Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights
8 May 2014
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today considered the second periodic report of China as well as reports of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong and of the Special Administrative Region of Macao on how the country is implementing the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Wu Hailong, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in his opening statement, outlined China’s progress in economic, social and cultural rights since the last report. Guaranteeing the right to subsistence and to development to its 1.3 billion people was China’s priority. From 2003 to 2012 the Chinese economy grew on average by 10 per cent a year and China was the first county to reach the poverty reduction Millennium Development Goal. Major achievements included nine years of free and compulsory education for all the population and a national medical insurance system. Although China had the second largest economy in the world, by United Nations standards there were still more than 100 million people living in poverty, and disparities in development between urban and rural areas. China aimed by the middle of the century to become a modern socialist country enjoying prosperity, democracy, civilization and harmony.
Lau Kong-Wah, Under-Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, said public healthcare services and infrastructure were being expanded in order to address the needs of changing demographics and an ageing population, and there had been a large increase in the amount of public housing and other social benefits. Free education for all children had been extended to 12 years of age, and the public had free access to libraries, cultural centres, museums, art galleries and neighbourhood cultural facilities.
Chan Hin Chi, Deputy Director, Law Reform and International Law Bureau, Macao Special Administrative Region, briefly outlined legislative reforms and policy enforcement, and said considerable results were achieved. A new law helped guarantee the rights of migrant workers. A complete basic social protection system, the provision of medical allowances, 15 years of free education and an increase in public housing were other new measures.
During the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts commended the State party for its impressive delegation and expressed admiration for China’s achievements in the period under review, particularly in lifting so many people out of poverty, providing nearly universal primary education and improving healthcare facilities. The interactive dialogue covered a large number of areas, including disparities across the country in economic development, as well as corruption, employment rights, protection of human rights defenders and anti-discrimination measures, especially for persons with disabilities. The rights of migrant workers, the situation of ethnic minorities and freedom of religion or belief were also among issues raised.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Wu thanked the Committee and said the Covenant left ample policy space for implementation in countries with different levels of development. There was no universally applicable model of development, but China hoped it had shown the world that in the pursuit and governance of modernization a country could follow its own road.
Nicolaas Schrijver, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, appreciated China’s open attitude, and expressed hope that China’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was in reach. He regretted that the Committee had received too many reports of restrictions on human rights defenders, particularly human rights lawyers, to perform their functions, and thanked members of civil society, especially from China, for their contributions.
Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for their very helpful cooperation in conducting the very constructive meeting, and thanked representatives of civil society and non-governmental organizations for their work and presence here today.
The delegation of China included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Secretariat of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, State Administration for Religious Affairs, State Ethnic Affairs Commission, Supreme People’s Court, Ministry of Culture, National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council, United Front Work Department, State Council Information Office, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, National Health and Family Planning Commission, Department of International Organizations and Conferences, Department of Treaty and Law and the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The delegation also included representatives of the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, Labour and Welfare Bureau, Labour Department, Education Bureau and the Department of Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Representatives of the Law Reform and International Law Bureau, the Office of the Secretary for Administration and Justice, Office of the Secretary for Security, Social Welfare Bureau, Labour Affairs Bureau, Education and Youth Affairs Bureau and the Law Reform and International Law Bureau of the Macao Special Administrative Region were also among the delegation.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Friday, 9 May, to commence its review of the second periodic report of the Czech Republic (E/C.12/CZE/2).
The Committee is reviewing the second periodic report of China (E/C.12/CHN/2), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (E/C.12/CHN-HKG/3) and Macao Special Administrative Region (E/C.12/CHN-MAC/2).
Presentation of the Reports
Opening Statement by the Head of the Delegation and Representative of China
WU HAILONG, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva, introduced the delegation which included representatives of the central Government and the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions. He noted the participation of nearly 20 non-governmental organizations and academic institutions consulted during the process of drafting the reports, which was very important to China. Progress made in economic, social and cultural rights since the last report was outlined. There had been improvements to the legal framework, and the phrase ‘the State respects and protects human rights’ was inserted into the Constitution – a milestone in China’s endeavour to protect human rights. Two National Human Rights Action Plans had been launched, in 2009 and in 2012. Guaranteeing the right to subsistence and the right to development to its 1.3 billion people was China’s priority. From 2003 to 2012 the Chinese economy grew on average by 10 per cent a year, a positive trend maintained in 2013 with a growth rate of 7.7 per cent. The disposable income of city dwellers and the net income of rural residents increased by seven and 9.3 per cent respectively. China was the first county to reach the poverty reduction Millennium Development Goal.
