Last week the State Department released an exhaustive report on human rights practices and abuses in nearly 200 countries. One day later on May 25, China published a similar report on the one major world power that wasn’t included in this otherwise thorough U.S. document.
The United States government had conveniently avoided shining a light on their own human rights behavior. To all those who appreciate the timeless wisdom of being critical of yourself before you criticize someone else, I’ve prepared a thorough summary of the most interesting points from China’s report about the United States. While I don’t personally endorse many of China’s opinions, I found it quite insightful to view a compilation of facts about America as interpreted through our neighbor's eyes.
What follows are excerpts from “Human Rights Record of the United States in 2011” in China's own words, including the sources the Chinese government cited:
I. On life, property, and personal security
"The United States has mighty strength in human, financial and material resources. However, American society is chronically suffering from violent crimes; its citizens' lives, properties, and personal security lack proper protection."
"A report published by the US Department of Justice on Sept 15, 2011, revealed that in 2010, Americans aged 12 and above experienced 5.2 million violent victimizations, 14.8 million property victimizations, and 138,000 personal thefts. The violence rate was 15 victimizations per 1,000 residents (www.bjs.gov). The crime rate surged in many cities and regions in the United States. (The Wall Street Journal, Sept 20, 2011)"
"The United States is the leader among the world's developed countries in gun violence and gun deaths. According to a report of the Foreign Policy on Jan 9, 2011, over 30,000 Americans die every year from gun violence and another 200,000 Americans are estimated to be injured each year by guns. According to a Gallup poll in October 2011, 47% of American adults reported that they had a gun. On Jun 2, 2011, a shooting rampage in Arizona left six people dead and one injured (The China Press, Jun 3, 2011). In Chicago, more than 10 overnight shooting incidents took place just between the evening of Jun 3 and the morning of Jun 4 (Chicago Tribune, Jun 4, 2011). Shooting spree cases involving one gunman shooting dead over five people also happened in the states of Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Nevada and Southern California (The New York Times, Oct 13, 2011; CNN, Jul 8, 2011; CBS, Jul 23, 2011;USA Today, Aug 9, 2011)."
II. On civil and political rights
"In the United States, the violation of citizens' civil and political rights is severe. The United States is lying when it calls itself the land of the free (The Washington Post, Jan 14, 2012)."
"The US Patriot Act and Homeland Security Act both have clauses giving the government or law enforcement organizations power to monitor and block any Internet content deemed harmful to national security. The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 stipulates that the federal government has "absolute power" to shut down the Internet under a declared national emergency. According to a report by British newspaper the Guardian dated Mar 17, 2011, the US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas, and will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives. The project aims to control and restrict free speech on the Internet (The Guardian, Mar 17, 2011). According to the Voice of Russia on Feb 2, 2012, a subsidiary under the US government' s security agency employed several hundred analysts, who were tasked with secretly monitoring private archives of foreign Internet users, and were able to censor as many as five million microblogging posts."
"The US Department of Homeland Security routinely searched key words like "illegal immigrants," "virus," "death," and "burst out" on Twitter with fake accounts and then secretly traced the Internet users who forwarded related content. According to a report by the Globe and Mail on Jan 30, 2012, Leigh Van Bryan, a British citizen, prior to his flight to the US, wrote in a Twitter post, "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?" As a result, Bryan along with a friend were handcuffed and put in lockdown with suspected drug smugglers for 12 hours by armed guards after landing in Los Angeles International Airport. Among many angered by the incident in Britain, an Internet user posted a comment, "What's worse, being arrested for an innocent tweet, or the fact that the American Secret Service monitors every electronic message in the world?"
"Claiming to defend 99 percent of the US population, the Occupy Wall Street protest movement tested the US political, economic and social systems. Ignited by severe social and economic inequality, uneven distribution of wealth and high unemployment, the movement expanded to sweep the United States after its inception in September 2011. Whatever the deep reasons for the movement, the fact that thousands of protesters were treated in a rude and violent way, with many of them being arrested - trampling on people' s freedom of assembly, demonstration and speech, could provide a glimpse to the truth of the so-called US freedom and democracy."
"Almost 1,000 people were reportedly arrested in first two weeks of the movement, according to British and Australian media (The Guardian, Oct 2, 2011). An Iraq war veteran had a fractured skull and brain swelling after being allegedly hit in the head by a police projectile (The Guardian, Oct 26, 2011). Some protesters were bloodied as they were hauled away. Many protesters accused the police of treating them in a brutal way (The Wall Street Journal, Nov 18, 2011)."
