President Hu Jintao
People's Republic of China
Zhongnanhai, Xichengqu, Beijing
People's Republic of China

Dear President Hu,

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights in more than 70 countries around the world.

We write to urge the government of the People’s Republic of China to immediately recall the shipment of weapons aboard the An Yue Jiang, currently off the coast of southern Africa. We also urge you to ensure that no further arms and ammunition deliveries are sent to Zimbabwe while the very high risk exists of such weapons being used against the civilian population.

Human Rights Watch understands that the ruling ZANU-PF leadership in Zimbabwe placed an order for significant quantities of small arms from Chinese suppliers around the time of the country’s elections on March 29, 2008. One of these shipments was sent by sea, on the An Yue Jiang. We believe that there may be other shipments currently in transit.

Human Rights Watch has extensively documented a deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Our news release on April 19, 2008 documents the establishment of torture camps by members of Zimbabwe’s armed forces and ZANU-PF. These camps are aimed specifically at members of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change and Zimbabwean civilians who did not vote for President Robert Mugabe in the March elections. In addition, Human Rights Watch has reported that over the past year, police and military forces in Zimbabwe have often opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in violation of international law. In our view, any state sending arms into this highly repressive environment could make them complicit in human rights abuses by the Zimbabwean government.

China has an official code of conduct for the export of arms to other countries which states that the following principles shall be observed in exporting arms: (1) conduciveness to the capability for just self-defense of the recipient country; (2) no injury to the peace, security and stability of the region concerned and the world as a whole; (3) no interference in the internal affairs of the recipient country.1

The shipment not only violates your government’s arms exports policy, in particular the principle on not selling arms in a situation where regional peace and stability will be undermined, but also its international responsibility to protect civilian populations at risk of mass human rights violations. Chinese Foreign Ministry and National Defense officials regularly insist that weapons will not be sold into situations where abuses are ongoing.

China’s ongoing relations with Zimbabwe have tended to ignore the government’s appalling human rights record. These arms shipments will likely call into question your government’s claim of being a responsible member to the international community. China’s foreign ministry spokesperson is quoted as saying that this is “a purely military goods transaction… [that] has nothing to do with the latest situation in Zimbabwe.” This demonstrates either irresponsibility or failure to acknowledge pre-existing (and now escalating) politically motivated violence by the government in that country.

The Chinese government cannot hide behind a fiction of non-interference in other countries’ affairs and reject responsibility for the use of these weapons once they have been transferred to Zimbabwe. It is widely acknowledged that China’s and other countries’ arms–regardless of the legality of the sale in terms of arms embargoes–may likely be used by the Mugabe government against its political opponents and ordinary civilians. Responsibility for these abuses falls in part to those who sell the weapons. This reality has led other countries to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

There is only one appropriate course of action for a responsible power that cares about its relationships with Africa and its international profile: recall all shipments immediately.

We appreciate your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Sophie Richardson
Asia Division Advocacy Director

Georgette Gagnon
Africa Division Director


[1]Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Administration of Arms Export, Decree No. 234 of the State Council of the People's Republic of China and the Central Military Commission of the People's Republic of China, adopted October 22, 1997, revised in 2002, http://www.gov.cn/english/laws/2005-07/25/content_16975.htm (accessed April 22, 2008).