Wednesday, 27 February 2008

China’s deadly world record under attack

With five months to go until the Beijing Olympic Games, anti-death penalty campaigners are ramping up the pressure on the Chinese government - and ultimately the Olympic movement - to deliver on promises of human rights reform.

The World Coalition against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and the Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) today issued an open letter to the upcoming National People's Congress, urging it to ensure it "takes concrete steps towards the abolition of the death penalty in China".

The World Coalition is also encouraging people to sign a petition calling for an end to the secrecy surrounding China's use of the death penalty, and an immediate moratorium on executions.

Activists point to estimates of up to 8,000 executions in China last year, with thousands more sentenced to death by a substantially flawed justice system. The death penalty is applied to 68 offences in China, including non-violent economic and drug-related crimes.

The hidden world record
The open letter welcomes last year's restoration of Supreme Court review of all death sentences in China, and notes official claims there has been a corresponding significant drop in the number of executions.

"However, full national statistics on the application of the death penalty remain classified as a state secret in China," it says.

"It will only be possible for Chinese scholars and other independent observers to assess the impact of this reform if China publishes these statistics in full."

The letter urges the National People's Congress to amend state secrets laws at this session to allow the release of death penalty related information. It says this is needed both to allow debate about the death penalty and to provide "procedural openness" in individual capital cases.

The secrecy surrounding individual cases, and problems for lawyers and families gaining access to suspects, is "of particular concern given the widespread use of torture or ill-treatment by police in China to obtain 'confessions' from suspects".

"As has been proven in China on several occasions in the past, hasty and unfair trials are likely to lead to miscarriages of justice, with innocent persons being executed for crimes they have not committed."

Flawed trials before death
Amnesty International reports in its campaign brochure, Legacy of the Beijing Olympics: Issues and facts, that China's justice system cannot guarantee a fair trial before a person is given the ultimate irreversible punishment of execution.

"No one who is sentenced to death in China receives a fair trial in accordance with international human rights standards," the brochure says.

"Failings include: lack of prompt access to lawyers, lack of presumption of innocence, political interference in the judiciary and failure to exclude evidence extracted under torture."

It says a number of cases recently reported in the Chinese press, including the case of Nie Shubin, "reveal that innocent people have been put to death in China due to such shortcomings in the system".

Amnesty International welcomes the restoration of Supreme Court review, but says "there is still concern that it would not expose serious human rights violations, such as torture to extract confessions, if evidence of such abuses had not been introduced during an earlier trial".

Race for money or dignity?
Human rights organisations have also continued their campaign for the government of China and the International Olympic Committee to show how they will meet their promises that awarding the games to Beijing will contribute to improvements in human rights.

In its brochure Legacy of the Beijing Olympics: China’s Choice, Amnesty International points out that in effect the Olympic movement claims to be a human rights movement.

"Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." (Olympic Charter, Fundamental Principles of Olympism, paragraph 1)

Amnesty International says if "grave human rights violations are not being sufficiently addressed as part of the preparations for the Games, the International Olympic Committee is compelled to take action".

The brochure says Chinese authorities declared during their campaign to secure the games that "the human rights situation in China would improve if Beijing were chosen to host the games".

It quotes Wang Wei, Secretary General of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee, as saying: "We are confident that the Games coming to China not only promotes our economy but also enhances all social conditions, including education, health and human rights."

Similarly, Mayor of Beijing Liu Qi, said in 2001: "[The Olympic Games] will help promote all economic and social projects and will also benefit the further development of our human rights cause."

Chinese authorities now have "a unique opportunity to honour the pledges they made to advance human rights if awarded host nation of the 2008 Summer Olympics".

"China’s international human rights commitments, as well as the spirit of Olympism which assert that “the practice of sport is a human right”, and avow respect for “universal fundamental ethical principles”, suggest that respect for human rights lies at the heart of the Olympic movement," the brochure says.

The World Coalition against the Death Penalty said it "would like to believe that the reforms to which the Chinese Government is pledged are not just a pre-Olympics PR operation".

"A country like China, which steadfastly likes to think that it is on the road to modernity and says that it is committed to the rule of law, is duty-bound to apply these commitments throughout the country."

One world, different dream
China, which is promoting the games under the slogan of "One World One Dream", is seriously out of step with the worldwide trend towards limiting and abolishing the use of the death penalty.

The country executes more people each year than the rest of the world combined, and was among the minority of countries that voted against a resolution calling for a United Nations moratorium on executions, passed by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2007.

The World Coalition open letter was co-signed by 74 organisations from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas.

The signed petition will be delivered to Chinese authorities before the Olympic Games begin.

Related stories:
AI condemns China's expanded lethal injection -- 5 January, 2008
Party claims economic penalty 'prudent' -- 4 August, 2007
China: Courts claim fewer executions -- 31 July, 2007
China executes drug regulator -- 12 July, 2007
China call for cautious death penalty - again -- 8 April, 2007
China: Judges try to limit death penalty -- 14 November, 2006
China reforms good, but not enough -- 8 November, 2006
China: Supreme Court review from January -- 1 November, 2006
Political questions over China's new appeal judges -- 2 July, 2006
China to retain death penalty, with reforms -- 13 March 2006

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