Human rights issues are being discussed more frequently and more openly in China since the country's ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights two years ago, a senior United Nations (UN) human rights official said.
In an interview with China's bimonthly magazine Human Rights, Kerstin Leitner, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to China, called the ratification of the covenant "a truly milestone event" in China's efforts to embrace international human rights standards and principles.
"Since then, I have seen many more references to human rights and much more openness than before to discuss human rights issues," Leitner said.
The debate which took place in preparation for the covenant's ratification caused State administrations and academic circles to think more carefully about what it means in practice, Leitner noted.
"So, when the covenant was ratified, I think many more people were convinced that this was a useful tool for pursuing China's reform and development agenda," she added.
The UNDP representative, who has been in China for more than five years, elaborated on the changes brought about by the ratification of the covenant.
"Before the ratification, everyone felt nervous, but after the ratification, people felt comfortable dealing with human rights issues," she said.
However, she conceded that there are still many questions which arise when applying human rights to economic, social and cultural, and eventually, to civil and political rights.
"To find the right response to arising issues, a lot of interaction, a lot of debate is necessary, to ensure that the protection of the rights of individual citizens is realized in the concrete situation of the country, and a strong legal system has to be in place," she said.
Talking about the ongoing co-operation between her office and the Chinese Government in the field of human rights, Leitner said that her office's role is to make sure that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and his staff are comprehensively briefed on what is going on in China.
"We need to avoid misjudging a situation due to the lack of information, which could lead to misunderstandings," she stressed.
The UNDP is currently carrying out a programme in support of China's legal reforms, which complements the technical assistance co-operation that the Human Rights High Commissioner has worked on with Chinese institutions, she noted.
(China Daily June 12, 2003)