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Open letter to PM Trudeau: Remember human rights when you visit China

August 30, 2016

August 30, 2016 - In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (below), the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China has urged that he place respect for human rights at the heart of the Canada/China relationship.

The letter is accompanied by a prisoner list that highlights three Tibetan prisoners of conscience:  Gendhun Choekyi Nyima (Panchen Lama); Yeshe Choedron; and Shokjang.

The letter also appeals for Canadian intervention to stop the demolitions and evictions at Tibet's Larung Gar Buddhist Institute.

The letter was released today during a press conference organized by the Coalition on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

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Dear Prime Minister,

We write this Open Letter to you as members of the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China,[1]  urging that you make a determined effort to raise key human rights cases and recommendations at every opening during your upcoming visit to China. 

This trip – your first as Prime Minister – comes at a critical time, as China faces serious human rights challenges throughout the country.  There has been a concerted, deepening clampdown on human rights lawyers and activists and intensified measures to curtail freedoms of expression, association and assembly.  These are worrying indications of a deteriorating climate for human rights protection in the country. 

  • We urge that you use every opportunity during this trip to signal your intention to place respect for human rights at the heart of the Canada/China relationship.

Canada’s relationship with China is one of the most crucial foreign policy challenges your government faces.  Given the magnitude and variety of dealings between our two countries, as well as the considerable power and influence that China wields bilaterally and multilaterally, it is a relationship that cannot be seen solely as the responsibility of diplomats and business leaders, particularly when it comes to human rights considerations. 

  • We urge the Government of Canada to develop a comprehensive approach to strengthening human rights protection in China that extends across the entire range of exchanges between Canada and China.   

It has been widely reported that one of the key issues you may be exploring during this trip is the possible launch of negotiations towards a free trade agreement.  To ensure that such an agreement does not contribute to human rights abuses, our organizations recommend that attention to human rights impacts be an integral part of the negotiation process. 

  • We urge that an independent, expert and comprehensive human rights impact assessment be carried out early in the negotiation process of any trade deal between Canada and China.

There are numerous issues of concern that we hope you will raise during the course of your visit.  We understand that such discussions will often take place in private meetings; but we also stress the importance of raising them publicly, including speeches and media interviews.    

Prisoners

With this letter, we enclose a list of 13 cases that are of particular concern to our organizations.  Unfortunately we could readily compile a document of hundreds of individuals who are unjustly imprisoned and who are at risk of torture and other abuses.  We have chosen these cases because they are emblematic of wider patterns of persecution. 

We wish to stress as well that our Coalition is aware of at least seventeen prisoners currently held in China, some of who are included in the attached list, who are Canadian citizens, immediate family of Canadian citizens or have other close Canadian connections.  

  • We urge that you press forcefully for the release of these prisoners and for their human rights to be fully protected.

Human rights defenders

A massive crackdown against human rights lawyers, human rights defenders, other civil society activists and journalists continues, including harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and violence. A series of new laws with a national security focus have been drafted or enacted that present grave danger to human rights advocates. Charges with no real substance, such as ‘subversion of state’, ‘endangering state security’, or ‘mischief and picking quarrels’ are common.  When men and women are targeted simply because they stand up for the rights of others, the human rights of people everywhere in China are imperiled.   

  • We urge you to press for the repeal and reform of laws used to target lawyers and other human rights defenders.

Tibet

In July 2016 Chinese authorities began demolitions at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, claiming that it had become too large and should be reduced by half to 5000 residents.  The demolition order also stated that the monastery accept joint management with government or Chinese Communist Party officials who would hold a three to two majority.  Subsequent eviction notices appear to target students from neighbouring Tibet Autonomous Region who have been ordered to return to their family homes. A communication ban has been put in place by authorities and local protest has been forbidden resulting in at least one suicide. 

  • We urge you to reiterate Canada's support for religious freedom and to publicly urge the Chinese leadership to immediately halt the demolitions and allow students to freely continue their religious studies at Larung Gar. 

 Hong Kong 

Human rights concerns arising from the Government of China’s failure to respect the “one country, two systems” understanding regarding Hong Kong are deepening. The Causeway Bay Books incident is a particularly serious breach.  The denial of candidates’ right to stand for Legislative Council elections because of their views on independence and self-determination violates freedom of opinion and expression rights.  Moves to prohibit discussion of Hong Kong independence in schools similarly erode free speech.  The Government of China’s assertion that all Hong Kong Chinese, including those who hold foreign passports, are first and foremost Chinese citizens raises concerns about consular protection for Canadians of Hong Kong origin.

  • We urge you to call on the Government of China to uphold its promise of “One Country, Two Systems” and respect the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in Hong Kong.

Falun Gong

The unrelenting campaign of persecution against Falun Gong practitioners has been underway for more than 17 years.  Among the many thousands of prisoners are 12 family members of Canadian citizens.   The U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture has reported that Falun Gong practitioners account for two-thirds of torture cases in China.  There has also been widespread international concern and condemnation of organ-harvesting of Falun Gong prisoners, including by Canadian, US and European parliamentary and congressional committees. 

  • We urge you to call on the Government of China to cease the campaign of human rights violations against Falun Gong practitioners and to release all prisoners who are held because of their adherence to Falun Gong beliefs and practices.  

These cases and concerns are far from exhaustive.  Violence, discrimination and other violations against women and girls is of grave concern.  In addition to Tibetans, other ethnic minorities, notably Uyghurs and Mongolians, face widespread human rights violations.   Alongside Falun Gong practitioners, the rights to religious and spiritual freedom of many millions of Buddhists, Muslims and Christians are disregarded and violated on a daily basis.  Beyond Hong Kong, pro-democracy activists throughout mainland China are regularly harassed, threatened, unlawfully arrested, unfairly tried and subject to violence.  Freedom of expression, particularly with respect to internet and online discussions and publications, continues to be under siege.   Concerns about torture and the death penalty are extensive. 

Prime Minister, we appreciate that you will have many competing demands during this important visit, including pressing economic, security and geopolitical matters.  We are confident that you will agree, however, that human rights must top the list.  More than anything, human rights concerns require and deserve your full attention because injustice, inequality and violence continue to be the daily reality for millions of people across China. Respect for human rights is central to the cooperation, stability and prosperity that will frame the ever stronger relationship between our two countries.  We would welcome an opportunity to meet with you or your officials for further discussions. 

Sincerely,

Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada (English branch)

On behalf of the Canadian Coalition for Human Rights in China



[1] The Canadian Coalition for Human Rights in China is made up of 15 Canadian organizations dedicated to ensuring there is strong attention to human rights in Canada’s relationship with China.  This letter is endorsed by the following members of the Coalition:  Amnesty International Canada (English & Francophone Branches), Canada-Hong Kong Link, Canada Tibet Committee, Falun Dafa Association of Canada, Federation for a Democratic China, Movement for Democracy in China (Calgary), Students for a Free Tibet Canada, Toronto Association for Democracy in China, the Uyghur Canadian Society and the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement in China.


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