Human Rights Watch today called on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to use the summit with China's president on October 19-22 to urge President Jiang Zemin to take practical, concrete steps to improve human rights in China and Tibet.
"We are deeply concerned that the new approach by European leaders of promoting human rights in China only through dialogue fails to link specific progress in human rights to improved relations between the European Union and China." said Lotte Leicht, Brussels director of Human Rights Watch. "It is essential that Prime Minister Blair protest the recent deterioration in human rights conditions in China and present an agenda of concrete steps that Beijing should take."
Human Rights Watch has documented a sharp downturn in basic freedoms over the past year including tightened controls on freedom of association, expression, assembly and belief. (See backgrounder attached). Controls were increased as China prepared for the anniversaries of several sensitive dates: the fortieth anniversary of the March 10, 1959 Tibetan uprising, the tenth anniversary of the crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, and the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Over the past year a prolonged economic slump has fueled unrest and heightened the government's concerns with stability.
President Jiang Zemin's determination to bolster the Chinese Communist Party, to placate hardliners, and to secure his own place in history has contributed to heightened intolerance of any organization openly critical of the Party's platform or attempting to function outside Party control. Individuals and groups suspected of ties to "hostile" foreign organizations and those disseminating sensitive political information overseas are particularly targeted.
Over the past year state control of religious affairs in Tibet has intensified. Dozens of judicial executions have been reported from Xinjiang, where some ethnic Uighur groups are advocating a separate state; other alleged "splittists" have been sentenced to long prison terms. Judicial independence and the rule of law in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong was seriously undermined when the SAR government asked Beijing to interpret a ruling by the SAR's highest court. The two key United Nations human rights treaties signed by China in 1997 and 1998 remain unratified.
On the positive side, legal reform efforts continue in China, although the legal system remains highly politicized. Supreme Court President Xiao Yang announced in March that in the interests of transparency, trials would be open and verdicts quickly made public, except for cases involving state secrets. In April, he announced plans to curb government interference with the legal process.
"We agree that the UK should undertake an effort to encourage China's integration as a fully responsible and constructive member of the international community." said Ms. Leicht. "Promoting transparency, accountability, the rule of law, and greater protection of basic human rights is essential to that objective." Human Rights Watch urged Prime Minister Blair to pursue the following concrete recommendations with his Chinese counterparts:
1. Getting agreement to release, amnesty or at the very least review the convictions of the approximately 2000 persons still imprisoned on charges of "counterrevolution." "Counterrevolution" has been formally abolished as a crime, but the Chinese government has stated that its abolition will have no effect on those already convicted. They include numerous nuns and monks from Tibet, labor rights activists and people imprisoned in connection with the crackdown of peaceful demonstrators in June 1989.
2. Initiation of a process to end the system of re-education through labor, which leads to the arbitrary detention of thousands of Chinese citizens each year, without charge or trial.
3. Securing a verifiable commitment from China to implement safeguards on freedom of association and labor rights as per its obligations as a member of the International Labor Organization. The International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Civil and Political Rights which China has signed but not ratified, also contain important safeguards on freedom of association, assembly and expression.
4. Obtaining verifiable information on the current status and whereabouts of the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choeki Nyima, the child chosen by the Dalai Lama in 1995 as the reincarnation of an important Tibetan religious figure. Secure independent access to him for British or United Naitons officials.
5. Getting agreement on unrestricted access to Tibet and Xinjiang by the international press, human rights and humanitarian organizations.
6. Securing a commitment that international humanitarian organizations will be allowed regular access to China's prison system.
7. Pressing for abolition of the death penalty.
"If Tony Blair fails to use the summit to press for meaningful human rights improvements, he will make a mockery of the government's notion of an ethical foreign policy." said Ms. Leicht.