China aims to abolish death penalty

China-Aust dialogueChina is aiming to abolish the death penalty, a senior Chinese judge told a group of Australian NGOs at a China-Australia human rights dialogue meeting in Australia in July. While the aim appears to be long-term, closer at hand is a brand new law for the first time criminalising domestic violence in the country of 1.3 billion people.
PHOTO: Chinese Ambassador to Australia Chen Yuming, CLA President Dr Kristine Klugman, and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Cui Tiankai. Photo: Howard Moffatt, AUSPIC

China aims to abolish death penalty

Report on Australia-China dialogue, held Monday 9 July 2012

By Dr Kristine Klugman*

China plans to abolish the death penalty, and it will move before the end of 2012 to introduce a new law against domestic violence (DV).

No such law currently exists in relation to DV, so a new law will bring a new focus on this “hidden” crime.

For decades the Chinese Government has been the pariah of the world community over the death penalty (DP)…though the large numbers being killed has reportedly dropped substantially over the past few years, from about 10,000 in 2005 to possibly about 2000 in 2010 (China does not release official figures).

The two surprisingly frank statements about DV and the DP came during a formal dialogue between high-ranking delegates of a Chinese delegation and members of Australian non-government organisations.

Beforehand, the Chinese delegation was extremely cautious about this first-of-a-type meeting with NGOs. Normally, such dialogues are confined to Ministers and/or Foreign Affairs staffers of the two countries. But the exchange went so well that the meeting was extended to well beyond its planned one hour.

Representatives of seven Australian NGOs met 35 members of a high-ranking Chinese delegation. Through a translator the leader, Vice Foreign Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Mr Cui Tiankai, remarked that the numbers reflected the two countries’ populations (though of course they didn’t, as China has 1.3 billion people and Australia just over 22 million).  The meeting was arranged at short notice, which limited the number of NGO representatives able to attend. Those who did attend are listed at the end of this article, along with the key Chinese dignitaries.

In a formal environment, seated at the huge oval table in the main conference room of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, complete with nameplates and microphones, the remark lightened the atmosphere.  Photography and opening remarks swallowed about half the allocated meeting time.  However, when the hour was reached, the chairman said he would welcome continuing until all the NGO representatives had a chance to ask a question, so the meeting continued 40 minutes past the allocated time.

The questions and answers were slowed by the need for translation.  However, the demeanor by all participants was courteous and attentive.  Critical questions were framed in diplomatic language. At the conclusion, it was evident that the Chinese delegation was reassured and satisfied with the encounter.

The NGO group had arranged the order of questions, one to each person.

Human rights education in China: China has programs in primary, secondary schools and universities, incorporated into curriculums, to raise awareness.  Mock UN debates are conducted in secondary schools.

Economic rights, to reduce the inequality between rich and poor: Brought the response that though living standards have risen, there is a wealth gap, but the poor are not as poor as they were.  The trade unions have rights to assemble and organise with the aim of improving workers’ conditions.

Death penalty: whether China was considering a further reduction in the number of crimes which were subject to the death penalty, such as tax fraud, property offences and theft, and whether China would consider releasing death penalty statistics.

One of the Chinese delegates, a senior legal figure, replied that the court was cautious in applying the death penalty. In a murder case, where the accused agrees to compensation to the victim’s family, the death penalty is not applied. The death penalty would continue to be necessary because of the public attitude which expected it. The aim was to abolish the death penalty, he said, but it would take time. Statistics on the number of people put to death are submitted to the National Peoples Congress (but are not made public).

The fate of refugees from North Korea: This question brought the response that they were not refugees but illegal entrants for economic reasons whose presence was contrary to the administration of order in China. China is entitled to deal with illegal entrants, who have no rights to shelter. China communicates with UNHCR re these people, who must be handled in accordance with maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula.  

Criminal Procedures Law amendments: Do these make police more accountable? Australia is concerned about secret detention for six months, are there measures to reduce misuse (eg against political activists?):
China welcomes changes of the Criminal Procedures Law.   There was no ‘secret detention’ – the families were informed unless it was against national security or related to terrorism.  There is no such concept as ‘dissidents’: everyone has rights and obligations under the constitution.  The term ‘dissidents’ has been fabricated by the (western) media.

Domestic violence in China:  Since 1949, the All China Women’s Federation has worked to protect women and promote equality.  There is no national law against domestic violence but such a law is planned for 2012.

Value of human rights dialogue: 20 countries engage in dialogues with China.  The key to success is that they are held in a spirit of equality and that the two sides are honest and realistic.  The dialogues should increase understanding, provide mutual learning and enrich bilateral relations.
The chairman thought that the China-Australia dialogue could constitute a role model a successful example for other countries.

Amnesty International: Ms Tamara Lions 
Australian Bahá’í Community: Dr Natalie Mobini
Australian Council for Human Rights Education: Mr Chander Khera
Australian Council for International Development/ Australian Forum of Human Rights Organisations: Ms Tessa Scrine
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights: Mr Nicholas Duff
Civil Liberties Australia: Dr Kristine Klugman OAM
National Council of Women Australia: Ms Margaret Findlater-Smith

Chinese Delegation:
Mr Cui Tiankai, Vice Foreign Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
His Excellency Mr Chen Yuming, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China
Ms Qi Xiaoxia, Special Representative for Human Rights Affairs and Deputy Director General, MFA

*  Dr Kristine Klugman is President of Civil Liberties Australia

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