non-governmental organizations from those countries present.
 
On Lithuania, the issues of financing for drug dependence treatments and HIV testing for populations at risk were discussed. “I Can Live” Coalition took the floor.
 
On China, non-governmental organization representatives highlighted the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, child labour, forced evictions, rights of trade unions to organize strikes, health care provision for detainees, corruption, and environmental protection.  Particular attention was given to the treatment of Tibetans and Uighurs.  Issues related to Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions were also discussed.
 
The following stakeholders and non-governmental organizations took floor: Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission, Civil and Political Rights Monitor, Justice Policy Institute, Smiley Gongyi, Human Rights Documentation Centre, Right Defenders Support Group, Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, Tibet Monitor, Tibet Coalition, Human Rights in China, Labour Action China, China Disabled Persons’ Federation, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, China People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament, International Campaign for Tibet, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, World Uighur Congress, International Service for Human Rights, Society for Community Organizations, Rainbow Action Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Law Faculty, Human Rights Monitor, Unison, Hong Kong Human Rights Commission, and the Anti-domestic Violence Coalition of Macau.
 
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 May, when it will begin its consideration of the second periodic report of Lithuania (E/C.12/LTU/2).
 
Statement by Non-Governmental Organization on Lithuania
 
“I Can Live” Coalition said that sustainable financing for evidence-based dependence treatment and harm reduction services for people who used drugs was lacking. HIV had reached epidemic levels among intravenous drug users and the prison population.  With regard to HIV testing for populations at risk, it was stressed that Lithuania was the only European Union country where State-funded HIV testing for such groups was not available.
 
Question from Committee Expert on Lithuania
 
An Expert asked what exactly the proposal would be for funding HIV testing. “I Can Live” Coalition estimated that the cost of funding those services was relatively low, especially compared to the costs of the HIV epidemic.
 

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations on China
 
Civil and Political Rights Monitor said that the Government did not permit trade unions to get organized and had administrative power over trade unions.  The right of workers to strike was not respected, and workers who were going on strike were regularly punished.  Workers’ non-governmental organizations were not legally protected.  The Government ought to cancel policies restricting workers’ rights to strike and to assembly.
 
Justice Policy Institute said that citizens who did not possess local hukou like migrant workers children did not have the right to a comprehensive education, and were excluded from health care.  They could not get identity cards and travel freely.  Families had to pay high fees before a hukou could be issued.  The Chinese Government should abolish the discriminatory hukou system and allow for a broad access to public services.
 
Smiley Gongyi said that the authorities continued to pressure urban residents to leave their homes and colluded with developers in the violent destruction of housing. Forced evictions had contributed to problems of homelessness.  The regulations allowed for local government to use forced evictions without public consultations.  Those who resisted would have their electricity and water cut off.   In several instances, people resisting demolition of their homes had been killed.  Officials often took reprisals against victims, and courts frequently sided with the Government.  China should provide investigations and hold criminally accountable those responsible for violent evictions. 
 
Human Rights Documentation Centre expressed concern over the deprivation of health care rights of detainees in China.  There had been cases of detainees whose health conditions had rapidly deteriorated and led to their death because the authorities had not reacted properly and in a timely manner.  The reality was that many ill individuals were held in detention and denied proper medical care.  The Chinese Government should allow for independent investigations into such cases.
 
Right Defenders Support Group said that the Chinese Government had made little progress when it came to child labour, and often approved of schools sending children to factories.  Female victims of domestic violence who fought back were often prosecuted.  China had not adopted a comprehensive law on domestic violence, which was handled under criminal law only if it caused severe injuries or death.  There was no adequate protection of minors against corporal punishment.
 
Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch said that the Chinese Government had done little to improve public education possibilities for rural children.  Urban schools received more funding than rural schools, which led to different levels of education between different areas, and many rural schools had been forced to close, and education consequently became more expensive.  Parents of migrant children had to pay high fees; their schools were poorly equipped and at danger of being shut down by the authorities.  All children should have equal access to public education.
 
Tibet Monitor said that the Government had pushed Han Chinese to move to Tibetan areas in order to boost their economy, but that had not improved Tibetans’ economic conditions.  Tibetans were not able to take the civil service exam in their language, while their religious institutions had been under increased assault.  Any attempts to protest were met with violent crackdowns.  China ought to protect the cultural rights of all ethnic minorities and ensure freedom of religious expression.  Independent investigations should be held into the use of violence to suppress Tibetans and hold responsible officials criminally accountable.
 
Tibet Coalition stated that more than 100 Tibetans had self-immolated since 2009.  The Chinese Government showed disdain for nomadic lifestyle and was forcibly moving people without prior consent of those people.  The Government thus deprived them of adequate standards of living.  Consent ought to be necessary for any future resettlement process. Targeting Tibetan artists and those promoting education in the Tibetan language had been wide spread.  The quality of life of monks and nuns had significantly decreased.
 
