For those familiar with China’s human rights record, it may come as a surprise that in recent decades the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has signed or ratified the vast majority of all key international human rights treaties. Indeed, the regime proudly cites being a “member of 21 international conventions on human rights” on the website of its permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva.
In the face of these legal obligations, the campaign against Falun Gong raises serious questions about whether the CCP has acceded to these instruments in good faith or whether it has done so mostly in order to deflect international criticism with little intent to effect real positive change.
Among the major instruments the CCP has ratified are the 1948 Genocide Convention, the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the 1984 Convention against Torture, and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. In ratifying these treaties, the CCP has voluntarily undertaken to protect the rights enshrined in them.
Since 1999, however, the regime has systematically breached a broad range of the international provisions in its efforts to wipe out Falun Gong. This includes violating rights that immediately come to mind such as freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and the right to be free from torture.
But the persecution has also extended to the day-to-day realm of economic and social rights, areas that the CCP has traditionally cited as its primary spheres of accomplishment and legitimacy. That is, as adherents have been fired from their jobs, expelled from school, and denied the right to practice a discipline known to improve physical well-being, their rights to work, to education, and to health have also been violated.
Besides ratifications, the CCP has also signed other human rights instruments, most notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1998. Under international law, signing a treaty does not entail a commitment to implement all its provisions, but it does oblige the signing state not to take action that would violate the document’s object and purpose.
Despite this pledge and CCP claims to be reforming its legal system towards ratification of the covenant, Falun Gong adherents continue to be systematically denied most of the rights listed in the ICCPR. These include freedom of belief (Article 18), the right to life (Article 6), and due process rights (Articles 9, 14, 15, and 16), just to name a few.
Beyond promising to protect the rights enshrined in the above treaties, the CCP has also made international commitments to investigating violations and punishing those found responsible. This requirement is a particular feature of the Genocide Convention and the Convention against Torture.
But while China’s criminal code does allow for prosecutions over such crimes, one notorious feature of the campaign against the Falun Gong has been an atmosphere of total impunity. Officials who are the most effective at “transforming” practitioners through torture are not only spared punishment, but are often promoted and even given awards at state-sponsored ceremonies. Luo Gan, one of the campaign’s main architects, was for example promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee.
A complete list of international treaties the CCP has acceded to and the ways in which these have been mocked in the persecution of Falun Gong is available here.