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Letter to Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council Re: Forthcoming Visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping

Dear President of the European Council,

We write on the occasion of the forthcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping visit to Brussels on March 31, 2014. In light of European Union commitments to human rights, made unambiguous through the 2012 European Union (EU) Strategic Framework on human rights and democracy and Action Plan, we urge that you make the deteriorating human rights situation in China a central topic of discussion during this visit. We deplore the fact you have not been specific in past public statements about human rights violations in China and thus failed to engage in a public dialogue with both the people of China and Europe. At a time where courageous Chinese activists, journalists, and lawyers are demanding government accountability and implementation of rights enshrined in both Chinese and international law, it is quite simply unacceptable for you as President of the Council not to speak out as set out in the EU’s Strategic Framework.

In the year since President Xi assumed power, Chinese authorities have launched one of their harshest crackdowns on civil society in recent memory, harassing, detaining, and prosecuting dozens of activists associated with peaceful efforts to promote government transparency and public asset disclosure. While the government has undertaken some reforms, such as the abolition of the abusive reeducation through labor system of arbitrary detention, such progress is undermined by the ongoing use of other such systems. The government continues to tightly control the domestic press, and in the past year imposed new restrictions limiting online speech. Human Rights Watch believes that the lack of an independent judicial system, constraints on the freedom of expression, and persecution of civil society jeopardizes a host of fundamental EU goals: a vibrant trade relationship, a reliable security partnership, a predictable diplomatic interlocutor.

While we appreciate strong statements on individual cases in China, such as the March 2014 remarks by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on the death of Chinese human rights defender Cao Shunli, these and other EU diplomatic initiatives on human rights are continually undermined by a lack of robust, high-level reinforcement on occasions such as presidential visits and summits. Leaving strong statements to the EU High Representative while acquiescing to weak language in joint statements—such as the September 2012 EU-China Summit communique’s note that both sides “emphasized the importance of promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law”—gives Chinese authorities the opportunity to choose which EU position they prefer. In addition, Chinese officials have long sought to contain discussion of human rights issues to official dialogues or lower-level visits. These problems become even more acute if EU leaders fail to resist such pressure and raise human rights during a visit on European soil. Consequently, our first request of you for the forthcoming meeting with President Xi is to reiterate concerns about Cao Shunli’s death, about Liu Xiaobo’s ongoing detention, and about the death penalty, and to do so publicly.

In addition, while we were encouraged to see the kind of access granted to EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis during his September 2013 visit to China, it remains unclear how that is translating into better rights protections inside China. The official EU-China human rights dialogue continues to accomplish very little, and we see little discernible implementation of either the Strategic Framework or Action Plan with respect to China. We therefore also urge that you take the occasion of the forthcoming visit to publicly describe what these initiatives have yielded, and how they will translate into meaningful, actionable rights protections inside China.

We continue to believe that the EU’s founding principles, buttressed by its diplomatic and economic salience to China, make robust, pro-rights diplomacy possible and essential. Other steps to further human rights that the EU could publicly announce on the occasion of the forthcoming visit include requesting:

  • Visits to both Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia;
  • The release of Ilham Tohti, Xu Zhiyong, Liu Ping, Chen Wei, and Chen Xi;
  • Permission for all EU officials to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region;
  • A timetable for China’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ; and
  • The establishment of a parallel human rights dialogue with independent voices inside China.

With the adoption of the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy the EU pledged to raise human rights issues “vigorously in all appropriate forms of bilateral dialogue, including at the highest level.” We call on you to live up to this pledge and support those inside China struggling to ensure their human rights.



Lotte Leicht                                                                      

EU Director                                                                       

Human Rights Watch                                                   



High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Baroness Catherine Ashton

Secretary-General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Mr. Pierre Vimont

Deputy Secretary General for the European External Action Service (EEAS), Ms. Helga Schmid

Deputy Secretary General for the European External Action Service (EEAS), Mr. Maciej Popowski

Head of Cabinet to President of the European Council, Mr. Didier Seeuws

Advisor to the President of the European Council on Asia, Ms. Anne Kemppainen

Chair of the EU’s Political and Security Committee, Ambassador Mr. Walter Stevens

Ambassadors to the EU Political and Security Committee

Head of Cabinet to the High Representative, Mr. James Morrison

Advisor to the High Representative, Mr. Miguel Ceballos Baron

EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis

Acting Head of the Delegation of the European Union to China, Ms. Carmen Cano

Managing Director for Asia and Pacific, EEAS, Mr. Viorel Isticioaia-Budura

Head of Division for China, EEAS, Mr. Ellis Mathews

Acting Director of Human Rights and Democracy Unit, EEAS, Ms. Anette Mandler

Human Rights Desk Officer for China, EEAS, Ms. Friederike Tschampa

Chair of the EU’s Working Party on Asia (COASI), Mr. Boguslaw Majewski

Members of the EU’s Working Party on Asia (COASI)

Chair of the EU’s Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM), Mr. Engelbert Theuermann

Members of the EU’s Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM)

President of the European Parliament, Mr. Martin Schulz

Vice-President of the European Parliament responsible for Democracy and Human Rights, Mr.

Edward McMillan-Scott

Chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Elmar Brok

Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, Ms. Barbara Lochbihler

Chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with the People's Republic of China, Mr. Crescenzio Rivellini

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