European Council President Donald Tusk and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) arrive to attend a EU-China Summit in Brussels, Belgium June 2, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Virginia Mayo/Pool
(Brussels) – European Union leaders should publicly and privately demand that China release those deprived of their liberty for exercising human rights, including poet Liu Xia, the widow of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, and Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, Human Rights Watch said today in a joint letter with 23 other nongovernmental organizations. 

European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker, European Council President Donald Tusk, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini will attend the EU-China Summit in Beijing with senior Chinese officials in mid-July 2018.

“EU leaders, who have pledged their full support for courageous human rights defenders, will visit Beijing around the first anniversary of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo’s July 2017 death under state guard,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director. “Now, those leaders need to deliver on their pledge and make the immediate release of Liu Xia, Gui Minhai, and so many others a top strategic priority.” 

Beijing has made clear its disdain for the human rights principles to which the EU says it’s committed. The question is whether – and how hard – the EU is willing to fight China to uphold those.

Lotte Leicht

EU Director

The EU has pushed back against China’s ruthless crackdown on human rights, the groups noted, including through statements at the United Nations Human Rights Council, expressions of concern about individual cases, and outreach to human rights defenders. Yet, none of these EU actions have achieved the releases of any rights activists in China and the EU has yet to fulfill its 2012 pledge in its Strategic Framework on Human Rights to “throw its full weight behind advocates of liberty, democracy and human rights” and to do so “in all areas of its external action without exception” in China. Several member states chose to abstain rather than vote against a problematic Chinese resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018.

The organizations urged EU leaders to take several steps, including publicly pressing for the releases of Liu Xia, Wang Quanzhang, Tashi Wangchuk, Ilham Tohti, Lee Ming-che, and Gui Minhai, among many others, and developing a committed EU strategy to ensure their releases. They also asked the EU to identify specific human rights issues that the Chinese government needs to address as a strategic priority for the EU and its member states.

In the year since the last EU-China Summit, China has not only arbitrarily detained Liu Xia, Gui Minhai, and countless human rights lawyers and other activists, it has also continued to adopt abusive laws and maintain a vast censorship apparatus. Chinese government policies systematically deny fundamental rights to ethnic minorities and religious communities, and hopes for legal reform have now faded. China increasingly exports its abusive practices through international institutions – such as politicized criminal investigations through Interpol – while attempting to block independent activists from accessing human rights forums, including the UN.

In addition to Human Rights Watch, the letter was signed by Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Committee to Protect Journalists, Covenant Watch, Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort, Freedom House, Frontline Defenders, Human Rights in China, Initiatives for China/Citizen Power, International Campaign for Tibet, International Federation for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, International Tibet Network, Lawyers for Lawyers, Reporters Without Borders, Society for Threatened Peoples, Taiwan Association for Human Rights, Tibet Justice Center, Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization, Uyghur American Association, Uyghur Human Rights Project, and World Uyghur Congress.

“The EU’s efforts to counter China’s rights crackdown don’t simply fail people in China – they fail to even protect EU citizens who might run afoul of Chinese authorities,” Leicht said. “Beijing has made clear its disdain for the human rights principles to which the EU says it’s committed. The question is whether – and how hard – the EU is willing to fight China to uphold those.”