A nine-year compulsory education programme was now in place, which covered the entire population. Since 2006 all students covered by the compulsory education programme were absolved of tuition fees and other charges in rural and urban areas in a drive to benefit some 150 million students. Over the past decade, food production rose continuously. A law on food safety, and establishment of the Food Safety Committee led to more stringent regulation. The implementation of an urban affordable housing project met the housing needs of over 36 million households. The next step was granting urban residency to the 100 million rural people who had moved to cities, renovating shanty towns and so-called ‘urban villages’ and bringing urbanization to 100 million people in central and western regions. China currently had a working population of over 760 million. A law on Employment Promotion was adopted in 2007 which included a system of employment assistance. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008, China invested four trillion RMB in projects of which 65 per cent were devoted to maintaining and improving standards of living. Coverage of the basic pension scheme was expanding steadily, and efforts were being made to revamp the social security system in rural areas.
As part of a mounting effort to address climate change by reducing emissions and conserving energy the Chinese Government had begun to comprehensively tackle air pollution in cities, resulting in a fall in emissions since 2010. Stronger punishments were being applied for pollution, and the quality of drinking water was improving. A national medical insurance system was now in place covering all urban and rural residents. When the H1N1 influenza broke out in 2009, China became the first country to register and produce a vaccine. Control and medical treatment of H7N9 avian influenza was also in place. The Government had set a goal to establish a public cultural service which covered all sectors of society, which was expanding at a rate of 82 per cent per year, and between 2003 and 2011 received investment of 58 billion RMB.
All Chinese citizens were equal before the law and equally enjoyed the rights enshrined in the Covenant. There were laws in place that explicitly prohibited discrimination based on gender, age, disability or any other grounds. Gender equality and women’s development were strongly promoted; the average life expectancy of women reached 77.37 years in 2010 and women made up 46 per cent of the working population. The right to education for persons with disabilities was guaranteed, as were measures to facilitate their employment and lift them out of poverty. By 2013 71.9 per cent of children with disabilities were enrolled in school. A national development programme was in place to ensure a decent life for every elderly person. China was a unified multi-ethnic country with a strong system of regional ethnic autonomy. Local ethnic groups were represented at regional and national authority level. Many preferential treatments were given to ethnic minority regions, including on fiscal policy, taxation and school enrolment.
China was actively engaged in international cooperation in the field of human rights, maintaining close relations with United Nations organizations, and providing economic and technical assistances to over 120 developing counties to help them achieve the right to development. China was party to 26 international human rights instruments and implemented its treaty obligations in all seriousness. There was always room for improvement when it came to human rights, and while China had the second largest economy in the world, its average per capita Gross Domestic Product ranked only around eightieth. Development remained unbalanced between urban and rural areas and among different regions, and economic and social development was hamstrung by bottlenecks in energy, resources and environment. By United Nations standards, China still had more than 100 million people living in poverty. China aimed to double its Gross Domestic Product and average per capital income of urban and rural residents by 2020, and by the middle of the century China would become a modern socialist country enjoying prosperity, democracy, civilization and harmony, thus realizing the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, he concluded.
Opening Statement by the Representative of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
LAU KONG-WAH, Under-Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, said Hong Kong Special Administrative Region had one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Public healthcare services and infrastructure were being expanded in order to address the needs of changing demographics and an ageing population. The annual value of the Health Care Voucher for the elderly was to be doubled to HK$2,000. There was a large increase in the amount of public housing. The Statutory Minimum Wage came into force in 2011 and a poverty line was set last year. A Low Income Working Family Allowance was planned for 2014, to benefit an estimated 200,000 low-income families.
Educational reform included an extension of free education to children aged up to 12 years of age, and a new academic structure. The Chinese language education of ethnic minorities was fully supported, which included the provision of the ‘Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework’ and other resources. Opportunities for broad participation in culture and arts were provided, as well as the development of people’s potential for artistic talent. The development of the West Kowloon Cultural District was forging ahead. The public had free access to libraries, cultural centres, museums, art galleries and neighbourhood cultural facilities. More educational resources were being diverted to central and western areas.
