Irish Centre for Human Rights to lead major EU-China Human Rights Project

Wednesday, 31 October 2001

Release date: 31 October 2001

Irish Centre for Human Rights to lead major EU-China Human Rights Project

Human Rights abuses in China have long been a matter of international concern but there was a perception that world opinion was a matter of indifference to the Chinese authorities. In recent years however, China has opened up considerably to the outside world and with that openness comes a recognition of the necessity to address and improve the country's human rights record.

The Irish Centre for Human Rights, which is based in NUI, Galway will coordinate a €1.5 million three-year project, financed by the European Commission, to promote the ratification and implementation of the international human rights covenants in China. The programme involves fifteen European human rights centres, one from each member state, and the same number of Chinese institutions. A wide range of human rights issues will be addressed, including capital punishment, torture, the right to education, labour standards and the right to a fair trial. The working languages of the project are English, French and Chinese.

"In the last few years China has shown increasing willingness to accept the role of International human rights monitoring mechanisms," says Professor William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights. "Consequently, it has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and is preparing to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is essential however, that China's commitments go beyond simply formalistic gestures and that they be given substance. The idea behind the EU-China project is that European human rights specialists can contribute to the process of human rights monitoring in China by adding their expertise," he said.

A series of academic seminars, as well as exchanges and internships, are at the core of the project. The initial seminar will be held in Galway, at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, where the project secretariat will be located on a permanent basis. Themes of the seminars are to be determined by the network steering committee, which is composed of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, the University of Paris II, the University of Essex, the University of Milan and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Aside from the seminars there is an important component in the training of Chinese human rights practitioners and this will include lawyers, academics and government officials in various aspects of human rights law and practice.

Professor Schabas acknowledges that China's concern about International Human Rights standards can be understood in the context of the country's desire to be a full player in international affairs, including the development of economic links and cultural manifestations such as the Olympic Games 2008. "There is now an openness within China to international human rights that everybody who is familiar with the situation has noticed," says Professor Schabas, who visited Beijing last May as part of developing the current project. "It was very clear that debate evolves very, very rapidly in China on the subject of human rights," he says. "Everybody agreed that the kind of discussions and the level of exchange we had in May could not have taken place two or three years ago. Circumstances are more welcoming to this kind of activity than they have been at any time in the past," he said.

"This is the first major research grant obtained by the Irish Centre for Human Rights since its inauguration in February 2000," said Professor William Schabas. "We are honoured to have been given such responsibility in this important field, and look forward to our role as a focal point for EU initiatives with respect to human rights in China."

Ends

Information from: Máire Mhic Uidhir, Press Officer, NUI Galway. Tel. 091 750418

Note on Professor William A. Schabas:

Professor Schabas was named to NUI Galway's new professorship in human rights law in 1999 and is the Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, which was launched in 2000. He is an internationally-recognised scholar in the field of human rights. He publishes and lectures throughout the world on a wide range of human rights issues. His seminal publications include: The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997) and Genocide in International Law (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000). His expertise is regularly solicited by international human rights non-governmental organisations, on whose behalf he has conducted missions in Africa, Asia and South America. He has quite specific expertise in the following areas: genocide, minority rights, humanitarian intervention, human rights during armed conflict, abolition of capital punishment, the right to a fair trial, the history of human rights.

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