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China: Kerry Should Prioritize Rights With New Leadership

On First Visit as Secretary, Address Audience Beyond Government

(New York) – US Secretary of State John Kerry should publicly deliver a strong message in defense of human rights to China’s new leadership when he visits the country later this week, Human Rights Watch said today. Kerry will visit Beijing April 13-14, 2013.

“This is Secretary Kerry’s first visit to China in his new role, and he can set a high bar by stating publicly that the fate of Chinese activists and the efforts by people in China to secure their rights are key concerns of the United States,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Some past first visits have given a decidedly mixed US message on the importance of human rights protections in China, so it’s critical that Secretary Kerry deliver a firm, clear statement.”

Although the new Chinese leadership has expressed rhetorical support for reform on some key human rights concerns, such as reeducation through labor, abuses remain rampant throughout the country. The Chinese government denies people the full exercise of basic rights such as freedom of expression, association, and religion, and systematically suppresses dissidents and human rights activists. The Nobel Peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobois serving an 11-year sentence for “incitement to subvert state power,” and harassment of activists by state authorities can extend to their family members. Central and local government authorities continue to impose particularly harsh and restrictive policiesin Tibet and Xinjiang, and fail to address popular and peacefully-articulated grievances in those regions.

In an April 1 letter, Human Rights Watch urged Kerry to:

·         Speak to an audience in China beyond the government, stressing that the US and many people in China see eye-to-eye on human rights, even if the Chinese government does not;

·         Publicly enumerate human rights abuses and remember defenders as a means of maintaining credibility with activists in China and increasing pressure on the Chinese government; and

·         Explicitly urge the Chinese government to resume negotiations with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders and press for a response to underlying grievances in that region.

“In his confirmation hearings Secretary Kerry noted that no nation is as committed to the cause of human rights as the US is,” Richardson said. “Given the many acute human rights abuses in China, there will be much for him to discuss with the new leadership in Beijing.”

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