Opening Statement by the Representative of the Macao Special Administrative Region
CHAN HIN CHI, Deputy Director, Law Reform and International Law Bureau, Macao Special Administrative Region, said since the Committee’s last review, the Macao Special Administrative Region had been committed to implementing the Committee’s recommendations, including on legislation and policy enforcement, and had achieved considerable results. The Law for the Employment of Non-Resident Workers further guaranteed labourers’ rights. Measures to improve people’s welfare included the establishment of a complete basic social protection system, the provision of medical allowances, 15 years of free education and subsidies to encourage students to continue their education, and the construction of public housing. The Committee’s recommendations on human rights education and the publicity of awareness of human rights protection to the public, civil servants and law enforcers had also been applied.
Introduction and Questions from the Country Rapporteur
NICOLAAS SCHRIJVER, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, welcomed the delegation and expressed gratitude that so many Government departments and agencies were represented, which signified that the rights contained in the Covenant were being taken seriously in a wide variety of China’s policies. He also thanked civil society organizations for their very valuable input to the Committee’s work. Mr. Schrijver commended the State party for the extensive documentation it had provided, and said the Committee was happy to learn a lot about the country, with its ancient civilization from which they all drew considerable inspiration.
Mr. Schrijver expressed his admiration for China’s achievements in the period under review, particularly in lifting many people out of poverty, providing nearly universal primary education, and improving healthcare facilities. China had made a most impressive contribution to achieving by 2015 the Millennium Development Goals and bringing many of their specific targets within reach. Major policy reform decisions taken in 2013 were noted with appreciation, for example those on abolishing ‘re-education through labour’ and on loosening the ‘one-child policy’ by allowing couples to have two children if one of the parents was an only child.
However, the Committee did have some issues for concern, the Country Rapporteur said. It was concerned about disparities in the country and its economic development, for example, disparities between rural and urban areas, between east China and the western part, as well as the regions that were inhabited by the numerous minorities living in China. Disparities between rapid economic development and the full and equal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights was also a concern, as was the dichotomy between economic, social and cultural rights, and civil and political rights, whereas it was now firmly established that all human rights were universal, indivisible and interdependent.
The Country Rapporteur asked the delegation how it viewed the relationship between the rights in the Covenant and some civil rights, such as the right to life, the right to associate in a trade union, and the right to a cultural identity that included freedom of religion. He also asked if China planned to turn its signature of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into ratification.
Efforts to establish a national human rights institution were welcomed, but it still fell short of compliance with the Paris Principles. He asked what was being done in that regard, also in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region where the Equal Opportunities Commission had a limited mandate, and the Macao Special Administrative Region, where there was no national human rights institution at all.
The Committee realized the immense size of China’s judiciary, with more than 200,000 judges, the Supreme People’s Court at the centre, 32 higher courts at the provincial level, 409 intermediate people’s courts at the city level and more than 3,000 basic people’s courts at the country and district level. The Committee appreciated judicial reforms such as the national judicial exam and ethical codes of conduct, but asked how the training of judges would be improved, and whether human rights education would be added to the curricula for judges and prosecutors.
The Country Rapporteur said corruption was a problem, and even in the judiciary patterns of corruption denigrated the justice system. He thanked the delegation for the information it had provided on how it was combating corruption, which was so harmful to the public interest, and asked for its assessment of the successes as well as obstacles to the effective implementation of the anti-corruption policy.
China had an enormous labour force of approximately 800 million people who had achieved admirable industrial production. As the Government announced in its twelfth five-year Social and Economic Development Plan, it would now like to focus on social and human development, rather than only on economic growth. Could more freedom for workers be part of that agenda? The Committee asked the State party to better respect and protect the rights of human rights defenders, since their activities were often repressed; could the delegation please comment?
The rights of ethnic minorities needed to be better protected, he said. Unemployment among members of ethnic minorities remained high; their access to social services and social security was often limited as they tended to live in rural areas, not cities. What measures were being taken to deal with these issues?
The Country Rapporteur finally raised the Committee’s concerns about the fate of migrant workers. In China and the Special Administrative Regions, migrant workers everywhere had poor status in terms of labour rights. They experienced huge problems in getting a residence permit. They were often excluded from the social welfare system, and their children had only limited access to schools and healthcare systems. What was being done to rectify their situation?
