Europe is failing to put serious pressure on China to stop human rights abuses that are illegal under international law – as last week's EU-China Summit, in Beijing, proved - says campaign
The Chinese government must have been pleased that the European Union, in its public statements following last week's international summit, opted for airy ambiguity with regard to human rights - while ignoring any specific reference to Beijing's ongoing assault on the rule-of-law and its intolerance for free expression. The lengthy joint press communique of the 14th EU-China meeting only made general reference to human rights issues. That was, at least, an improvement over last year's joint communique. It did not mention human rights at all. But the communiqué was an assertion of empty rhetoric promising "cooperation on human rights based on equality and mutual respect". It, in fact, mirrored the problems in the annual EU-China bilateral human rights dialogue: no specific benchmarks or references to actual rights abuses and their victims.
There was no mention of specific victims of Beijing's human rights abuses, such as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Liu is serving an 11-year prison term for "inciting subversion" over his role in drafting Charter 08, an online petition advocating peaceful political change in China and respect for rights and freedoms embodied in the country's constitution. Efforts to silence him extend to his wife, Liu Xia, who is believed to be under house arrest to prevent her from campaigning on her husband's behalf. There was nary a whisper of the Chinese government's ongoing campaign of harassment, detention, imprisonment and disappearance of people like Liu - who ask only for the rights and freedoms embodied in both international and domestic law.
The EU cannot claim it does not know about the human rights abuses. After all, in January, the union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton voiced concern about the "deterioration" of conditions for Chinese human rights activists; following the sentencing of the writers Chen Xi and Chen Wei in December on spurious "subversion" charges. Chen Wei was sentenced to nine years in prison on December 23, on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" for online criticism of the government. Three days later, a Guiyang court handed down a 10-year sentence on the same charge to Chen Xi - for similar on-line criticism of China's one-party rule.
Closer to home, Liao Yiwu, one of China's most prominent dissident writers, fled into exile in Germany last July after enduring years of harassment, intimidation and imprisonment at the hands of a Chinese government unwilling to countenance Liao's searing literary exposes of the darker side of China's economic rise. The Chinese government's torment of the disabled housing rights activist Ni Yulan would also have been an appropriate topic of discussion at the EU-China Summit. The recipient of the Dutch government's annual Human Rights Defender Tulip Prize, Ni Yulan
is currently in prison awaiting sentencing, along with her husband Dong Jiqin on spurious charges
of "inciting a disturbance". Chinese security agents subsequently prevented Ni's daughter, Dong Xuan, from boarding a plane to claim Ni's award on her mother's behalf.
A truly productive exchange on human rights would also have included reference to Hu Jia, the recipient of the 2008 EU Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought. Since Hu Jia's release from prison in July 2011, after serving a 42-month prison term on a less than genuine charge of "inciting subversion of state power" - Hu, his wife Zeng Jinyan and their infant daughter have remained under intrusive police surveillance and control. In January, Hu was detained by the police and questioned for seven hours about a letter he wrote to the Nobel peace prize committee in December, appealing for greater attention to the plight of Liu Xiaobo and his wife. Human Rights Watch has noted the EU's public and private diplomacy about the human rights environment and individual cases in China. However, those efforts have not been sufficiently robust or consistent. Nor are they designed to seriously effect change on China's appalling human rights record or support the forces for positive change. Foremost among them are the courageous individuals, who dare to challenge abusive government conduct and demand that the government respect their constitutional rights of free expression.
As the Arab spring reminds us, the EU and others needs to take public opinion into account when formulating policies toward third countries. Significant numbers of people in China, too, are making known their complaints about issues ranging from public health to corruption, from land seizures to access to justice. In doing so, they face a range of possible retributive measures, including torture and imprisonment. Europe has quite visibly demonstrated support for efforts to ensure better respect for human rights around the 2011 public protests in North Africa and the Middle East. It should do no less in response to peaceful public protest and government crackdowns and abuses in China. Given that the EU-China Summit communiqué "emphasized the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law" - the EU should have raised the Chinese government's enforced disappearance of some of its more high profile critics over the past year. Those critics were abducted by security forces that apparently held them in secret detention without any legal protection and judicial procedure - a serious crime under international law.
