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(New York) - As the European Union (EU) and China prepare for their semi-annual summit in Prague on May 20, Human Rights Watch called on European leaders to press China to respect its international human rights obligations.

The summit, the first since Beijing abruptly called off the planned December 2008 gathering in France as part of an offensive to dissuade European leaders from meeting with the Dalai Lama, will be held under the framework of the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union. The delegation of the People's Republic of China will be led by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

"The EU would be mistaken to let business and trade interests trump human rights," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Without the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights China simply cannot become a better partner for the EU."

Although the EU holds regular human rights dialogues with China, including one in Prague on May 14, those discussions have consistently failed to deliver any concrete result since they began over a decade ago.

"The human rights dialogues increasingly serve as a pretext to segregate human rights concerns away from high level talks such as the present summit," said Richardson. (For more information on Human Rights Watch's view of EU-China relations, please click here).

Human Rights Watch pointed out that since the last EU-China summit the human rights situation in China has markedly worsened in several key respects, including:

  • In Tibet, where hundreds of detainees are still unaccounted for, and which is still not freely accessible to media and visitors;
  • The ongoing detention of one of China's most prominent dissidents, Liu Xiaobo, for his role in drafting an appeal for human rights and democracy, Charter 08; and
  • The harassment of the families of school children who died during the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, many of whom are demanding an official inquiry into the buildings' deficiencies.

As the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre nears, Human Rights Watch also called on the EU to stand firm on the arms embargo put in place shortly after the bold crackdown on students and demonstrators during the night of June 3 to 4, 1989.

"China still refuses to acknowledge that it did anything wrong by turning the army against its own people in 1989," said Richardson. "Until this happens, the embargo should stay."

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