Questions from Committee Members
The delegation, which an Expert described as ‘powerful’, was welcomed. The Expert commented that as the second-largest economy in the world – and since the largest economy, the United States, was not a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - China therefore set a model and had a leadership role in its implementation of the Covenant. How had private economy growth impacted upon human rights?
Another Expert welcomed the significant and impressive delegation and said China was an admirable country, a great and ancient civilization with a long history and a vast population of 1.3 billion, one of the world’s largest. It was also admired for its efforts in terms of growth and development. There were, however, still disparities and the fight against poverty remained. Were there plans to make the Covenant directly invokable before courts in China? Did China plan to ratify the Optional Protocol?
China’s international cooperation in the sphere of human rights was raised. China gave aid to more than 120 developing countries in segments including agriculture, education and culture. Furthermore, China had cancelled or reduced the debts of many countries, including the least-developed, with a view to improving their prospects for economic and social development. What results had been achieved in that sphere? Regarding the 2006 Beijing Summit and the Sino-African cooperation forum, the Expert said the Chinese were now getting very involved in Africa in terms of development assistance; what was China’s long-term strategy and interests in Africa? For example, was it seeking raw materials for China’s growth, energy, or a bid to compete with western countries in Africa? Did Chinese aid ever affect the economic, social and cultural rights of people living in the countries it supported? China’s extra-territorial obligations were raised by another Expert, who asked if there was a human rights impact assessment in China’s official development assistance.
A previous concluding observation by the Committee had asked the State party to widely disseminate the concluding observations among the people, in particular the judiciary, legislature and non-governmental organizations. In what way had China and Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao done that?
Consultations with non-governmental organizations were welcomed, but the 20 non-governmental organizations consulted was a miniscule amount given the size of the country. Participation of non-governmental organizations in the United Nations was guaranteed in the United Nations Charter, and China’s constructive engagement with civil society was a barometer of China’s openness.
An Expert expressed disappointment that in China’s National Human Rights Action Plan, only two pages were devoted to gender equality and the rights of women. Women were said to hold half the sky – did they really in China? The Expert asked whether statistics and data collected were gender-disaggregated. How was China seeking to promote more women into leadership roles?
The Chinese civilization had left its imprint everywhere in the world. It was a “nation even more ancient than history itself”, the Expert quoted the worlds of Charles de Gaulle. It had suffered colonization, extreme exploitation and more. It had a huge economy but in some senses was still a developing country. China had achieved such growth because it had been able to exercise its right to development – which was key and essential to the obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The delegation of almost 40 people was the largest the Committee had seen, but not in terms of the population of China which made up some one fifth of the world’s population. It was very important not to forget the sheer size of China’s population, he said.
China was taking measures to reduce unemployment, and recently completed three years under its First National Plan on Employment Promotion. In hard figures, what had been the result of that national plan? In 2012 a new rural and urban pension insurance scheme was launched, it was the final missing detail in a countrywide system of full pension insurance coverage, the Expert commented. She also asked about disparities in the Hukou social security system.
China ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, which was a commendable step. In 2008 the State Council for Employment of Persons with Disabilities implemented a quota on the obligatory hiring of persons with disabilities. How successful was the quota throughout the country, and what was the actual rate of hiring of persons with disabilities? In 2009 the number of urban people with disabilities who were unemployed reached 4.4 million, while in rural areas it was 17.5 million people.
Response by the Delegation to Questions about China
Regarding the possibility of China acceding to the Optional Protocol regarding individual complaints, a delegate replied that the primary responsibility for implementing the Covenant laws lay with the Government and if a citizen had a complaint he should first turn to the Government. Any violations of a citizen’s economic, social and cultural rights would be dealt with by China’s legal system which fully met the requirements of the Covenant.
On the economic development of minority communities, a delegate said there was indeed a gap between the two due to historical reasons. The difficulties were mainly between cities and rural areas, and indeed regions. Many preferential measures had been adopted, such as the decision by the central Government to strengthen economic development in ethnic minority regions, bring economic prosperity to the regions and especially target small minority groups. Each of the provinces and five autonomous regions had their own plans, as well as an initiative to ‘go west’; these plans were currently being implemented. The eastern provinces were to spend three to five per cent of their total income on supporting the western provinces, as well as other funding sources.
