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From left, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Chinese President Xi Jinping and European Council President Donald Tusk pose for photos before a meeting held at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 © 2016 Reuters

(Brussels, May 29, 2017) – European Union leaders should publicly and privately press China’s government to end its crackdown on human rights and immediately release all detained activists, Human Rights Watch said today in a joint letter with 17 other nongovernmental organizations. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini will attend the EU-China Summit in Brussels with senior Chinese officials on June 1-2, 2017.

“The EU has pledged to ‘throw its full weight behind advocates of liberty, democracy and human rights’ and do so at the ‘highest level,’” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. “EU leaders need to make good on their pledges and make human rights and the freeing of peaceful activists a top strategic priority in the EU’s relationship with China.”

The organizations noted that on various occasions, the EU has publicly decried the deteriorating human rights situation in China, expressed support for independent civil society, and urged the release of imprisoned activists. Yet the EU and its member states have generally failed to move beyond rhetorical approaches and used their collective leverage to forcefully press Chin – an EU strategic partner and second largest trading partner – to end its increasingly brutal crackdown on those who peacefully dissent government policies, journalists who write on sensitive issues, and lawyers who defend activists in court.

The organizations urged EU leaders to take several steps, including suspending the bilateral human rights dialogue until a meaningful exchange with the Chinese government can be established, ensuring that human rights concerns are discussed in all other EU-China meetings, and explaining steps the EU and its member states will take if China does not act to end abuses and release jailed activists.

The EU-China Summit will be held three days ahead of the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. The EU retains an arms embargo against China because of these mass killings and EU leaders should stress the need for a thorough, transparent investigation into the massacre, accountability for the crimes, and adequate compensation for victims and their families.

In addition to Human Rights Watch, the letter was signed by Amnesty International, China Labour Bulletin, DEMAS, FIDH, Initiatives for China, the International Campaign for Tibet, the International Service for Human Rights, Freedom House, Human Rights in China, Human Rights Without Frontiers, World Organisation Against Torture, the International Federation for Human RightsReporters Without Borders, the Ugyhur Human Rights Project, the Society for Threatened Peoples, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, and the World Uyghur Congress.

“The EU has acknowledged that improving human rights in China is essential for the overall EU-China relationship,” Leicht said.  “It’s not clear whether EU leaders have the foresight and courage to push for real change with China’s leaders. A failure to do so would suggest that EU human rights pledges are window dressing aimed to make Europeans feel good about themselves – rather than a principled and consistent policy.”

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