As Chinese Premier Li Peng was due to arrive in the Netherlands for official talks, Human Rights Watch called on the Dutch government to press for significant human rights improvements in China and Tibet. The organization also urged the Hague to resist expected pressure from Li to drop any resolution on China at the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which convenes in Geneva on March 16.
"Last year, Holland was a leading sponsor of a resolution on China at the Commission," said Sidney Jones, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. "China's overall human rights record has not significantly improved since then. And it is only the pressure of the annual U.N. debate that has persuaded the Chinese government to take some limited steps, such as its signing of a major human rights treaty last October. Holland should help to maintain that pressure," she said.
Human Rights Watch noted the decision by the European Union (EU) to hold a China-EU summit in early April at the time of the Asia-Europe (ASEM) summit in London, as well as Beijing's invitation to the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to visit China sometime in 1998. "We welcome all efforts to engage China in dialogue on human rights, but if the dialogues are to be any more than pro forma talks, they have to be backed up by diplomatic pressure," said Ms. Jones. "It's also crucial that the integrity of the U.N. system be protected. If China uses its economic leverage to squelch any move to put a resolution forward, it undermines the notion of the Commission on Human Rights as a body which can look at the human rights practices of all U.N. members, regardless of political, strategic, or economic clout."
Last year, Beijing threatened to cancel trade deals with Holland and Denmark, another leading sponsor of a Geneva resolution, in retaliation for their rights criticism. A Dutch trade mission scheduled to go to China last June was postponed shortly after Beijing successfully lobbied to keep a critical measure from being debated or voted upon in Geneva.
Human Rights Watch urged Dutch officials to call on Premier Li to take specific steps to improve human rights, including ratification without major reservations of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This is the treaty China signed last October, and only by ratifying it will China be obliged to legally respect its provisions. It should also sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; reform its draconian state security laws and abolish arbitrary administrative detention; take steps to protect the freedom of association of workers; and release significant numbers of prisoners detained for the peaceful expression of their political or religious beliefs. It should also ease restrictions on access to Tibet and Xinjiang by foreign journalists and human rights monitors. Human Rights Watch also criticized the European Union and the United States for the long delay in reaching a decision on a China resolution at the Commission, while Beijing is already lobbying key governments in an attempt to thwart any serious diplomatic effort in Geneva. At the General Affairs Council of the EU in Brussels on January 26, the EU foreign ministers agreed to put off a decision on the resolution until later this month.
On February 4, Sir Leon Brittan, European Trade Minister, in a speech in London, urged the EU to pursue dialogue with China on human rights instead of taking "actions which register criticism and even condemnation," failing to recognize that only the combination of concerted political pressure and engagement can effectively push China to make meaningful improvements.