Human Rights in China said that the wide-spread corruption significantly hindered access to education, affordable healthcare and employment opportunities.  Recent highly publicized trials and convictions of citizens calling for increased transparency of official assets raised serious concerns about reprisals against civil society actors who advanced and participated in anti-corruption measures, the majority of whom were members of the New Citizens Movement.  Such politicized prosecutions and crackdowns on moderate voices sent a dangerous message that even constructive actions would not be tolerated. 
 
Labour Action China had documented a few cases of chemical poisoning in China, in particular that by benzene.  Occupational diseases were the hard evidence that the rights to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work were being compromised.   Although some employers provided so-called “protective equipment”, they were merely paper masks and disposable gloves.  Countless workers had failed in the first hurdle of getting a treatment, not to mention pursuing a claim for compensation.
 
China Disabled Persons’ Federation said that China had revised its law on the protection of persons with disabilities and made regulations on the creation of an accessible environment.  Significant progress had been made in creating conditions and protection for disabled persons, such as poverty alleviation.  Accessibility to public services for disabled persons, and the gap between urban and rural areas, still remained important problems.  The Government should increase basic public services and intensify the construction of a data system on that matter.
 
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights addressed the extra-territorial obligations of China under the Covenant.  China had obligations to take measures that entities domiciled in China do not nullify or impair the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights of persons outside its territory.  The Committee was urged to affirm China’s extra-territorial obligations to respect and to protect Covenant rights by regulating the activities of business entities domiciled in its territory, including state-owned entities. Its official development assistance also ought to be respectful of the rights provided for under the Covenant.
 
China People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament was focused on the protection of ethnic minorities’ rights, an area in which the Government had made significant progress.  In China, each ethnic group enjoyed equal rights in economy, culture and religion.  At the same time, there were preferential policies for accelerating development and promoting the protection of ethnic and religious minorities.  There had been significant economic development of regions in which minorities lived over recent years.  Tibetan culture and customs were protected and promoted.
 
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization expressed its concern over the discrimination of inner Mongolians, Uighurs and Tibetans, including the lack of basic services, such as equal access to employment and education.  Ethnic minorities were left with limited opportunities, which led to perpetual poverty.  Chinese authorities had also forcefully evicted millions of those minorities from their historic lands without due compensation.  The ancient lifestyle of Tibetan nomads was being intentionally demolished now.  China should ensure that any economic development be carried out with the prior consent of people affected by it.
 
International Campaign for Tibet was deeply concerned over the deterioration of economic, social and cultural rights in Tibet in recent years.  China had de facto curtailed Tibetans’ right to self-determination.  Nomads of Tibet were affected by relocation as it was threatening their livelihood and traditions.  Local people had no right to challenge the Government’s decisions in independent courts.  The quality of education offered little benefit to Tibetan children, as they taught in Mandarin, which was not spoken by most Tibetans.  While China stated that it supported freedom of religion, the Government had closely monitored Tibetan religious practices.  An independent judiciary safeguarding economic, social and cultural rights was of paramount importance.
 
World Uighur Congress was extremely concerned over the violation of Uighur rights by China.  Uighurs were excluded from senior positions in administrative bodies and were often employed under terrible conditions.  More than 90 per cent of Uighurs in China lived under the poverty line. The central Government did not provide regions with adequate health care facilities.  Because of nuclear testing in Uighur regions, they were suffering from much higher cancer rates than the population at large.  Tens of thousands of books in the Uighur language had been burnt in recent years.  
 
International Service for Human Rights raised the issue of human rights activist Cao Shunli, who had been arrested on her way to Geneva, sent to prison and denied adequate medical attention.  Consequently, she had died.  The Committee should request the Government to provide more information on that case, and ensure proper medical care to detainees. The Committee should also ask the State party not to harass or imprison those who came to Geneva to speak about the situation of human rights in China.
 
Discussion with Experts
 
Asked what a human rights institution could do and the current Equal Opportunities Commission could not, Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission responded that anything outside of the four legislations was currently beyond their scope, while a human rights institution would have a much broader range of activities.
 
An Expert asked about the situation of women who had children outside of wedlock.
 
Regarding forced evictions, another Expert asked whether there were any legal regulations providing for conditions under which evictions could take place.
 
Was medical care denied to political prisoners only or to all prisoners regardless of their offense?
 
With regard to the one child policy, an Expert said that he understood that the policy had been recently abandoned. 
 
What was being done about forced evictions – was there any criminal prosecution or compensation paid to those evicted?
 
Justice Policy Institute said that almost all Chinese citizens were affected by the hukou system, but 250 million migrant workers were the most affected, who could not enjoy public welfare without having a local hukou
 
Regarding the one child policy, it had been relaxed in recent years, but the policy was still continuing. Those who had extra children still had to pay large fines. 
 
Concerning forced evictions, Human Rights Documentation Centre said that laws and regulations were in place, but were not carried out in practice.  Some victims became homeless and vagrants after being evicted.
 
