On 31 March 2003, at the fifty-ninth session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Ambassador Tassos Kriekoukis, head of the Greek delegation, speaking on behalf of the European Union, made the following statement:
The European Union considers that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. Our position is rooted in our conviction in the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person.Concerning the situation in China, he raised the point that:
The extensive use of the death penalty, the continuation of the strike-hard campaign, the widespread use of torture and arbitrary detention, including the practice of re-education through labour, the repression of the freedom of expression, religion and association with the ongoing violations of the human rights of pro-democracy, labour and Internet activists, proponents of free trade unions and followers of underground Christian churches and the Falun Gong, represent particularly troubling features of Chinas human rights record.Two months before, in January 2003, Amnesty International called upon the Chinese Government to immediately stop the executions and to review such extensive use of the death penalty. This appeal followed the execution of seven people in Sanya, a town in the south of China. Amnesty International indicated that the high number of executions and the manner in which the death penalty is carried out shows a horrifying lack of respect for human life.
Already noted in its report for the year 2000, Amnesty International pointed out that the death penalty is widely and arbitrarily used in China. According to available reports, at the end of 1999, there had been at least 1,720 death sentences and at least 1,077 executions, bringing the total number of death sentences registered for the 1990s to more than 27,120 with approximately 18,000 executions. These figures, one may imagine, form only a fraction of the true situation, as the statistics on those sentenced to death remain a State secret in China. Execution is by shooting or by lethal injection and can sometimes take place within hours of the sentencing. An appeal is rarely successful. Mass executions are often carried out immediately before important events or festivals, such as the Chinese New Year. The death penalty is then sometimes pronounced for relatively minor crimes which would not warrant such a verdict at another time of year.
At the Spring 2001 session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the United States put forward a draft resolution condemning violations of human rights in China, which was to oppose a non-introduction decision, press agencies reported that a wave of executions ordered during the hit hard against crime campaign accounted for a thousand victims in six weeks.
To illustrate the comments made by Amnesty International, according to whom the high number of executions and the manner in which the death penalty is carried out in China shows a horrifying lack of respect for human life, I should like to take as an example the campaign for the eradication of Falun Gong practitioners, launched in July 1999 by the ex-President of China, Jiang Zemin. This tragic example affects hundreds of thousands of innocent people and makes it clear that the death penalty should be denounced and so should extreme forms of torture that lead to death, as they constitute another form of death penalty carried out by the Chinese Government.
Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese method of meditation and exercises with a teaching based on the universal principles of Truth, Benevolence and Tolerance. This method was taught in China for several years without a problem. Through its beneficial effects on health and morality, it was very successful and, at the outset, was welcomed by the Chinese Government, which even supported it. Sadly, this method became a victim of its own popularity. In spring 1999, an official enquiry was carried out which revealed that 70 million Chinese practised Falun Gong and among them were many Communist party members, scientists, members of the military and the police. On 20 July 1999, Jiang Zemin pronounced Falun Gong illegal and the practitioners outside the law. The eradication campaign began.
In August 2001, the International Education Development Bureau issued a statement that condemned the persecution of Falun Gong, calling it State terrorism. This Bureau asked the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the international community to stop such terrorist behaviour. In its statement, the Bureau pointed out:
Families have been broken up because family members have been killed by the regime; people have been broken down by extreme torture, incarceration in mental hospitals with brutal treatment, hard labour in labour camps and other such practices. As was reported in the International Herald Tribune on 6 August 2001, the regime admits that it has officially sanctioned violence against practitioners in order to wipe out Falun Gong.The implementation of the persecution is organised by the 610 Office, established in an unconstitutional manner on 10 June 1999 specifically for this purpose. This Office is independent from any other bodies of government and has absolute power. It is directly under the orders of the Chinese President. Statements like complete elimination within three months and orders such as defame them, destroy them financially and eliminate them physically originate from the 610 Office. The 610 Office directives All murders are counted as suicides and If murdered, do not identify the victim, cremate the body immediately are implemented throughout the country.
According to incomplete statistics, more than 654 practitioners have been verified as being tortured to death in over 30 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. However, according to the Governments official internal statistics, the number of practitioners who died after being arrested had reached 1,600 by the end of 2001. The quasi-impossibility of knowing the exact figures is obvious. In addition, there are at least 6,000 Falun Gong practitioners who have been illegally sentenced to prison. Over 100,000 practitioners have been sentenced to forced labour camps.
In prisons and in forced labour camps, persecutors use the most barbaric and horrific torture methods known to human civilisation. An incomplete report shows over 100 methods being used to torture or to kill Falun Gong practitioners, including: beating to death, burning alive, tying to motorcycles and dragging to death, throwing from high buildings, subjecting to electric shock treatment (to destroy the mind), raping, gang raping and throwing stripped female practitioners into male prison cells, stretching and tying practitioners limbs to the four corners of a metal bed, force feeding highly concentrated liquid pepper and saline solutions, and so on. Ten thousand practitioners have been forcefully sent to psychiatric hospitals to be tortured with injections of large doses of drugs that damage the central nervous system.
In March 2002, in the town of Changchun, the persecution reached a frenzy. Falun Gong practitioners succeeded in broadcasting through the cable television network a documentary showing the campaign of eradication raging in China. Immediately afterwards, Jiang Zemin gave the order to kill [Falun Gong practitioners] without mercy. Several days later reports indicated large-scale arrests (between 3,000 and 5,000 people) and the death of numerous people killed by the police for alleged participation in the televised programme. Amnesty International and ACAT (lAction des Chrétiens pour lAbolition de la Torture) launched urgent appeals and asked for the help of the international community.
In the face of such atrocities, an international team of lawyers committed to the defence of human rights has been created. It receives its mandate from Falun Gong Associations worldwide (from some 60 countries) and from the Swiss Association TRIAL (Track Impunity Always). The teams aim is to sue Chinas ex-President Jiang Zemin - and all those responsible for this relentless persecution - for crimes of torture, crimes against humanity and for genocide. Those acts clearly violate not only the laws of the Peoples Republic of China but equally international law. They thus infringe the norms that the international community as a whole is obliged to defend.
Let us hope that, thanks to the support and all the initiatives taken by NGOs, Governments, competent international authorities and concerned people everywhere, it will no longer be possible for the death penalty to be pronounced and carried out, for barbaric and illegal acts to lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
A Swiss practitioner
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