Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Rice,
We write to express our concerns regarding the Administration's stance with respect to promoting human rights in China in the run-up to the August 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In our December 2007 letter to you, we raised concerns about abuses of media, labor, property, and due process rights in China, and asked a series of questions about the United States government's strategy for constructively addressing these issues. To date we have received no response.
President Bush expressed his hope in September 2007, when he accepted an invitation to the Games’ opening ceremonies, that “China's leaders can use the opportunity to show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance.” However, events of the past two months clearly demonstrate that those hopes are not being fulfilled. Human Rights Watch continues to document systemic abuses of human rights in China, but also abuses taking place specifically because of the Games.
The Chinese government has repeatedly failed to honor its public commitments on human rights. This includes its recent pledges to improve its human rights record as befits a host government to the Olympics. Recent egregious examples of the worsening human rights situation abound. For his participation via webphone in a European Parliament hearing on human rights abuses in China during the run-up to the Games, the well-known activist Hu Jia was taken from his home on December 27, 2007. His act of speaking frankly to a legislative body, and urging that 2008 be “the year of human rights in China,” drew the charge of “subversion,” which could carry a sentence of five years. On February 19, 2008, Yang Chunlin, a land rights activist, was found guilty of “inciting subversion” for helping organize a petition entitled, “We want human rights, not the Olympics”—a development that suggests it is now illegal in China to criticize the Games.
Foreign journalists continue to be the target of crude repressive actions and threats. In January, four German journalists attempting to visit and interview the wife of jailed legal activist Chen Guangcheng were pelted with rocks by plainclothes thugs apparently working at official behest. Such incidents, which are not isolated, directly contravene specific pledges made by Beijing to the International Olympic Committee to ease restrictions on foreign journalists. The Chinese authorities have pressured at least two international media outlets to cancel interviews on the subject of China’s human rights record and the Olympics.
Despite these widely-reported developments, the US administration’s response has been relatively muted. Its public comments have been vague and have not articulated consequences for China if it fails to improve its human rights track record.
The contradictory signals from top administration figures on the US posture towards the Games and human rights give the Chinese government further incentive to stall or backslide. We were greatly encouraged by your public comments on February 13 that “...the role of the United States is...to continue to stand for the very concerns that we have for human rights and freedoms in China and to use the opportunity [of the Games] to continue to promote those.” Yet the very next day, the President stated that he is “not going...to go and use the Olympics as an opportunity to express my opinions to the Chinese people in a public way,” and that he sees “the Olympics as a sporting event.” In those same remarks, he also referred to the “Dalai Lama crowd,” a disrespectful characterization of those who advocate for the human rights of Tibetans, suggesting he does not take seriously the efforts of this leader to whom he awarded the Congressional Gold Medal just a few months ago.
It is unthinkable for the President or other senior American officials to maintain a public silence on human rights while the President is in Beijing. It is crucial that before and during the Olympics that the United States speak out about basic principles. Failing to do so would send a signal to Beijing that the United States does not place the highest priority on human rights. Instead of silence in August, President Bush should tell the Chinese government that if there are no improvements in the human rights situation he will have to reconsider his willingness to attend the Olympics.
We look forward to meeting you to discuss these issues in greater detail.
Asia Advocacy Director
Human Rights Watch
Washington Advocacy Director
Human Rights Watch