Concerning ethnic groups, a delegate affirmed that all ethnic minorities were equal members of the Chinese nation, and their rights and interests were protected by the State which prohibited any discrimination or repression of ethnic minorities. Many policies had been adopted to implement that principle. For example, in employment much had been done to ensure that ethnic minorities had equal rights, while when appointing senior officials preference was given to candidates from ethnic minorities. Extra support was given to students from minorities when they sat exams. Thanks to efforts of people in Tibet and Xinjiang most people living in those autonomous regions had a good standard of living, with improved education and public health.
Turning to questions on so-called discrimination on grounds of religion among ethnic minorities in China, a delegate answered that China was a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. The Government had always affirmed freedom of religion or belief. The religion, belief, customs and habits of ethnic minorities had always been respected by the State. In China, all religions were equal. Believers and non-believers lived peacefully together with relationships of mutual respect. For example, the local religious festivals in some regions were always respected.
Persons with disabilities were widely protected and supported by the Chinese Government. It was made clear in the Constitution that all citizens in China were equal. The law on the protection of persons with disabilities was amended in 2008, and directly referenced the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. All citizens and provinces were asked to follow the more than 60 laws and regulations adopted to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Ministry for Social Security and the Ministry for Education carried out systematic inspections around the country to check for cases of discrimination. If cases were found, they would be followed-up.
A quota had been set on the employment of persons with disabilities. Before 2020 the State party officials at the provincial level must include at least one person with a disability. In recruiting civil servants, if all other factors were equal, preferential treatment must be given to persons with disabilities. Workers must receive equal pay for work of equal value, by law, although there were gaps in practice. Organizations that failed to meet the quota targets were fined.
It was true that there was no comprehensive law against discrimination, and therefore there was no legal definition of discrimination, a delegate said. On reform of the Hukou social security system, such as payments being based on your birthplace, any difficulties or inequalities had now been eradicated, a delegate confirmed. By the end of December 2013 there were altogether 20 million beneficiaries in cities, and in the rural areas 53 million beneficiaries. A new interim measure was implemented on 1 May 2014 to account for difficulties and disparities in the Hukou social security system.
Response from the Delegation to Questions about the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
A delegate from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region spoke about regulations to protect human rights in the region, especially new measures to protect equal opportunities between men and women. He also mentioned a new ruling which protected the right to privacy with regard to private data. The Government’s performance in promoting human rights was open to scrutiny through its regular reports to the United Nations, he noted. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region authorities regularly consulted with other stakeholders including civil society, academia and the media, and regularly reported on its work. Answering a comment about the Paris Principles, the delegate emphasized that human rights in Hong Kong were fully protected by law with safeguards fully enshrined. The Government saw that the existing mechanisms to protect human rights worked well and there was no need to establish another function which may duplicate the existing mechanism, which largely conformed with the Paris Principles in any case.
Migrant workers had equal access to State systems including avenues of legal complaint and were entitled to legal aid. Abuse of migrant workers was not tolerated.
On social security payments for the most at-need groups, a delegate said that persons with disabilities received free medical treatment and extra supplementary social security payments. A family allowance payment was given to low-income families, while there were efforts to also tackle inter-generational poverty. Migrant families were also protected, and there were a number of trust funds to support their needs, regardless of their resident status in Hong Kong.
China had ratified the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and had provided asylum for almost 300,000 Indo-Chinese refugees since 1988. Non-Refoulement claimants were prohibited from taking up any employment in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and had no constitutional right to work, although individual situations were considered on a case-by-case basis, a delegate said.
On migrant workers, a delegate noted that foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region had to leave Hong Kong within two weeks of their employment contract ending, in order to prevent them from job-hopping or staying illegally in Hong Kong, with some exceptions.
People from other parts of China, such as the mainland, had to get a special permit to settle in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, such as for family reunion. Those people with special circumstances, such as mothers wanting to live with their children, had their cases treated in a positive manner by the mainland authorities.
Questions from the Experts
The Committee had received documented evidence of forced evictions that took place without prior warning, without compensation and without legal recourse, an Expert said. Local authorities complied with developers to deprive local home-owners of their property, the Committee had also been informed. Victims of forced evictions sometimes suffered violence, threats and intimidation. Had any investigations into illegal forced evictions and demolitions taken place? Had any officials been prosecuted for such cases? Was there any statistical data on the number of forced evictions on an annual basis? Would China consider adopting national guidelines for forced evictions based on international standards, and indeed the guidelines set out in the Committee’s General Comment Number 7, on forced evictions. Another Expert mentioned a banner held at an appeal in New York which read ‘We Shanghai residents strongly appeal to the United Nations following our forced eviction. Please help return our property to us’.
