On 15th June, 2020, we witnessed the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. This event left the whole world morose upon recalling the memory of students who protested for democracy, freedomof speech and freedom of press, and were brutally plowed into the ground for standing up to the government. A description of the political background of China from when this event took place provides better insights as to what was fundamentally wrong with it.
After the death of Mao Zhedong, the students protested against the peremptory government of China. They wanted to end the dictatorial one-party rule and bring democracy into the picture.
This protest became considerable after numerous people joined it. A visit by Prime Minister of Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev to Tiananmen Square was shifted to the airport because of the throng of protestants mustered at Tiananmen Square. The Chinese Government, in response to this revolution, imposed martial law. Troops opened fire on protesters, who later responded with heavy stone-pelting. On 4th June, 1989, tanks came onto the scene and the protesters along with the protest were crushed to the ground. Amid, all this pandemonium and chaos happening on the protest scene, an “Unknown Rebel” got attention from all over the world.
A video shot from the balcony of a Beijing based hotel room showed a guy wearing white shirt, dark pants and carrying two shopping bags and a sign of “STOP” stood in front of the tanks, this event depicted the heroism and bravery of that man and people started calling him as the “Tank Man” of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The US department of state showed its solidarity with the protesters on the 31st anniversary of Tiananmen Square. The people of Hong Kong decided to defy the police ban in the reminiscence of this massacre on its 31stt Anniversary.
Background: What caused the Tiananmen Massacre?
Some primary causes that lead to Tiananmen square protest were:-
- Deng Xiao Ping, as per his “to get rich is glorious” philosophy, made some major economic reforms in China. These reforms resulted in the growth of economic prosperity and commercialization and created a huge wealth gap between the rich and the poor.
- CCP was a very corrupt political party and they contributed a lot to the promotion of nepotism or favoritism in politics and government.
- The escalating unrest was further escalated due to high levels of inflation and surge of inflation levels created various problems in the agriculture sector of China.
- Death of Hu Yaobang played a major role in stoking up unrest. Hu was considered as an incorruptible and virtuous leader. His death was the last straw that galvanized the Tiananmen Square protest.
Mass violations of Human Rights in Tiananmen Square Massacre
The Tiananmen Square Massacre is one of the most hideous events in the history of China. The protestants wanted to air their disapproval of the Chinese government in a peaceful and non-violent manner, but the hegemonic government responded in a ferocious way, which took away the lives of hundreds of innocent students who wanted nothing but to liberate their nation from autocracy.
This move of the Chinese government attracted criticism from all over the world. USSR President Gorbachev castigated this step of Chinese government. The US Congress also voted to put economic sanctions on China. This step taken by the Chinese government created a sense of fear and trepidation amongst the citizens of China.
This resolve of the Chinese government violated the right of individuals to express themselves freely, gather and associate with the aim of protesting peacefully, which is guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Some of the human rights provided in UDHR which were violated by the Chinese Government in this case. Though UDHR is not a binding treaty but if it is adhered, a balanced social order can be established in the world and that was the prime objective of United Nations when it was formed i.e. to maintain peace and social order and each member country of UN including China should follow UDHR to maintain stability in human rights of their citizens, Some basic human rights guaranteed under UDHR violated by Chinese government during tiananmen square protest are as follows:-
- Everyone has the right to live with the feeling of freedom and security, as per Article 1, which was desecrated by Chinese government.
- Persecution of hundreds of students just for being skeptical that they are involved in the protest is inhumane and degrading in nature and this is prohibited under Article 5.
- Article 9 was also violated, which forbids the arbitrary and subjective hostile treatment of individuals.
- The rights guaranteed under Article 18 and 19 were also contravened which provide freedom to stand for one’s personal thoughts or opinions and freedom of expressing and airing them.
A legally binding treaty called the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was signed by permanent members of the UN including China to provide basic human rights. China signed this covenant on 5 March 1998, but unlike other permanent members of the UN, China has not yet ratified this convention. Therefore, just like the non-binding UDHR, even a binding treaty such as the ICCPR has no influence on Chinese government.
The reason why China is not ratifying the treaty is clear – it doesn’t want its data and information to be accessible outside its borders. For this reason, they have their own version of Google, Whatsapp & Facebook which are known as guge(Harvest Song), WeChat & RenRen.com respectively. If the ICCPR is ratified then it will be difficult for China to stop the information from getting leaked outside the country because this covenant guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Human rights abuse is not new for China, as the state does not carry a stellar past record.
“China wants to join the UN’s top human rights body, but it won’t submit itself to the standards that body is sworn to apply,” this is the statement of Chinese Director Sophie Richardson. This statement is evidence of how stern the Chinese government is, in regard to its information, data and power.
China should ratify ICCPR in order to repair its damaged human rights record and regain international respect and accountability.
An Analysis of Right To Protest
Right to protest is a basic human right which is not only guaranteed by International Conventions like UDHR and ICCPR but different countries also have different rules regarding the right to protest. If we take the example of two countries like India and the UK, Indian Constitution provides freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b).
In the Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union Of India & Ors. case (2012), the Supreme Court of India had stated, “Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and protest peacefully, which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action.
The United Kingdom has its own set of rules and regulations regarding the right to protest. The UK follows the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Article 11 of this Convention is closely linked to protests, marches, demonstrations, etc. This article averts any public authority to violate or infringe the rights conferred upon the citizens, i.e. freedom of assembly and freedom of association, as per this convention.
These rights are not absolute and certain restrictions can be imposed on them. These restrictions can be imposed on the grounds of national security, disorder or crime, health or morals and protection of others’ right and freedom. These restrictions can be imposed by the police and armed forces, but they must be supported with compelling justifications.
These restrictions are imposed to make sure that a protest doesn’t turn aggressive and violent because once a protest becomes violent, its very purpose is defeated. While enjoying the rights, one must adhere to one’s duties and responsibilities. Right to protest is a very crucial weapon used by the citizens to express their views and thoughts. This should not be distorted as it can appraise a government about the genuine flaws in their policy.
At last, the author wants to conclude that curbing the freedom provided under right to protest can prove to be a very detrimental move on the part of a government and that too if done in the fashion which China adopted can bring loathing and abomination from every part of the world. It’s been 31 years since this menacing event at Tiananmen Square took place but even now when we reminisce about this event, our heart starts to quiver.
This shows how tragic this event was. Plowing down the protesters who are protesting for genuine reasons is one of the most inhumane and callous events witnessed in the history of this world. Such kinds of practices, if not stopped, will heavily endanger a basic human right i.e. right to protest. Depriving citizens of the right to protest is the same as killing their voices, thoughts, expressions and sense of equity amidst the people.
If a person is elected by the people as their representative to end their troubles and does not represent them effectively. , people should have all the right to come forward peacefully and show their dissatisfaction towards the existing practices of government, but if the citizens are dispossessed of such rights, this world would be