U.S. and women's rights in China

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Jun 30, 2001
Women's Rights are Human Rights
The Struggle Persists
Arbitrary Detention of Rebiya Kadeer - a women's human rights defender and prisoner of conscience


''Women engaged in the defence of human rights must be protected. Governments have a duty to guarantee the full enjoyment of all rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by women working peacefully in a personal or organisation capacity for the promotion and protection of human rights. Non-governmental organisations, women's organisations and feminist groups have played a catalytic role in the promotion of human rights of women through grass-roots activities, networking and advocacy and need encouragement, support and access to information from Governments in order to carry out these activities.''

Beijing Platform for Action, Strategic Objective I, para. 228.

Rebiya Kadeer is a well-known businesswoman and mother of 10 from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China. In 1995, she was part of China's official delegation to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. A charismatic woman, she drew a lot of attention from amongst the Chinese and international women's delegates at the Conference.

As a former member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference(1) and the most prominent woman among the Uighur ethnic minority in China, Rebiya Kadeer has made important contributions to promote women's rights in the country. Her contributions included the creation in 1997 of the forum - the "Thousands Mothers Movement" - which was potentially the most significant step in China since the UN World Conference on Women took place in 1995 for promoting the rights of and create employment for ethnic minority women. This initiative is particularly significant in a region, the XUAR, which is one of the least developed in China.

In 1997, Rebiya Kadeer was arbitrarily deprived of her right to freedom of movement when the government confiscated her passport. She was subsequently subjected to police harassment resulting in further restrictions of her movement. These actions by the state were apparently aimed at putting pressure on her husband - a former political prisoner who was living abroad - to stop him from making public statements critical of China's treatment of the Uighurs - the majority ethnic group among the predominantly Muslim population in the region. Rebiya Kadeer was thus made a "hostage" and prevented from joining her husband and some of her children abroad. Her business activities also suffered as a result of the persecution to which the authorities subjected her.

On 11 August 1999, she was arrested in Urumqi, the capital of the XUAR, when she was on her way to meet a group of American visitors from the United States Congressional Research Service. She has been detained since then at Liudaowan jail, notorious for its torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. In September 1999 she was eventually charged with "providing secret information to foreigners". The charge is thought to relate to her planned meeting with members of the US Congressional Research Service group. Rebiya Kadeer is not known to have had access to any information which could be legitimately described as constituting a "state secret". Nor is she known to have been involved in any political opposition activities. Rebiya Kadeer is reportedly now suffering from poor health in prison.

One of Rebiya's sons, Ablikim Abdiriyim, and her secretary, Kahriman Abdukirim, were also arrested at the same time as her. They too were reportedly accused of "providing information to foreigners" or "people outside the borders". On 20 November 1999 Ablikim Abdiriyim was assigned to two years of "re-education through labour" (an administrative punishment imposed by a government committee without charge or trial), and Kahriman Abdukirim to three years of "re-education through labour". Both men are reported to have been ill-treated in detention.

On 1 November 1999, Chinese officials visited Rebiya Kadeer's home and reportedly demanded a large amount of money from her relatives, apparently to pay for Rebiya to be taken to hospital. On 4 November 1999, she was reportedly taken to hospital for a check-up but no further details about her health have emerged since.

In early December 1999, a court in Urumqi examined the prosecution's case against Rebiya Kadeer, but reportedly refused to accept the case for trial and returned it to the Procuracy. 'Return of the case to the Procuracy' is a procedure often used in China when the prosecution's evidence is inconsistent or insufficient to secure a conviction, particularly in political cases. This procedure does not mean that the court has quashed the case. It means that the Procuracy has to "re-investigate" the case. In cases which are considered important, this procedure may also be used as a pretext to allow for consultation with appropriate political authorities. According to unofficial sources, Rebiya Kadeer's case has been referred to authorities in Beijing for a decision. This seems to indicate both that there is insufficient evidence against Rebiya Kadeer to convict her of the charge and that her case is considered too important to be decided upon by the regional authorities. Rebiya Kadeer is a prisoner of conscience.

China and International Human Rights Law

China has signed and ratified several UN human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified in 1988), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1980), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1981). In recent years, China has also signed two other key human rights treaties, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1997) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1998), but it has not yet ratified them. Despite these steps, serious human rights violations continue in China; arbitrary detention and torture are widespread, and freedom of expression and association remain severely curtailed.

Ok, I know the article is slightly old, but I guess I'm trying to provide some sort of background about the treatment of women in China, and what their gov't is doing about it. Now my question is: Is the U.S. doing anything, or enough, to help? Why or why not?

I'm not attacking the U.S. here, really. I'm just curious as to what roles our gov't has taken. It's an enlightenment kind of thing. Opinions anyone? I really don't mean to offend. Dang, some of you scare me.
Your government is not exactly helping the women in China. The contrary. By spreading globalization, there exists a new form of slavery in China. Textile manufacturers get trade free zones, free infrastructure, et al. About estimated 8 mil women are working in miserable conditions, f.e. the machine rooms and bedrooms are in the same building, so if there is some fire accident, they all burn; or the windows are like prison windows; or they mainly take women for those jobs because women tend to organize less in worker?s unions (which are forbidden, clear).
So, your government not only doesn?t do a shit to help them, no, it also supports the export of production facilities. Away from the U.S. (they don?t care about high unemployment, as long as production costs get cheaper).
Our goverments over here in Europe act the same with the new markets in Eastern Europe.
Got the picture?
One thing I have always disagreed with my government about is the fact that we extend most favored trade status to China. It makes me sick that we extend this to one of the biggest perpetrators of human rights violations. When Bush became president, I was very hopeful that would change, but we all know it didn't. That really disappoints me.
Thanks for the responses...

Well, I don't know much about the U.S.' policies on aid to China... Why haven't we done anything? Sorry, I know I sound terribly ignorant on this. Probably b/c I am, heh.
If we are going to give them "favored" status of any kind, we need to influence some serious improvement in their human rights department.

I saw a C-SPAN conference awhile back featuring Kadeer's daughters; it seems that former Senator Roth (R-DE) and Congressman Nethercutt (R-WA) sponsored legislative succesful resolutions pressuring China to release her, but I have not heard of any action by the Clinton or Bush State Departments to do anything about it.

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