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Statement on Human Rights Day

Today, December 10, is International Human Rights Day, marking the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The process to create this landmark document involved countries around the world. Indeed, the drafting committee, led by principal drafter John Peters Humphrey (a Canadian), included China’s Zhang Pengchun, who helped parties reach consensus on the final text.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” These rights are enshrined in Article 35 of China’s Constitution, which affords its citizens the right to “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stands as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. While China’s spectacular economic growth over the past thirty years has led to significant and qualitative improvements in individual social, cultural and economic rights for Chinese citizens, not all of the rights enshrined in China’s Constitution are fully safeguarded in practice. There has been a worrying increase in the number of Chinese citizens jailed merely for peacefully expressing their views, as well as attempts to silence critics outside of China. Also troubling has been the recent intensification of actions against human rights lawyers and defenders, as well as the refoulement of Chinese refugees back to China.

While China has made progress in strengthening rule of law, including through recent efforts on trial-centred litigation, human rights defenders in China continue to be subject of harassment and detention. Of particular concern has been the detention and persecution of human rights lawyers, such as the so-called “709 lawyers”, and again most recently in the disappearance of human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong.

Canada’s experience demonstrates that respect for human rights and meaningful public participation are key to ensuring rule of law and national security. Today, we urge China to uphold its human rights obligations and commitments, to protect human rights defenders and encourage a robust engagement with civil society. Respect for the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in all circumstances would create a more prosperous and stable China. Canada is committed to constructive engagement with China on human rights, with this common goal in mind.


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