United Nations' Human Rights Day 2008

Holding China Accountable to International Human Rights Standards

The United Nations' Human Rights Day, observed each year on December 10, commemorates the anniversary of the General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. December 10, 2008, marks the Universal Declaration's 60th anniversary. The Universal Declaration enshrines a core set of rights and freedoms that individuals everywhere enjoy. China voted to adopt the Universal Declaration in 1948, and the current Chinese government has continued to commit itself to upholding human rights through international agreements and its own domestic law. In practice, however, the Chinese government does not guarantee these rights. On the eve of United Nations' Human Rights Day, more than 300 Chinese citizens--including scholars, writers, lawyers, and activists--issued Charter 08, an open statement calling for greater rights and freedoms in China. As this Commission has reported, the Charter's issue coincided with the detention of activists.

This year the international community watched with dismay as Chinese authorities responded with overwhelming force to a wave of public protests that spread across Tibetan areas of China. Amidst the astonishment with which people around the world witnessed the spectacular opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games and China's effective management of the Games, China's leaders failed to fulfill a number of commitments--including commitments to press freedom, media access, the free flow of information, and freedom of assembly. We understand that China today is significantly changed from the China of several decades ago, and that the challenges facing its people and leaders are complex. But, as detailed in this Commission's 2008 Annual Report, the Chinese government's and Communist Party's continuing crackdown on China's ethnic minority citizens, ongoing manipulation of the media, and heightened repression of lawyers and human rights defenders reveal a level of state control over society that is incompatible with the development of the rule of law and the advancement of human rights. The cases of well over a thousand of the many political and religious prisoners languishing in jails and prisons in China today are documented in the Commission's publicly accessible Political Prisoner Database.

The Chinese government and Communist Party continue to equate citizen activism and public protest with "social instability" and "social unrest." China's increasingly active and engaged citizens are its most valuable resource for addressing the myriad public policy problems China faces. Engaging activist citizens, not repressing them, is the key to effective implementation of human rights, and to the ability of the Chinese government to show true commitment to the principles of dignity and justice for all enshrined in the Universal Declaration. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China is committed by mandate to be a permanent spotlight on China's compliance with human rights and development of the rule of law, and calls on China's government to comply with its international and domestic commitments to guarantee the human rights of all its citizens, and of all who enter China's borders.