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Human Rights Watch Open Letter to European Union Foreign Ministers


Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch has supported the European Union (E.U.) in its attempts over the last three years to bring about improvements in human rights in China through on-going dialogue with Chinese government officials, combined with rule of law exchanges. However, we continue to believe that dialogue and exchange programs alone are insufficient, and we are deeply concerned that the China-E.U. bilateral dialogue has become largely a rhetorical shell, lacking in accountability, transparency, and clear benchmarks for progress. The E.U has acknowledged the lack of substantive progress on human rights while the dialogue has been underway, and has objected to the serious regression in recent months on some key human rights issues, such as freedom of association and religion.

Agreement to engage in a human rights dialogue should not foreclose other unilateral or multilateral initiatives in support of human rights in China. For this reason, we have been disappointed at the E.U.'s unwillingness to support action at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. In a serious dialogue and exchange of views, there will inevitably be fundamental disagreements. These cannot and should not be papered over or downplayed.

We propose that in order to make the China-E.U. dialogue useful in advancing a human rights agenda, the European Union take the following steps before agreeing to continue the talks with Beijing:

1) define in advance of the next round of dialogue meetings the human rights issues of most concern to the E.U. and make these public;

2) announce clear benchmarks for measuring progress and how these will be evaluated; e.g., through E.U. or U.N. delegations visiting China to make first hand observations, through NGO contacts, in reports and hearings before national parliaments in E.U. member states, or some other method. The E.U. should also commit to preparing an annual progress report to be issued in time for December debate by the European Parliament;

3) publish in advance a timetable for reaching the stated benchmarks, recognizing that there will be different time frames for different issues. The Chinese government should be urged to immediately refrain from making use of repressive laws. China could also fairly quickly provide statistics on death sentences or the names of all those serving time for "counterrevolutionary" offenses and their places of detention, but reforming security laws to bring them into conformity with international standards would clearly take longer.

4) agree that the progress report and the European Parliament debate will form the basis for the E.U.'s position on whether to sponsor a resolution on China's human rights record at the U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva the following March, and agree that the E.U. will make that position publicly known in the month prior to the debate.

Human Rights Watch further proposes that the European Union place the following five priority issues on the China-E.U. dialogue agenda. However, rather than trying to comprehensively cover all of them in one large and unwieldy semi-annual dialogue, we suggest the creation of five smaller working groups, one on each issue, that would meet regularly with their Chinese counterparts in the appropriate ministries. These working groups should meet frequently and should have the capacity to meet quickly if a crisis situation occurs. They should be oriented towards making meaningful progress, not just exchanging views, and should be charged with recommending detailed step-by-step procedures for arriving at benchmarks. They should be required to submit reports to all E.U. member states, the European Council, and the European Commission in time for review and internal discussion before the next full semi-annual dialogue meeting.

It would also be useful to include in some working group sessions M.P.'s and M.E.P.'s and delegates from China's National People's Congress, as well as jurists, legal and labor rights experts, and diplomats from both the E.U. and China, in order to broaden the discussion and widen its possible impact.

We also suggest that the semi-annual China-E.U. human rights dialogue be conducted as stock-taking meetings based on input from the five thematic working groups, with high-level E.U. troika participation including the European commissioner in charge of foreign affairs.

Priority issues
Prompt ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The dialogue process should identify obstacles to ratification and aim to develop a program of legal assistance to deal with conflicts between existing Chinese law and the principles enshrined within the aforementioned documents. Reservations, if any, should be kept to a minimum.

Elimination of the death penalty. As a first step, we propose an immediate moratorium on executions. If there are technical objections to immediate abolition, further steps to that end should include a speedy process to achieve a significant reduction.

Arrangements for access by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized in 1995 by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama. He and his family "disappeared" in May 1995 just after his sixth birthday. In December 1995, Chinese authorities recognized another child as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama and have insisted that monks and nuns recognize him on pain of expulsion from their monasteries. China's ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child took effect in 1992.

Review by a special commission of judges of the sentences of all those imprisoned for so-called counterrevolutionary crimes. Those who were sentenced under these laws should be released if they were convicted for conduct that is no longer criminal, if the review shows that the trials were biased or flawed, or if the suspects were not afforded minimum international fair trial guarantees. The process should be both credible and transparent. The revision of the Chinese Criminal Law, which went into effect on October 1, 1997, eliminated the crime of counterrevolution. However, an unknown number sentenced under the old law are still imprisoned. Chinese authorities stopped providing the relevant statistics in 1997, but it is estimated some 650 prisoners fall into the counterrevolutionary category. The names of some 200 sentenced in connection with events in May and June 1989 are known. A first step should be a complete listing of all those still incarcerated for counterrevolutionary crimes. The list should include name, home residence, alleged crime, length of sentence, court rendering verdict, and place of imprisonment.

Abolition of all forms of administrative detention so that justice is delivered only by fully independent tribunals acting in an impartial manner. We recommend as a first step that the dialogue partners set up a committee of experts to review the "reeducation through labor" (laodong jiaoyang) process whereby a committee is empowered to administratively sentence Chinese citizens to a labor camp or farm for up to three years, renewable for a fourth. The administrative detention process is arbitrary and often dependent on statements of Public Security Bureau (police) officials uncorroborated by independent evidence and with no opportunity for the accused to present a defense. In some cases, "sentences," are announced within a day of the initial detention. (See attached memorandum.)

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