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China: EU Should Demand Concrete Progress on Rights in Dialogue

June 29, 2010

EU-China Bilateral Rights Talks Need Clear Benchmarks, Not Rhetoric
Human Rights Watch
June 28, 2010

New York, June 28 -- The European Union should
set benchmarks for human rights improvements with
the Chinese government during this week’s
EU-China human rights dialogue, Human Rights Watch said today.

The EU should use the June 29 round of talks in
Madrid as an occasion to press the Chinese
government to repeal dangerously ambiguous “state
secrets” and “subversion” laws, release
dissidents, and set a timetable for China’s
ratification of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in order to
address serious and ongoing violations of human rights in China.

"For too long, the EU-China human rights dialogue
has been a toothless talk shop which has failed
to meaningfully address the Chinese government’s
poor record on human rights,” said Sophie
Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human
Rights Watch. “The EU should use the upcoming
Madrid meeting to express serious concern about
the Chinese government’s violations of human
rights, and to establish verifiable steps which
will put an end to those abuses and provide redress for the victims.”

The EU-China human rights dialogues are usually
held twice a year, with one session in Europe and
one in Beijing. The dialogues began in 1995, but
in part because they are not linked at the
political or policy level to other key issues in
the EU-China bilateral relationship such as
trade, investment, and the environment, they have
consistently failed to deliver any substantive
improvements on specific human rights abuses in China.

The Madrid meeting will occur in the wake of a
series of unusually blunt and high-profile
official European criticisms of China’s human
rights environment, which has worsened since the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

On June 11, 2010, the Office of the European
Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs
and Security Catherine Ashton criticized a
Chengdu court’s decision to uphold a five-year
prison sentence for civil society activist Tan
Zuoren on charges of “subversion of state power.”
Tan was arrested while attempting to compile a
list of names of child victims of the 2008
Sichuan earthquake. Ashton’s statement described
the court’s move as “entirely incompatible with
[Tan’s] right to freedom of expression and does
not meet international standards of fairness."

On May 17, 2010, European Commission
Vice-President Neelie Kroes called for the World
Trade Organization to investigate the Chinese
government’s extensive internet censorship regime
as a trade barrier which prevents the free flow of information.

Two days after a February 2010 Beijing High Court
decision to uphold an 11-year prison term for
writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo on spurious
charges of “inciting subversion of state power,”
Ashton’s office expressed the EU’s “deep regrets”
about that decision and called for Liu Xiaobo’s unconditional release.

"In the Madrid meeting, the EU can build on this
momentum to address the wider range of serious,
ongoing human rights abuses in China which affect
many thousands of people,” Richardson said. “And
it should underscore those concerns by
articulating specific expectations – such as the
repeal of laws, the release of prisoners, or a
commitment to ratify the ICCPR -- to be met prior to the next round."

Human Rights Watch urged the EU to take up the
following issues with the Chinese government:

* Freedom of expression, including internet
censorship and the imprisonment and/or
persecution of peaceful government critics
including Liu Xiaobo and Tan Zuoren, human rights
activist Hu Jia, activist lawyer Gao Zhisheng,
and civil society activist Huang Qi. The Chinese
government devotes massive financial and human
resources to tightly monitor and control media
and internet content and expression. The EU
should call for the immediate and unconditional
release of Liu Xiaobo, Tan Zuoren, and Huang Qi;
the immediate release on medical parole of Hu
Jia, who suffers from liver cirrhosis; and an end
to the ongoing enforced disappearance of Gao Zhisheng.

* Rule of law, particularly the disbarment of
China’s fledgling "rights protection" lawyers and
obstacles to the operations of China’s civil
society organizations. More than 20 of China’s
leading human rights lawyers were effectively
disbarred in May 2008 after Beijing judicial
authorities pressured their firms not to renew
their annual licenses to practice law. In July
2009, Beijing municipal authorities closed down
the offices of the pioneering legal assistance
nongovernmental organization, Open Constitution
Initiative, on allegations of tax irregularities
and detained the group’s founder, Xu Zhiyong, and
its financial manager, Zhuang Lu, for several
weeks before releasing them. On March 25, 2010,
China’s leading independent women’s rights
organization - the Women’s Legal Research and
Services Center - was abruptly notified that its
affiliation with Beijing University had been
terminated. Because China’s restrictive laws
governing the registration of nonprofit
organizations mandate that applicants be
affiliated and sponsored by a governmental unit,
the decision effectively ends the existence of
the center as a registered nongovernmental
organization (NGO). In early April 2010, the
Chinese government tightened foreign-exchange
rules for domestic NGOs in an apparent bid to
obstruct foreign funding for such groups.

* Tibet and Xinjiang, particularly the executions
of Tibetans alleged to have been involved in the
March 2008 protests there, and of Uighurs for
involvement in the July 2009 ethnic violence in
that region. In the aftermath of protests and
rioting in Lhasa and other cities in Tibetan
regions in March 2008, thousands of Tibetans had
been subject to arbitrary arrest and more than
100 trials have pushed through the judicial
system. Little reliable information has emerged
since that time to indicate releases, acquittals,
or even the whereabouts of those detained. In the
aftermath of ethnic violence in the city of
Urumqi in Xinjiang province on July 5, 2009,
Human Rights Watch has documented that the trials
of 21 suspects alleged to have engaged in that
violence failed to meet minimum international
standards of due process and fair trials.

* Arbitrary detention and enforced
disappearances, particularly those that have
occurred in Xinjiang in the aftermath of the July
2009 ethnic violence in Urumqi and those related
to “black jails,” a system of secret, unlawful
detention centers that illegally imprisons
thousands of Chinese citizens annually.

* Conditions for lifting the EU arms embargo on
China. The Chinese government subjects EU member
states to unrelenting pressure for a lifting of
the arms embargo, which the EU imposed after the
Chinese army killed unarmed civilians in Beijing
and other cities on and around June 3-4, 1989.
The EU should address that pressure squarely in
Madrid by articulating clear benchmarks necessary
for a resumption of arms sales to the Chinese
government, and then ensure that those standards
are met. Those benchmarks should include a
transparent and impartial investigation into the
June 1989 massacre; accountability for those who
ordered soldiers to open fire on demonstrators;
compensation to victims and family members;
release of those still in prison; and accounting
for those who are victims of enforced disappearance.

"The EU has an opportunity this week to transform
this dialogue into an instrument of meaningful
human rights protection in China,” said
Richardson. “A failure to do so will raise
serious questions about the utility of the exercise.”

For more Human Rights Watch on EU-China relations, please see:

The April 2010 Human Rights Watch news release,
"EU/China: Ashton should raise human rights in China":
<http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/04/27/euchina-ashton-should-raise-human-rights-china>

The May 2009 Human Rights Watch news release,
"EU: China Summit Needs Rights Focus"
<http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/05/19/eu-china-summit-needs-rights-focus?

Human Rights Watch evidence submitted for
Consideration in the Inquiry into "The European
Union and China," from April 2009:
<http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/04/17/human-rights-watch-evidence-submitted-consideration-inquiry-european-union-and-china>

For more information, please contact:
In Paris, Nicholas Bequelin (English, French,
Mandarin): +852-8198-1040 (mobile)
In London, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin):
+1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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