"While advocating press freedom, the United States in fact imposes fairly strict censoring and control over the press. The US Congress failed to pass laws on protecting rights of reporters' news sources, and an increasing number of American reporters lost jobs for "improper remarks on politics." US reporter Helen Thomas resigned for critical remarks about Israel in June 2010 ("Report: On the situation with human rights in a host of world states," the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia, Dec 28, 2011). While forcibly evacuating the Zuccotti Park, the original Occupy Wall Street encampment, the New York police blocked journalists from covering the police actions. They set cordon lines to prevent reporters from getting close to the park and closed airspace to make aerial photography impossible. In addition to using pepper spray against reporters, the police also arrested around 200 journalists, including reporters from NPR and the New York Times (uschinapress.com, Nov 15, 2011). On Oct 15, 2011, when the Occupy Wall Street movement evolved to be a global action, CNN and Fox News gave no live reports on it, in a sharp contrast to the square protest in Cairo, for which both CNN and Fox News broadcast live 24 hours."
"The US democracy is increasingly being influenced by capitalization and becoming a system for "master of money." Data issued by the US Center for Responsive Politics in November 2011 show that 46 percent of the US federal senators and members of the House of Representatives have personal assets of more than a million dollars. That well explains why plans to impose higher taxes on the rich who earn more than one million dollars annually have been blocked in the Congress (www.finance-ol.com). As a commentary put it, money has emerged as the electoral trump card in the US political system, and corporations have a Supreme Court-recognized right to use their considerable financial muscle to promote candidates and policies favorable to their business operations and to resist policies and shut out candidates deemed inimical to their business interests (Online edition of Time, Jan 20, 2011). Nearly two thirds of all the contributions that the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee received during the 2010 election cycle came from industries regulated by his committee. According to a Washington Post report on Aug 10, 2011, nearly eight in 10 of Americans polled were dissatisfied with the way the political system is working, with 45 percent saying they are very dissatisfied (The Washington Post, Aug 10, 2011)."
"The US continued to violate the freedom of its citizens in the name of boosting security levels. The National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec 31, 2011, allows for the indefinite detention of citizens (The Washington Post, Jan 14, 2012). The Act will place domestic terror investigations and interrogations into the hands of the military, which opens the door for trial-free, indefinite detention of anyone, including American citizens, so long as the government calls them terrorists (www.forbes.com, Dec 5, 2011). Also, the US government can use GPS devices to monitor every move of targeted citizens without securing any court order or review (The Washington Post, Jan 14, 2012)."
"The US remains the country with the largest "prison population" and the highest per capita level of imprisonment in the world. The detention centers' conditions are terrible. According to the US Department of Justice, the number of prisoners was 2.3 million in 2009; one in every 132 American citizens is behind bars. (Report: On the situation with human rights in a host of world states, the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia, Dec 28, 2011). According to a Los Angeles Times report, in a California prison, as many as 54 inmates may share a single toilet and as many as 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium (Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2011). According to data issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the estimated number of prison and jail inmates experiencing sexual victimization totaled 88,500 in the US between October 2008 and December 2009 (www.bjs.gov). Since April 2011, officials stopped serving lunch on the weekend in some US prisons as a way to cut food-service costs. About 23,000 inmates in 36 prisons are eating two meals a day on Saturdays and Sundays instead of three (The New York Times, Oct 20, 2011). Harsh conditions and treatment in prisons have caused recurring protests and suicides. There were two major hunger strikes in California prisons staged by a total of more than 6,000 and 12,000 prisoners in July and October 2011, to protest against what they call harsh treatment and detention conditions (CNN, Oct 4, 2011; The New York Times, July 7, 2011)."
III. On economic, social and cultural rights
"The United States has not done enough to protect its citizens from unemployment. It has been one of the Western developed countries that provide the poorest protection of laborer's rights. It has not approved any international labor organization convention in the last 10 years. Moreover, the US lacks an effective arbitration system to deal with enterprises that refuse to compromise with employees. The unemployment rate was 8.9 percent for 2011 (www.bls.gov), and the unemployment rate for American youths between 25 and 34 stood at 26 percent in October of that year (The World Journal, Nov 18, 2011), with more underemployed."