While all were eventually released, it should be of profound concern to the EU that a provision in China's draft criminal procedure law could effectively legalise such disappearances. Europe could have used the platform of the summit to press Chinese government representatives to withdraw that provision to protect citizens from a practice at odds with both international law and rights and freedoms embodied in China's constitution. Overlooking the retreat of the rule of law in China and its growing list of victims could seriously undermine the EU's efforts to create long-term, sustainable and mutually beneficial bilateral economic and diplomatic relations - with a government increasingly willing to ride roughshod over international norms.Phelim Kine is senior Asia researcher at New York-based campaign group Human Rights Watch
Economic success, rather unfortunately, albeit seemingly necessarily, has always taken precedence over such ineffably idealistic notions as universal human rights. And China, again, rather unfortunately, is known to be integral to that which we tend to term future prosperity. One would hope however that the EU, being, as it were, an organisation that is supposedly endowed with the intrinsically humanitarian spirit of Schiller's wondrous ode would be more than willing to reverse the order of said priorities. For Europe, if it can be nothing else, could at least attempt to be something of a moral example to the rest of world. Principled action against the Chinese government could be just the place to start, if indeed, we truly believe in those things to which we are said to be committed.
Alexander Herzen - Ireland
I've only just been learning about the United Nations and its Human Rights Declarations; Conventions and Covenants etc. since 2008 through the internet, and I live within the European Union.
However, even the European Court of Human Rights dismissed an application I had made to it in Jan 2008 about my dtate's human rights violations, by retrospectively applying an amendment to the European Convention (Article 26) in Jan 2010, which didn't actually come into effect until June 1, 2010.
That 'amendment' was allegedly 'aimed' at reducing the 'backlog of cases' at the ECHR's, by allowing single judges instead of the former 3 to decide the 'admissibility or otherwise' of applications. But the whole system was incompetent and flawed from the start I think and it was just made worse by that 'act' which violated Article 17 of their own convention.
So there is nothing about the Council of Europe or the European Convention that is morally honest either. The judiciary are clearly corrupt too and only interested in getting highly paid even if they're not doing the job they're paid for, which should be to comply with the International Bill of Rights and other UN International Treaties.
I can't even get legal aid to challenge their refusal to provide any 'reasons for their decision' either, although I have written and challenged their integrity, I am met with silence at every turn. So it's not surprising to me that European States couldn't care less about China's human rights records when every EU or even UN member state also seems to be ignoring them.
This seems to contradict everything the UN was supposed to have been set up for. One of the purposes of the UN Charter was to "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small," and also "to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom".
But I haven't experienced this in my lifetime. How about you? That hasn't even happened, to my knowledge, in the other four states which are permanent members of the UN Security Council, alongside China. So it would take a worldwide revolution of the people of the world to force their hands, I think.
But as they've got all the weapons of violence at their disposal we would simply get slaughtered as peoples around the globe are still being to this day by alleged member states of the UN. It seems to make no difference what kind of 'state' you live in, whether a 'democracy'; 'communist' or other type, because those 'in power' are all fascists and are not prepared to 'let their people's go'.
We are all seen as their 'subjects' and subject to their laws no matter what our rights are. But the only right way to make decisions about human rights, is by proper tribunals and a jury of ordinary men and women who share these rights to determine when or if they've been violated by "any state, group or person".
Single judges sitting behind closed doors and pronouncing judgements without any hearings is in violation of anyone's rights. Perhaps the idiot in charge of North Korea will start the nuclear WW3 and we'll all end up dead, so we won't need to worry about such things any more. LOL.
J Wilson - Market Drayton