Were prior consultations carried out prior to development programmes, particularly on ancestral lands, which affected the lands and rights of ethnic minorities. Did China take into account the existence of ethnic minorities when assessing a project and did they recognize their individual and collective rights, and help them maintain their ethnic identity?
Housing in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was a big area of concern, some 200,000 people were said to live in inadequate housing, including cubicles, sub-divided flats and industrial buildings. There was a shortage of public housing, and in fact the waiting period for a four person family was on average six years, and over 10 years for a single person. Even for elderly persons there was a point system and a waiting list for public housing. There was no longer any rent control, so the rents had surged upwards in view of the lack of supply of public housing. What corrective measures were being taken in the field of housing?
China was currently considering domestic violence legislation, an Expert noted. She commented that she attended two international conferences in Beijing, one in June 2011 and one in April 2014 on domestic violence legislation, attended by many international experts. Was there a timeframe for the adoption of that draft legislation? The law should contain the ‘Three Ps’ – punishment of the perpetrator, protection for the victims, and prevention, she added.
Macao Special Administrative Region was also considering draft domestic violence legislation which was not appropriate, as it was not considered a social crime but rather a ‘mini’ public crime. There should be more consideration for the human rights of victims, not the perpetrators.
In Hong Kong Special Administrative Region there was a serious problem of the separation of mothers and children, affecting thousands of children, as there was no legislation that ensured the right of a mother to live with her children.
There was a problem with pre natal sex selection because of boy preference, as well as forced abortion, even in the third trimester. Also, the adoption of Chinese babies by overseas parents was a problem, mostly 100 per cent girls. Were there any measures to manage these problems?
An Expert asked if there was a cross-cutting, comprehensive programme to combat poverty. The national health insurance system to cover all Chinese citizens was commendable, but did it also cover migrant workers and ethnic minorities?
Water pollution was a problem that impacted many rights, including people’s right to health. The Government was taking welcome measures to control industrial pollution discharged into rivers and lakes, the Expert noted. There was an ongoing plan to divert river waters from southern China to northern China, he also said. Had an environmental impact assessment been conducted to study what the impact of that diversion plan would be on the quality of water, and health in affected areas?
On food security, an Expert asked about food price adjustment mechanisms in which the Government appeared to give full freedom to market mechanisms when setting food prices.
In China there was reported to be an entire city which had been made to house low and medium income families. Many cities around the world had areas devoted to low income housing, even here in Geneva, but it was unheard of to have a whole city. Could the delegation give more information on this?
China had moved away from a policy of neglect of people living with HIV/AIDS to vitally moving to believe it was a key problem that had to be addressed through interventions, which was commendable. However, very often people who carried that disease faced stigma and discrimination. The anti-stigma Government campaigns and healthcare access for persons with HIV were well noted, but what was also being done to change stereotypes and tackle the discrimination?
An Expert asked if there was any legislation on territorial integrity and autonomy, did it cover cultural and territorial self-determination? The protection of intellectual property rights was raised, particularly in universities.
On the Tibet Autonomous Region, an Expert raised forcible evictions of Tibetans from their ancestral lands, and their right to land, and their right to enjoy their cultural heritage and cultural life. Could the delegation comment on the development of minorities-friendly strategies which also fully respected the rights of nomadic people?
Response from the Delegation to Questions on Macao Special Administrative Region
Regarding the dissemination of the Covenant and the Committee’s concluding observations, a delegate said that was done hand in hand with general awareness-raising of human rights and human rights education. Law enforcement officials, prosecutors, legislature and judiciary had all received printed copies of the concluding observations and the Covenant. They were also posted onto the Government website, and publicized through school text books and competitions.
On the establishment of a national human rights institution, the delegate responded that Macao Special Administrative Region had always acted independently in safe-guarding human rights, and received complaints in that field at a dedicated office. It also had an office to handle private data, an issue open to independent investigation.
Migrant workers had rights and were entitled to compensation. Between 2010 and 2013 there were approximately 6,000 labour complaints received, mostly regarding wages, overtime pay and rest days. Most cases were solved in a satisfactory manner. Employers could be fined for not abiding by the regulations on employing foreign labourers. There were also minimum standards for living conditions (not less than 3.5 metres) and hygiene standards (one shower for every eight square metres).
