The theme for Geneva Forum 2021 is “Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Violations in China.” China is up for its third cycle of review of its compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which is expected to take place in early 2022. The PRC is a party to the Covenant, and therefore it is legally bound to ensure that all individuals within its jurisdiction enjoy the economic, social, and cultural rights protected therein. However, China’s continuing push towards Sinicization (the process of bringing non- Chinese people under the influence of Chinese culture), fast economic development, and 2 “socialist modernization” has resulted in the denial of many of the rights protected under the framework of CESCR. The forum will therefore report and deliberate on the non-compliance of the Covenant by China and suggest recommendations.
Detailed Narration of the Central Theme:
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966 and came into force on 3 January 1976. In 1997 the People’s Republic of China signed the Covenant and ratified the same in 2001. In accordance with the Covenant, China has already undergone two reviews by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and is currently due for its third periodic review under the Convention.
China submitted its State Party report on compliance status of the Covenant on 19 December 2019 almost 7 months after its due date. The Committee in its 68th Pre-Sessional Working Group held in March 2021 sent a list of issues to China to respond upon.
Several civil societies have submitted reports on how China has failed to comply with the provisions of the Covenant. China has also failed in complying with the majority of the recommendations of the Committee rendered in its concluding observations on the second periodic review of China.
Tibetans do not have the freedom to pursue their economic, social or cultural development and are deprived of their means of subsistence. Tibetan nomads are forcefully relocated, forceful agricultural land acquisition from farmers is rampant and also there are rampant illegal community land grabs by the triad of collusion between Chinese authorities, Judiciary and Police.1The Chinese government has continued to place severe restrictions on religious practices of Tibetans including destruction of monasteries, banning of Tibetan students from participating in religious activities, prohibition on possessing pictures of their religious leader, celebration of festivals and important occasions etc. The Chinese government has time and again adopted legislations, rules and regulations with vague terminologies and overbroad definitions leading to abuse of laws. Tibetans are charged as “separatists” and sentenced to imprisonment of varying terms for airing legitimate grievances.2The Ethnic Unity law was adopted by the 11th People’s Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region with the objective of establishing a “model area for national unity and progress.” It came into effect from 1 May 2020. Similar law is already in force in Xinjiang. The aim of the law is to enforce a Han-centric identity and way of life which threatens the unique and distinct Tibetan way of life, its culture and language.
In Tibet, the alleged “development and progress” pursued by the PRC is a facade. When examining the data provided by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics in the China National Human Development Report 2019,3 it is apparent that the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)4 ranks the lowest in the PRC for life expectancy, education, and human development. Life expectancy in the TAR is 68.17 years, whereas the national average is 75 years5 . As of 2016, the mean years of schooling for students in the TAR is also the lowest, at 5.09 while the national average is 9.13.6 Attempts by Tibetans to protest the encroachment of their human rights have been met with heavy-handed repression, pushing many Tibetans to resort to desperate acts of self-immolation.6 In response, the government has intensified its control and monitoring of the Tibetan people, compounding violations of their human rights.
Similarly, the Government of the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”) has perpetrated and continues to perpetrate a widespread and systematic program of human rights abuses in the East Turkistan (hereafter “Uyghur Region”), targeting the Uyghur and other Turkic and/or Muslim peoples on the basis of their ethnicity and religion. An important component of this program is the extensive use of forced labour for agriculture and industry in or around internment camps, prisons, and workplaces across the Uyghur Region and China. China maintains this program through an extensive digital and personal surveillance apparatus. The exact number of Uyghurs and other Turkic and/or Muslim peoples arbitrarily detained and/or forced to work for cotton and garment companies is unknown, given lack of transparency and strict controls on information. A credibly documented estimate of 1.8 million people was published in December 2019. Forced labour is widespread not only in textile and apparel production, but also in cotton picking.
Similarly in Hong Kong there are concerns of top-down ideological pressures that have profoundly impacted academic life in Hong Kong. Pressures include broad restrictions on access to information, surveillance of academic activity, and detentions, prosecutions, and other coercive measures against higher education personnel. Also concerns regarding Hong-Kong government’s lack of measures to support or improve inadequate housing conditions for people currently living in substandard housing in Hong Kong; failure by the Hong Kong government to take legislative steps to protect the human rights of LGBTQ people despite widespread public support for these measures; lack of adequate labour policies regarding childcare services, age and language discrimination, working hours and rest break, adequate wage increases, protection for precarious employment, rights of migrant workers and civil servants, protection of trade unions, and social security are very legitimate.
Even in Macau, there are issues in public housing; discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity; recognition of transgender persons; gender marker; migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation; absence of local law protecting the rights to unionise and strike; and, domestic violence.