"There is a widening of the gap between the extreme top and bottom (The USA Today, Sept 13, 2011), showing apparent unfair wealth distribution. Cable News Network reported on Feb 16, 2011, that in the last 20 years, incomes for 90 percent of Americans have been stuck in neutral, while the richest 1 percent of Americans have seen their incomes grow by 33 percent. Economic Policy Institute published a paper on Oct 26, 2011, saying that in 2009 the ratio of wealth owned by the wealthiest one percent to the wealth owned by median households was 225 to 1 (www.epi.org). Besides, in the United States, the best-off 10 percent made on average 15 times the incomes of the poorest 10 percent (Reuters, Dec 9, 2011). The wealthiest 400 Americans have $1.5 trillion in assets (The China Press, Oct 13, 2011), or the same combined wealth as the poorest half of Americans - more than 150 million people (www.currydemocrats.org). The annual incomes of the richest 10 chief executive officers (CEO) were enough to pay the salary of 18,330 employees (The World Journal, Oct 16, 2011). Roughly 11 percent of Congress members had net worth of more than $9 million, and 249 members were millionaires. The median net worth: $891,506, was almost nine times the typical household (The USA Today, Nov 16, 2011). A commentary by the Spiegel said that the US has developed into an economic entity of "winners take all". American politician Larry Bartels said that fundamental shifts in wealth allocation was caused by political decisions rather than the consequences of market forces or financial crisis (The Spiegel, Oct 24, 2011)."
"Contrary to the wealthiest 10 percent, the number of Americans living in poverty as well as the poverty rate continued to hit record highs, which is a great irony in affluent America. A report published by the Census Bureau on Sept 13, 2011, showed that 46.2 million people lived below the official poverty line in 2010, 2.6 million more than 2009, hitting the highest record since 1959. An analysis done by the Brookings Institution estimated that at the current rate, the recession would have added nearly 10 million people to the ranks of the poor by the middle of the decade. According to the analysis, 22 percent of children were in poverty (The New York Times, Sept 13, 2011). The US has grown into a country dependent on food stamps (Reuters, Aug 22, 2011). The percentage of Americans who did not have enough money to buy food grew from 9 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2011 (The World Journal, Oct 15, 2011). In 2011, 46 million Americans lived on food stamps, about 15 percent of the total population, up 74 percent from 2007 (Reuters, Aug 22, 2011)."
"Millions of homeless people wandered around streets. Reports said that about 2.3 million to 3.5 million Americans did not have a place that they call home to sleep in the night (www.homelessnessinamerica.com). Between 2007 and 2010, the number of homeless families grew by 20 percent (The Huffington Post, Aug 26, 2011)."
"The US declared it has the best healthcare service in the world, but quite a lot of Americans could not enjoy due medication and healthcare. The Cable News Network reported on Sept 13, 2011, that the number of people who lacked health insurance in 2010 climbed to 49.9 million (Cable News Network, Sept 13, 2011). Bloomberg reported on March 16, 2011, that 9 million Americans have lost health insurance during the past two years. An additional 73 million adults had difficulties paying for healthcare and 75 million deferred treatment because they could not afford it (Bloomberg, March 16, 2011)."
"The US government has significantly cut funding for education, reduced teaching staff, and shortened school hours with tuition fees soaring. The guarantee for teenagers' rights to education is weakening. The New York Times reported on Oct 3, 2011, that since 2007, school budgets in New York city have been cut by 13.7 percent every year on average. Since 2008, 294,000 posts in the American education industry, including schools of higher education, have been cut (The China Press, Oct 25, 2011). Four-day per week classes have been practiced in 292 school districts, which was only put into use during the financial crisis in the 1930s and the oil crisis in the 1970s (The World Journal, Oct 30, 2011). A report by College Board showed that the average tuition fee of American four-year public universities in the school year of 2011 through 2012 was $8,244, $631 more than the last school year, up 8.3 percent (The China Press, Oct 27, 2011). Reuters reported that two-thirds of undergraduate students would graduate with student loans of $25,000 on average owing to expensive college tuition (Reuters, Feb 1, 2011)."
"The financial crisis was far from being the sole reason for the inadequate guarantee of Americans' economic, social and cultural rights. So far, the US has not approved the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The above problems concerning human rights are the reflection of the US ideology and political system that ignore people's economic, social and cultural rights."
IV. On racial discrimination
"Ethnic minorities in the United States have long been suffering systemic, widespread and institutional discrimination."
"Generally, ethnic minorities have low political, economic and social positions due to discrimination. Nationally, black joblessness stands at 21 percent, rising to as high as 40 percent in major urban centers such as Detroit (The Wall Street Journal, Aug 31, 2011). In Ziebach County of South Dakota, a community mainly composed of Native Americans, more than 60 percent of the residents live at or below the poverty line, and unemployment rate hits 90 percent in the winter (The Daily Mail, Feb 15, 2011). A study shows that of the seven occupations with the highest salaries, six are overrepresented by whites (Washington Post, Oct 21, 2011)."
