State Dept. Cites UN Declaration in Explaining US Concerns for Human Rights in China

By Penny Starr | January 30, 2012 | 1:50 AM EST

Newborn babies in a hospital in China, which adopted the “one-child” policy in 1979 after a population boom. (AP Photo)

( – Concerns about human rights in China expressed by an official on Jan. 24 during a briefing with the foreign press “run the gamut” and are in line with the United Nations’ human rights declaration, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said Friday.

“Our specific human rights concerns run the gamut as can be found within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Molly Westrate told in response to a query about remarks made by Jake Sullivan, director of policy planning, at the briefing.

“We are concerned not only with the rights of Tibetans but also human rights in general.”

Sullivan was responding to a question from a reporter with China’s Communist Party-linked People’s Daily, who asked about the “priority of the U.S. policy towards China in 2012.”

Sullivan said China represents “one of the most complex and consequential and important relationships” the U.S. has. He said U.S. officials were anticipating a Feb. 14 visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, when the global economy and international economic system would be on the agenda.

In conclusion, Sullivan said, “We will also be clear along the way that we continue to have concerns about human rights in China and that we believe that, for China’s future, it is in the best interests of all of the people of China for the government to pursue a path of increasing respect for human rights and for political reform.”

Asked by what specific human rights the Obama administration was concerned about in China, Westrate cited the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). also asked how those concerns were reflected by the report on human rights around the globe which the State Department complies each year.

“Our concerns are adequately reflected in the State Department’s annual report on human rights violations in China,” she said. “Our message to the Chinese government on these issues is the same message that we give around the world when we have human rights concerns – that governments are stronger when they protect the human rights of their people and when they allow for peaceful dissent.”

According to the China section of the State Department’s 2010 report, “principal human rights problems” during the year included extrajudicial killings, including executions without due process; discrimination against women, minorities, and persons with disabilities; a coercive birth limitation policy, which in some cases resulted in forced abortion or forced sterilization; and trafficking in persons.

Two specific examples relating to coercive population control measures include:

-- A U.S.-based human rights organization reported that in August, the one-month-old daughter of a mother in Anhui province was detained by local family-planning officials until the woman signed a document consenting to a sterilization procedure.

--  In April, as reported in Chinese and international media, local family-planning officials in Guangdong province initiated an “education campaign” aimed at encouraging nearly 9,559 of the “most serious violators of family-planning policies” to undergo sterilization procedures.

The UDHR was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948. The nationalist government of the “Republic of China” – which then held China’s seat at the U.N. but lost it in 1971 to the communist People’s Republic of China – voted in favor of the treaty.

The declaration includes 30 articles that encompass a wide range of human rights, including “the right to life, liberty and security of person” and the “right to marry and to found a family.” The declaration also said people should not be “subjected to torture,” “subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” or “arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks on his honor and reputation.”

The declaration does not specifically include rights for the unborn. Article three includes a reference to “the right to life” but there has been dispute over whether it should be interpreted as protecting the unborn child from abortion.

(The separate U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which invokes the UDHR, states that “the child … needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”)

The UDHR refers to children only twice – “all children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection” as all other people (article 25); and a reference to the right for parents to choose the kind of education “that shall be given to their children” (article 26).

Countries that abstained from voting for the UDHR in 1948 were the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, South Africa and Saudi Arabia.