There was an increasing amount of migrant workers coming to Macao Special Administrative Region – almost 80,000 from the mainland who accounted for 60 per cent of the total migrant workers. Therefore the authorities had signed a joint protocol for pensions and other provisions for them, including support upon arrival to help them integrate into local communities.
Response from the Delegation to Questions on China
China had adopted serious measures to prevent and punish corruption. The delegate set out five aspects: first, to better punish corruption through a new system established in 2013; second, to delegate Government powers in fighting corruption; third, to let the power be exercised ‘under sunshine’, making all judicial procedures and decisions transparent; fourth, to discourage corruption through the media, especially using the very widespread social media networks such as Weibo, used by over 600 million people – all Government institutions had their own Weibo accounts which could easily be accessed by young people who could then report on corruption cases; fifth and finally, to prosecute perpetrators. Some 29,000 cases of corruption went to trial in 2013, and 31,000 criminals were convicted, the delegate said.
In response to the question asking whether China would establish a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles, a delegate replied that many Government organs share the principles of national human rights institutions according to the Paris Principles. A Human Rights Action Plan has been launched, while a Human Rights Council, at which many commissions and ministries were represented, was in charge of coordination. China’s position on the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was firm. The National People’s Congress had finished its amendments to relevant laws in order to reduce the conflict between Chinese domestic law and the Covenant in order to pave the way for its ratification.
The term ‘ODA’ (Overseas Development Aid) was not used in China, which followed the principles of mutual respect, equal treatment, mutual benefit, diversified forms and emphasis on practical results. External aid was given within the framework of south-south cooperation, for developing countries. Over the last decade some 170 billion RMB had been given. Furthermore, China cancelled debts for another 50 countries adding up to 30 billion RMB. For 95 per cent of all imports from poor countries, China applied a zero tariff. For 173 developing countries and 13 regional organizations, some 60,000 personnel were trained on autonomous development.
Concerning Chinese corporate social responsibility overseas, especially with regard to the protection of employees and the local environment when using natural resources, a delegate replied that China was a developing country and had principles in its south-south cooperation, listed above. Most overseas projects were infrastructure and agriculture projects with a local base that would benefit the local economy. Chinese companies were asked to strictly protect the local laws, employ local people and take out social security and insurance for the workers. China was signing bilateral agreements on technical and labour cooperation. China’s Prime Minister was currently visiting Africa, in fact, and China would from 2013 to 2015 provide US$20 billion in loans to Africa, so far US$10 billion in loans had been distributed. China was also helping through public diplomacy, peace-building and cooperation.
By law, nobody should discriminate against a person with HIV/AIDS.
On discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, a delegate said gay marriage was a very controversial issue in Chinese society that the Government was following very closely.
For women to ‘hold half of the sky’ was not only a goal for China but for the entire world. To achieve that goal China incorporated gender equality into national policy, an aim first raised by the Chinese Leaders at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing. Gender aggregated statistics had been the norm since 2004. Three surveys had been carried out to assess the situation of women. Many provinces were increasingly interested in assessing the impact of policies on gender equality.
The Chinese Government aimed by 2015 to achieve a 100 per cent delivery rate of all the safety criteria. The chemical, fireworks and other industries needed to achieve a certain degree of production safety by 2015. Transport, production, mining and other industries must meet their safety targets as well as reducing incident numbers. There was a hotline to disclose or report incidents (number 12350).
Employment was the basis for the livelihood of Chinese people. In 2007 the Promotion of Employment Act sought to reduce unemployment, widen people’s opportunities for training and maintain stable employment levels. The delegate spoke about the reforms to social security payments which especially aimed to support family life and elderly people.
In 2013 there were 260 million rural workers in China, a delegate said, of whom nine million were trained that year. In 2013 the monthly salary was 209 RMB. The Government inspected 500 working units and paid for 1.5 million rural workers.
Some Committee members felt the 20 non-governmental organizations consulted about the drafting of the report was a low number, a delegate commented, saying that in China social bodies were those voluntarily formed by citizens to achieve a common goal. They were legally registered, and according to regulations the Government protected those social groups in carrying out their work in accordance with the law. By September 2013 there were 540,000 legally registered social groups in China.
Follow-Up Questions from the Experts
What was being done about the gender pay gap? What about the expense of childcare for working parents and the lack of State options?
