Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda
Shusho Kantei
2-3-1, Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 100-0014
Japan

Re: Your meeting with President Hu Jintao and Human Rights

Dear Prime Minister Fukuda,

We write to urge you to make human rights issues a priority during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s historic visit to Japan in May and to follow up on the letter which Human Rights Watch’s executive director Kenneth Roth sent you on January 8.

We note your commitment to establish a foreign policy dynamic different from that of your predecessors, particularly your new efforts to proactively establish friendly ties with other Asian countries, including China. Your visit to China in December 2007 and President Hu’s upcoming visit—the first such visit in a decade—already demonstrate improvements in bilateral relations as a result of your foreign policy initiatives.

However, we believe you do not see strong bilateral ties purely in terms of government-to-government relations, but also in terms of improving the well-being of the people of those states, including those suffering at the hands of their own governments. While governments are at times reluctant to challenge each other over human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch has found that in the longer term, pressing for positive change will also strengthen and deepen bilateral relations.

We also note that your government intends to stand as a candidate in the next election for the United Nations Human Rights Council to “make a positive contribution” to global human rights. President Hu’s visit is an ideal opportunity and a litmus test for your government to demonstrate the seriousness of its commitment to the promotion of human rights, in line with its “Voluntary Pledges and Commitments” to the United Nations, which reference Japan’s “firm belief that human rights are the legitimate concern of the international community.”

Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented human rights abuses taking place specifically as a result of China’s hosting the Games in Beijing, including restrictions on media freedom, abuses of migrant construction workers laboring on Beijing’s new infrastructure, subjecting those who criticize the Games to house arrest, and conducting sweeps to remove the poorest and most vulnerable groups from Beijing, including rural petitioners. It was these developments, among others, that led us to urge you in January to encourage the Chinese government to honor its Olympic pledges to improve human rights. The recent and further deterioration of human rights, including ongoing violence and repression in Tibet, the arrest and jailing of leading human rights activists, and violations of media freedom commitments in China, leads us to reiterate our request that you publicly discuss crucial human rights issues with President Hu Jintao, particularly:

1. Ongoing violence and repression in Tibet. Chinese security forces have violently dispersed protestors, arbitrarily detained hundreds, and refused to account for their whereabouts or well-being. We have received many credible reports of excessive use of force by police and security forces, torture in detention, prohibition and suppression of peaceful protests, military-type operations to seal off monasteries and villages, house-to-house searches, large-scale arrests, and persecution of clerics. Such treatment fits a well-established pattern of similar abuses in recent years by Chinese authorities in the context of protests, particularly in ethnic minority areas. It has been difficult to corroborate many such reports because the Chinese government has not allowed independent observers into the region, has moved swiftly to expel the foreign press from the region, and has continued to manipulate the information that has been released to place all blame on Tibetans. We appreciated your April 18 remarks urging Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to do the utmost to solve the problems in Tibetan areas, and we ask that you specifically press President Hu to reopen the areas to the independent international observers and the media.

2. Failure by the Chinese government to fulfill commitments made in 2001 to give the foreign media freedom to report during the Olympics. As part of that pledge, in December 2006 the Chinese government unveiled new temporary regulations designed to give accredited foreign journalists expanded freedoms in the run-up to and during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. That decision appeared to mark a significant easing of the tight official controls on reporting activities that have long constrained foreign correspondents’ freedom of expression in China. However, in addition to shutting the foreign press out of Tibetan areas, Human Rights Watch research indicates that these regulations are being persistently flouted and that foreign journalists continue to be routinely harassed, detained, and intimidated by Chinese government officials, security forces, and plainclothes thugs who appear to operate at official behest. Meanwhile, Chinese journalists, researchers, translators and assistants, and foreign correspondents continue to risk potentially vicious reprisals from state agencies for reporting that is not approved by the official propaganda system.

3. Increasing constraints on Chinese citizens who challenge their government’s lack of respect for human rights ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, particularly through the use of extrajudicial mechanisms such as house arrest and jailing on the state subversion charges. Hu Jia, a prominent government critic, was sentenced in April to three and half years in prison and one additional year of deprivation of political rights for “incitement to subvert state power.” Hu’s wife, Zeng Jinyan, also a prominent activist, and the couple’s daughter, Qianci, have been under house arrest in Beijing since May 2007. Hu’s and Zeng’s “crime” was nothing more than challenging the Chinese government’s human rights record ahead of the 2008 Olympics. Another well-known land activist, Yang Chunlin, was also sentenced on the subversion charges in March for five years in prison for his involvement in a petition “We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics.”

4. Continuing disregard for human rights in some aspects of China’s foreign policy. At the United Nations Security Council, China has repeatedly blocked targeted sanctions on responsible individuals of rights-abusing governments, has attempted to silence debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council, and fails to use its considerable leverage in some of the worst human rights crises. For example, although the Chinese government used its influence to press the Sudanese government to agree to a United Nations African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) in Darfur, much more pressure is needed to stop Khartoum’s obstruction of the full deployment of this force on the ground. China should also press Sudan to end its attacks on civilians in Darfur, and to comply with its obligations under Security Council resolutions and international law. In March, prior to the visit of Nafi Ali Nafi, Sudan’s presidential assistant, Japan reiterated its commitment to support a swift resolution to the crisis in Darfur. Japan can demonstrate the seriousness of its commitment by pressing President Hu to use the Chinese government’s leverage on Sudan on behalf of human rights.

In light of these negative developments, we urge that you call on President Hu to:

  • Permit an independent international investigation, ideally led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, into the events in Tibetan areas from mid-March.
  • Reopen Tibetan areas to the international media as part of its commitment to media freedom in the run-up to the Olympics, making those freedoms permanent, and extending them to Chinese journalists.
  • Cease the practice of silencing peaceful government critics or protestors through extrajudicial measures such as house arrest or actual prosecution on grounds of subverting the state, a charge that carries a five-year sentence.
  • Publicly call on the Sudanese government to immediately cease attacks on civilians in West Darfur by Sudanese Armed Forces and allied militia, and to actively facilitate the speedy and unhindered deployment of UNAMID at all levels.

We recently asked in a letter of April 9 that you condition your attendance at the opening or closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing on the Chinese government’s taking the above-mentioned steps. We were disappointed by your April 2 comments that Japan should not say it would stay away from the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics because of the two countries’ close relations. It is legitimate to ask the Chinese government to fulfill the commitments it made to improving human rights in order to win its bid to host the 2008 Games. Moreover, the Chinese government’s invitations to an unprecedented 100 heads of state, and its stated intention to interpret their participation as approval of its policies and practices, makes your concerns about China’s human rights record not only acceptable but also essential.

Although Human Rights Watch takes no position on a boycott of the Games, we do believe that the Olympics is a unique and appropriate moment for world attention to focus on China’s human rights record, and an important opportunity for China’s government to make demonstrable improvements.

Prime Minister Fukuda, you have a rare opportunity to engage President Hu Jintao on the protection of key human rights, including the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, and the rule of law in China. Your long-term, close relations with Chinese leaders uniquely position you to effectively lead these efforts, and it is in Japan’s national interest that human rights are respected in China. We urge you to make good use of this historic opportunity.

We appreciate your attention to these matters.

Sincerely,

Sophie Richardson
Asia Advocacy Director
Human Rights Watch