Chinese Human Rights Defenders explained that deprivation of medical treatment was used mostly for political prisoners and detainees, who were often suffering from torture. 
 
On whether primary level education was free of charge, Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch answered that the State was under obligation to provide free education, but local officials and teachers used various channels to seek payments for examinations.  Local and district governments were responsible for providing primary education.
 
An Expert inquired which languages were used for instruction in Tibet.  Tibet Monitor said that since 2009, schools in Tibetan areas had undergone significant changes.  Classes taught in Chinese had increased, and those in Tibetan had decreased.   Tibet Coalition said that prestigious universities were not providing any education in Tibetan or minority languages. 
 
Another Expert asked for examples of schools sending children to work, and whether it was a new practice.  It was explained that their remuneration was much lower than that 2of adult workers.
 
Statements by Stakeholders and Non-Governmental Organizations on Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
 
Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission said that a human rights commission in Hong Kong should be established as soon as possible.  There was currently no legislation on discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation.  There was also no protection against age discrimination in Hong Kong, which was also perceived as very serious, especially in the area of employment.  Currently, the Equal Opportunities Commission was limited in its authority.  In the area of sexual harassment, the protection offered coverage only in the areas of employment and education, which ought to be expanded.  Education of ethnic minority students remained a problem, as Chinese was quite a difficult language to learn.  The quality of inclusive education was considered inadequate.
Society for Community Organisations said that there was widespread discrimination against new immigrants from Mainland China among the Hong Kong society.  Children from parents of mixed background (Hong Kong and China) were waiting for long time to receive a permit to come and visit Hong Kong or to return to the Mainland China.  That issue particularly affected single-parent families.  The Hong Kong Government was requested to increase the supply of newly built housing, increase the allocation quota for singletons and abolish the point system.
 
Rainbow Action Hong Kong said that discrimination against sexual minorities in Hong Kong was serious and increasing and the Government’s education-only approach was failing.  It was time for Hong Kong to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  The Hong Kong Government was urged to remove the requirement that transgender people undergo sexual organ removal and genital reconstruction surgery as prerequisite for legal recognition of their new gender.
 
Hong Kong University Law Faculty said that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was not treated equally as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The dualist principle in Hong Kong showed that international treaties did not confer rights on individuals unless incorporated in domestic legislation, which was why the Government should be encouraged to introduce Covenant provisions in domestic laws. 
 
Human Rights Monitor said that the Government policy and services were deterring persons with disabilities from community participation and enjoying family care.  Migrant domestic workers’ problems, such as the two-week rule, continued to be an important issue.  Hong Kong was now at the critical moment of democratic reforms, but all signs were that Beijing wanted to prevent political opposition from getting nominated for elections.  The suppression of mass media and press freedom were also factors impeding the implementation of the Covenant.
 
Unison said that there was no guidelines or assistance from the Government on how to integrate children of ethnic minorities in the mainstream education system.  Generations of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong were urging the Government to take immediate, effective steps to eliminate the de facto racial segregation in the public education system, and to ensure the measures related to Chinese language education give ethnic minorities an equal opportunity to learn Chinese in a manner accessible to them.
 
Hong Kong Human Rights Commission said that Hong Kong remained a distinct legal and economic system even while it was still part of the Chinese State.  The Committee should treat Hong Kong differently from Mainland China as its issues were different.  New immigrants were experiencing discrimination; those from the Mainland China should also have their rights respected and protected.  Since the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, the percentage of poor people had significantly increased.
 
Discussion with Experts
 
An Expert asked whether ethnic minorities in Hong Kong had an opportunity to choose education in their own or Mandarin languages.  Unison said that earlier there had been no choice to choose the language of instruction if one came from ethnic minorities, and there was no education in Cantonese.  Even today, there was no promotion of integrated learning.
 
Statement by Non-Governmental Organization on Macao Special Administrative Region
 
Anti-domestic Violence Coalition stated that the Macao authorities were preparing to send to the Legislative Assembly a bill maintaining the present situation in which domestic violence was a mini-public crime, meaning that the victim had to be the one to prosecute the aggressor.  If it became a public crime, the State would take over that responsibility.  The Coalition requested that the Committee exerted its influence on the Macao authorities to formulate a just law that not only protected victims, but also held the aggressors responsible for their behaviour. 
 
Discussion with Experts
 
An Expert asked whether the current rules meant that the victim had to report the aggressor, and whether it was a private or public offence.  Anti-domestic Violence Coalition responded that after a victim reported the assault, her wounds would be verified at the hospital, and the victim would then be asked whether she wanted to prosecute.  In most cases, abused women said no, in which case there would be no follow-up by state institutions, which meant there would be no consequences for perpetrators. 
 
The Chairperson said that the public nature of discussions with the civil sector carried their own value, but the Committee was always ready to consider particular concerns if conditions asked for it.
 
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