China: Human Rights


Lord Alton of Liverpool rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of human rights abuses in China, and whether they intend to re-assess the funding of agencies involved in population control measures in China.

The noble Lord said: I ask this Unstarred Question against the backdrop of massive violations and abuses of human rights in China. I am extremely grateful to those noble Lords from all sides of the House who have indicated their willingness to contribute to the debate.

Amnesty International has pointed out that the Chinese,

    “in their latest ‘strike hard campaign’, have managed to execute more people in three months than the rest of the world put together for the last three years”.

Over 1,700 people have been executed since April. Amnesty states that:

    “few would have received a fair trial”.

Political rights, freedom of expression and association, the abuse of religious liberties and intolerable interference in people’s personal and family lives all characterise life in China today. Yet we appear remarkably silent and complacent. From the decision to stage the Olympic Games in Beijing to our silence on Tibet, from our continued aid programme and deepening of business ties, we have demonstrated a calculated indifference to widespread suffering and misery in that country.

Today, I wish briefly to concentrate on two specific instances of human rights abuses. On Monday last, during the Committee stage of the International Development Bill, I supported an amendment from the Opposition Front Bench seeking to end British funding for agencies involved in the one-child policy in China. During my speech, reported at column 1327 of the Official Report, I documented examples of appalling abuses of the human rights of women and their families. On 16th October, the House will return to these issues at Report stage. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will use the intervening period to reflect on the evidence that I laid before your Lordships’ House.

In particular, I hope that the Government will reassess their argument that because there is a non-coercive population policy being pursued in 32 counties, this mitigates the use of coercion in the other 2,500 counties in China, or in its 335 prefectures, 666 cities and 717 other urban districts.

This barbaric policy of forced abortion, the compulsory sterilisation of women and the compulsory fitting of inter-uterine devices, accompanied by infanticide and terror, has been pursued now for some 20 years. British taxpayers’ money has been poured into the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the United Nations Population Fund, which in turn pour money into two agencies of the Chinese communist state, the SFPC (State Family Planning Commission) and the CFPA (Chinese Family Planning Association).

The CFPA is a full member of IPPF and has been headed since its inception by Chinese government officials. It has a declared aim to “implement government population policies”. Quin Zinzhong, one of the Ministers who has overseen that policy, said:

    “The size of the family is far too important to be left to the couple. Births are a matter of state planning”.

In one province the slogan,

    “It is better to have more graves than one more child”,

has been used.Over the past 20 years, apologists for this policy have argued that it needs time to work; that the West will ultimately be able to influence a more enlightened approach; and that this funding is a legitimate use of our aid programme. But I invite your Lordships to measure those arguments against the following four reference points and to ask what horrors have to occur before we, like the American Administration, reassess this policy.

First, Catherine Baber of Amnesty International, says:

    “We are especially worried about people being put into detention to put pressure on pregnant relatives to undergo forced abortions. As far as we are concerned, that amounts to torture”.

Secondly, the US State Department confirmed in a recent report that women had been incarcerated in “re-education centres” and “forced to submit to abortions”. Thirdly, the BBC reported that refugees arriving in Australia had cited coercive family planning as one of their reasons for leaving China. And, fourthly, Tibetan dissidents, who were quoted in the Tibet Vigil on 24th August last year, said:

    “What is the UK doing helping to fund birth control policies in Tibet, an occupied country? . . . China’s inhumane policies of enforced sterilisation and abortion amount to genocide”.

In an intervention in the debate on Monday, I cited the Government’s own document, China: Population Issues, where the department admits that the involvement of the UNFPA and the IPPF has,

    “not led the Chinese to moderate their policies or to stop abuses”.

The former executive director of the UNFPA, Nafis Sadiq, said:

    “China has every reason to feel proud and pleased with its remarkable achievements in family planning policy . . . Now China could offer its experiences and special experts to other countries”.

A few weeks ago, Amnesty International highlighted the cases of a baby boy, born above the permitted quota level, who was kicked to death by family planning officials. That case was reported in the Sunday Times. Amnesty International also reported the case of a man who was tortured to death because he would not reveal the whereabouts of his pregnant wife. I find it extraordinary that no-one disputes that these outrages occur daily, and yet we persist in issuing weak words of disapproval and providing funding which finds its way to the perpetrators of these deeds.China’s repression of its citizens also manifests itself through religious persecution. The 1989 events culminating in the Tiananmen Square massacre precipitated an increased repression of all activity which the Chinese state perceived as a threat, including religious practice. The tone was set by “Document No. 6” issued by the Communist Party Central Committee in February 1991, which called for the elimination of all “illegal” religious groups. Within the last year, 130 evangelical Christians were detained in Henan province. They were all members of the Fangcheng Church, one of many Protestant house churches. They were sent to re-education centres.

Amnesty International say that 24 Roman Catholics, including a priest and 20 nuns, were detained in Fujian province, where police found them holding church services in a mushroom processing factory. Father Liu Shaozhang was so badly beaten by police that he vomited blood, and the whereabouts of many of the other detainees remains unknown.

Many of your Lordships will have seen the report which appeared recently in The Times. It concerned a 79 year-old Catholic bishop who had been re-arrested. He had already spent 30 years in Chinese prisons. The report from Oliver August said:

    “Bishop Shi has long been a target of police harassment. A police spokesman said: ‘We have been hunting for him since 1996’ . . . ordained in 1982 after spending 30 years in prison. He was back in a labour camp between 1990 and 1993”.

And he has subsequently been re-arrested.When I wrote to the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in London, I received a reply dated 19th June from Zhao Jun, the charge d’affaires, who said:

    “in China, religious believers have not been subjected to suppression or prosecution in whatever form. No religious believers have been punished for their religious belief or normal religious activities. They will be dealt with only when they violate the law. The policy of freedom of religious belief remains unchanged”.

But whether it is in regard to the Falun Gong, Buddhist monks and priests, Christian evangelicals or Catholics, all the evidence that has been accumulated by both the human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign, and by Amnesty International proves otherwise.I have four specific suggestions. First, that there should be sustained international pressure on the Chinese Government to permit religious freedom in China and to release all those detained for their peaceful religious beliefs and practices. Secondly, that the system of official religious organisations and the requirement that one must join them in order to worship should be abolished. These organisations are often used as instruments of control and repression by the state. Thirdly, that the restrictions placed on the publishing and distribution of the Bible in China should be lifted. Fourthly, the state’s prohibition against Sunday schools and the giving of Christian teaching and baptism to young people under the age of 18 should also be lifted.

China systematically uses re-education centres and imprisonment for religious believers and political reformers. These include political dissidents, such as members of the banned China Democratic Party, and anti-corruption and environmental campaigners. Suppression of the Internet, arrests, detentions, unfair trials and executions, the imprisonment of hundreds of Buddhist monks, Christians and members of Falun Gong, and the barbaric treatment of women and children through the one-child policy, must surely cause each one of us to question how we can persist with a policy of business, sport and aid as usual.