Why the Chinese government don’t give a damn about human rights…

30 Jul

Amnesty International (AI) recently released two revealing reports on the perception and the actual state of human rights violations in China.

The first report included two surveys, one conducted by AI Australia and consumer group, CHOICE on the buying habits of Australians. The other survey was a comparison study by external research company, Jones Donald Strategy Partners, whom conducted a similar questionnaire on the national population.

The studies discovered that while the majority of the public views China as having a bad reputation in labour conditions (91% of CHOICE and 76% of national respondents) and for human rights such as freedom of expression, right to a fair trial, freedom from cruel and degrading treatment (93% of CHOICE and 75% of national respondents), many still do not place ‘ethical reasons’ as a priority in their purchases (Amnesty International Australia 2008, p. 13, 14, 17 ).

The report cited these possible reasons why the public’s perception of China’s human rights violations are rarely taken into consideration:

… the consistent increase in interest rates over the past two years and talk of an impending recession – all making price a very important factor in decision making.

Quality is very important to our subscribers and the general public. Most respondents are unwilling to forgo quality for ethical concerns.[my emphasis] (Amnesty International Australia 2008, p. 17)

The other report, ‘China: The Olympics countdown – broken promises’ released by the AI headquarters office bluntly states that, ‘… the crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers has intensified because Beijing is hosting the Olympics. The authorities have stepped up repression of dissident voices in their efforts to present an image of “stability” and “harmony” to the outside world. This has resulted in the detention and imprisonment of those who wish to draw attention to the other side of the picture, which includes human rights violations perpetrated in preparation for the Games’ (Amnesty International 2008, p. 2).

This study, which focused on four key areas – the death penalty; administrative and arbitrary detention; repression of activists; and internet censorship, painted a dismal picture of the human rights situation in China.

On the death penalty, while the Chinese government has assured the public that executions have reduced due to  a recent Supreme People’s Court review, it continues to refuse publishing death penalty statistics. In addition, it has introduced lethal injections, and claim the method as ‘more humane’.

Concurrently, the imprisonment and harassment of activists remain unabated. The report wrote, ‘Far from acting as a catalyst for reform, the authorities have used Beijing’s hosting of the Olympics as a pretext for extending the use of punitive administrative detention, notably ”Re- education through Labour” (RTL) and “Enforced Drug Rehabilitation” (EDR). The police have specifically targeted petitioners and rights activists in their efforts to “clean up” Beijing ahead of the Games’ ( Amnesty International 2008, p. 7 ).

On media and internet freedom, foreign journalists report ‘being obstructed or hampered from conducting interviews’ while remaining out of bounds in Tibet ( Amnesty International 2008, p. 13).

As this blog has argued in previous postings, the Chinese government has and will remain unmoved by critical human rights reports. Contrary to what human rights organisations and many optimists have argued (that allowing China to host the Olympics will pressurise the authoritarian state to improve its human rights records), the reverse has occurred.

The reasons for backtracking its human rights commitments are obvious:

1. World leaders including those from Western European and liberal democracies continue to pander to China. For example, French President, Sarkozy, has said he will not boycott the opening ceremony.

2.The International Olympic Committee has refused to condemn China for its human rights violations. As the AI report concludes, ‘The IOC’s diplomatic, non-public approach on human rights cases and issues does not appear to have yielded significant results'( Amnesty International 2008, p. 4). Reporters without Borders is more critical of IOC, arguing that the body should ‘show some courage and should do everything possible to ensure that Olympism’s values are not freely flouted by the Chinese organisers’ ( Reporters Without Borders 2008).

3.The world continues to continue condone the Chinese government despite being painfully aware that the latter is a gross violater of human rights. The report on Australian consumers purchasing behaviour merely illuminates this fact. While this blog is not calling for a product boycott; or even concur that the AI Australia report is by no means conclusive and representative of global consumer behaviour, it does indicate that consumers who are aware of these human rights violations have largely remained passive.

– Works Cited –

Amnesty International Australia 2008, Consumer Awareness Final Report, accessed 29 July 2008.

Amnesty International 2008, China: The Olympics countdown – broken promises, AI Index: ASA 17/089/2008, accessed 29 July 2008.

Reporters Without Borders 2008, Repression continues in China, one month before Olympic Games, accessed 29 July 2008.


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