China petition urges human rights reforms

More than 120 influential scholars, lawyers and journalists have signed a petition urging the National People’s Congress to ratify an international human rights treaty as part of the leadership’s pledge to promote constitutional rights and the rule of law.

The petition, addressed to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress ahead of its annual session next week, calls for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to be ratified “as soon as possible” to promote and implement the principles of human rights and constitutionalism in the country.

“No doubt, there is still a substantial gap between the situation in China with respect to human rights and rule of law and the requirements of international human rights treaties… but now is the best time for our country to ratify the treaty,” the open letter said.

The ICCPR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although China signed the ICESCR in 1997 and ratified it in 2001, it has not similarly ratified the ICCPR, which was signed in 1998.

There have been repeated calls from intellectuals over the past 15 years urging the government to ratify the human rights treaty – the last petition was in early 2008, just months ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games, with over 10,000 signatories.

The covenant commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and the right to due process and a fair trial. As of March 2012, the Covenant had 74 signatories and 167 parties.

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