Response from Delegation
Recent proposals to more directly tax the income of the wealthiest members of society and therefore redistribute wealth were outlined, which included further reducing the wage gap, which had already dropped to around three per cent. China guaranteed the principle of equal pay for equal work of equal value, a delegate said in response to a question about the gender pay gap. Speaking about trade unions and the right to strike, a delegate spoke of the ‘non-right to strike’ and said in China there were better ways to resolve employment disputes.
Measures to establish a combination of public and non-public kindergartens was in place to increase coverage for childcare. Special measures were also being taken to improve pre-school education in rural areas, especially for orphans, children with special educational needs and children from impoverished families. The Education Bureau had embedded human rights education in the curriculum and teaching programmes. The Committee on the Promotion of Civil Education was very active at organizing events and publicity programmes.
There had been extreme cases of forced evictions, when developers had violated laws and regulations, a delegate said. Now that the laws and stipulations had been strengthened and a series of compensation and relief measures had been introduced, it was hoped that cases would decrease. Evicted persons could seek legal remedies through the courts.
The Supreme People’s Court had heard many cases of domestic violence now and serious cases of domestic violence were regarded as grave public crimes, especially if the victim was seriously harmed. During a trial a judge could order corresponding, coercive measures against the defendant. The emphasis was on upholding the rights of the victim. Awareness-raising was also being carried out.
Forced abortion was prohibited by the Family Planning Law, which also stipulated that sex-selection practices or abortions were also illegal. After many years of efforts, the trend of the high ratio of baby boys was showing a decline. The Law on Adoption allowed foreigners to adopt children. In 2013 some 2,000 cases of foreign adoptions took place, and China was party to the Hague Convention on Adoption, in which the best interests of the adopted child was taken into consideration.
A delegate spoke about pilot initiatives to divert rivers from south to north in order to increase the provision of clean water, which had shown an increase in water capacity. A comprehensive assessment took place which showed that ecological problems could be avoided if certain measures were taken, such as the replenishment of water in lakes and the protection of underground water reservoirs.
Three surveys had been carried out to identify the different ethnic minority groups in order to better respect their culture, way of life and traditions. China had a system of ethnic regional autonomy, a basic political situation that allowed extensive rights in political, economic and cultural fields for local Governments. For example, the regions could choose their own economic development projects, and decide how their schools were run and choose their own curriculum and enrolment systems. Joint prosperity of all ethnic groups was encouraged, and remarkable progress had been achieved. Among 55 ethnic minorities, 53 had their own languages and the other two had written scripture. Some 10,000 schools used ethnic minority languages in teaching, and traditional medicine was available. In Tibet for example, Tibetan books made up more than 70 per cent of total publications.
WU HAILONG, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for its impartial and objective attitude to China’s implementation of the Covenant and positive assessment of its achievements. Prevention of domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, protection of minority groups and the environment were among key issues raised that China would study, in light of its specific conditions. The Covenant left ample policy space for implementation in countries with different levels of development. There was no universally applicable model of development, but China hoped it had shown the world that in the pursuit and governance of modernization a country could follow its own road. The rights of 1.3 billion Chinese people were effectively protected, and China was willing to steadily move towards the Chinese socialist dream and explore new ways of promoting human rights.
NICOLAAS SCHRIJVER, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, said he appreciated China’s open attitude, and noted the tenth anniversary of the amendment of China’s Constitution in order to incorporate human rights and its two successive National Action Plans for Human Rights. The Committee appreciated hearing that China sought, step by step, to close the gap between its domestic legislation and practice, and civil and political rights, which gave hope that ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was in reach. Mr. Schrijver regretted that the Committee had received too many reports of restrictions on human rights defenders, particularly human rights lawyers, to perform their functions. He thanked members of civil society, especially those from China, for their contributions to the Committee’s work. Mr. Schrijver said the Chinese proverb ‘the journey of 1,000 miles starts with one single step’ was not necessarily applicable as China was already well into its journey, but nevertheless China ‘should not be afraid of going slowly but be afraid of standing still’.
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson, associated with the Country Rapporteur’s evaluation of the dialogue, which had been very constructive. He thanked the delegation for their very helpful cooperation in conducting the meeting and efforts to provide responses. He also thanked representatives of civil society and non-governmental organizations for their work and presence here today.
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