"The poverty rate of African Americans doubles that of whites, and the ethnic minority groups suffer severe social inequalities. According to a report by the Pew Research Center released in June 2011, the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households (pewresearch.org). In 2010, poverty among blacks rose to 27.4 percent, and poverty among Hispanics increased to 26.6 percent, much higher than the 9.9-percent poverty rate among whites (www.census.gov)."
"Illegal immigrants live under legal and systematic discrimination. The Alabama immigration law provides differentiated treatments to illegal immigrants, rendering their daily lives rather difficult. Critics argued that the law runs counter to the US Constitution and to certain terms in relevant international human rights law (www.hrw.org). Internal reports from the Office of Detention Oversight of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed grave problems in many US detention facilities for immigrants, including lack of medical care, the use of excessive force and "abusive treatment" of detainees (The Houston Chronicle, Oct 10, 2011). A report released on Sept 21, 2011, by an Arizona-based non-profit organization revealed that thousands of illegal immigrants detained across the border between Mexico and Arizona are generally mistreated by US border police, being denied enough food, water, medical care and sleep, even beaten up and confined in extreme coldness or heat, suffering both psychological abuse and threats of death (The World Journal, Sept 24, 2011)."
"The sufferings of civil rights activists who oppose racial discriminations arouse attention. The Huffington Post reported on May 31, 2011, Catrina Wallace, a civil rights activist in Jena, Louisiana, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by authorities only based on a drug dealer's accusation. Previously, Wallace had taken part in organizing a 50,000-people protest against racial discrimination that won freedom for six black high school students. The article deemed the sentence was revenge taken by authorities on Wallace's human rights activism. "I am a freedom fighter," she says. "I fight for people's rights."
V. On the rights of women and children
"To date, the US has ratified neither the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, nor the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the US neglects the rights of women and children, their situation deteriorates."
"Gender discrimination against women widely exists in the US. According to statistics, women are not fully represented in governments at all levels in the US, as women hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress (www.wcffoundation.org). Women doing the same work as men often get less payment in the US, and the wage gap has narrowed by only 18 cents in the past half century (www.thedailybeast.com). According to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union, in 2009, women working full-time, year-round were paid 77 cents on average for every dollar paid to men (www.aclu.org)."
"The poverty rate among American women reached a record high. According to data from the US Census Bureau, over 17 million women lived in poverty in 2010, including more than 7.5 million in extreme poverty and 4.7 million single mothers in poverty. The poverty rate among women climbed to 14.5 percent in 2010 from 13.9 percent in 2009, the highest in 17 years; the extreme poverty rate among women climbed to 6.3 percent in 2010 from 5.9 percent in 2009, the highest rate ever recorded (www.merchantcircle.com)."
"Women in the US often experience discrimination, violence and sexual assault. According to statistics from the website of the Los Angeles Police Department, more than 2 million American women are victims of domestic violence annually. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey shows nearly one in five women has been raped in her lifetime, and one in four has experienced serious physical violence from an intimate partner at some point in her life (Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2011). Throughout the military, sexual assault affects about 19 percent of female troops but most of them choose to keep silent, according to a survey of sexual assault conducted by the US military (www.csmonitor.com). Reports say many of the 1 million women in prison in the US experienced harsh treatment and even had their arms and legs chained when they were giving birth (www.globalissues.org)."
"The poverty rate for children in the US reached a record high. According to the report released by the US Census Bureau, more than 1 million children were added to the poverty population between 2009 and 2010, making the total number of children living below the poverty line reach more than 15 million, the greatest since 2001. The poverty rate for children in 2010 climbed to 21.6 percent in 2010 from 20 percent in 2009, with 653 counties seeing a significant increase in poverty rate for children aged 5 to 17 and about one-third of counties having school-age poverty rates above the national poverty rate (www.census.gov). The Daily Mail reported on Aug 17, 2011, that child poverty increased in 38 states from 2000 to 2009 and Mississippi is the state with the highest level of 31 percent. The US Census Bureau said that children living in poverty, especially small children, are more likely to develop cognitive and behavioral difficulties and may have a greater probability of being unemployed when they grow up (The China Press, Nov 21, 2011)."
