The State Department’s annual China human rights reports have noted China’s well-documented abuses of human rights in violation of internationally recognized norms, stemming both from the authorities’ intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for basic freedoms. Abuses reported have included arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, forced confessions, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners as well as severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, and worker rights.
It the same time, China’s economic growth and reform since 1978 has improved dramatically the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese, increased social mobility and expanded the scope of personal freedom. This has meant substantially greater freedom of travel, employment opportunity, educational and cultural pursuits, job and housing choices, and access to information. In recent years, China has also passed new criminal and civil laws that provide additional safeguards to citizens. Village elections have been carried out in approximately 80% of China’s one million villages.
Despite some positive momentum last year and greater signs that China was willing to engage with the U.S. and others on this topic, there has been some serious backsliding in recent months. In 2002, China released a significant number of political and religious prisoners, and agreed to interact with UN experts on torture, arbitrary detention and religion. However, there has been virtually no movement on these promises. China still has a long way to do in instituting the kind of fundamental systemic change that will protect the rights and liberties of all its citizens.