"The number of homeless children has surged. In 2010, 1.6 million children in the US were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, up 33 percent from that in 2007, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness (USA Today, Dec 15, 2011). From May 2011 to November 2011, children in shelters rose 10 percent (The Wall Street Journal, Nov 9, 2011)."
"Children are severely exposed to violence and pornography. BBC reported on Oct 17, 2011, that over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children were believed to have been killed by their family members. More than 1 million children are confirmed each year as victims of child abuse (www.preventchildabuse.org), and one in every two families in the US is involved in domestic violence at some time (www. reverepolice.org). The Wall Street Journal reported on Nov 14, 2011, that roughly 120,000 calls were made to the state hotline for child abuse calls administrated by the state Department of Public Welfare in Pennsylvania, but only about 24,000 cases were investigated. Campus violence and cyber bullying are growing more malicious in the US. According to a report of the US News & World Report on June 3, 2011, at least 40 percent of high school students have been bullied by cyber bullies (www.usnews.com)."
"Infant mortality rate remains high in the US. According to a report of The New York Times on Oct 15, 2011, the infant mortality rate in the US is 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. The rate among African-Americans is 13.3 deaths per thousand, while the rates among whites, Hispanics and Asian-Americans are respectively 5.6, 5.5 and 4.8 per thousand. Nationally, black babies are more than twice as likely as white babies to die before the age of 1."
VI. On US violations of human rights against other nations
"The US has been pursuing hegemony in the world, grossly trampling upon the sovereignty of other countries and capriciously violating human rights against other nations. It "appears more and more to be contributing to international disorder" (After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order, by Emmanuel Todd)."
"The revelation of the history of human experiments conducted in the US is yet another scandal sparking public outcry around the world after the prisoner abuse scandal. The British newspaper The Telegraph reported on Aug 30, 2011, that from 1946-1948, a US government-paid medical experiment program had made nearly 5,500 people in Guatemala subjected to diagnostic testing, and the researchers deliberately exposed more than 1,300 people, including soldiers, prostitutes, prisoners and mental patients, to syphilis and other venereal diseases. These experiments caused over 80 deaths."
"The US-led wars, alleged to be "humanitarian intervention" efforts and for "the rise of a new democratic nation", created humanitarian disasters instead. For Iraqis, the death toll in the US-initiated Iraq war stands at 655,000 (Tribune Business News, Dec 15, 2011). According to figures released by the Iraq Body Count, at least 103,536 civilians were killed in the Iraq war (Reuters, Dec 18, 2011). In 2011, there were an average of 6.5 deaths per day from suicide attacks and vehicle bombs (www.iraqbodycount.org).
"Incomplete statistics revealed that the US has launched more than 60 drone attacks in Pakistan in 2011, killing at least 378 people (USA Today, Jan 11, 2012; Newamerica.net). The number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan increased 15 percent in the first half of 2011 over the same period of 2010 (The New York Times, Aug 6, 2011). It is estimated that civilian casualties in the military campaign in Afghanistan could exceed 31,000 (Tribune Business News, Oct 17, 2011)."
"The US does not support the right to development, which is a concern of most of the developing countries. In September 2011, the 18th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on "the right to development." Except for an abstention vote from the US, all the HRC members voted for the resolution."
"The US continues its conduct that seriously violates the right of subsistence and right of development of Cuban people. On Oct 26, 2011, the 66th session of the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution titled "Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba," the 20th such resolution in a row. A total of 186 countries voted in favor of the resolution, three countries abstained, and only the US and Israel voted against the resolution. The resolution urged the US to repeal or invalidate the almost 50-year-long economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba as soon as possible (www.un.org). The US, however, continues to defy the resolution."
"The above-mentioned facts are but a small yet illustrative fraction of America's dismal record on human rights. The US' own tarnished record has made it in no condition, on a moral, political or legal basis, to act as the world's "human rights justice," to place itself above other countries and release the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices year after year to accuse and blame other countries. We hereby advise the US government once again to look squarely at its own grave human rights problems, to stop the unpopular practices of taking human rights as a political instrument for interference in other countries' internal affairs - smearing other nations' images and seeking its own strategic interests. The United States should cease using double standards on human rights and pursuing hegemony under the pretext of human rights.”
- The State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China
China is certainly overstating the problems in the United States that pale in comparison to China’s authoritarian regime. In China, citizens do not even have the right to change their government, and speaking out against the unelected Chinese authorities often ends in a lifetime in prison. In contrast, America is one of the most free countries in the world. Nevertheless, to remain a world leader in human rights, we would do well to take seriously the criticisms that are being voiced by other nations.
What did you find most important in China’s report?