U.S. Must Give Teeth to Human Rights Dialogue with Chinese Government

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, April 26, 2011) The two-day U.S.-China human rights dialogue will convene tomorrow in Beijing, despite worries by human rights activists about the hazards of repeating an exercise which allows both governments to claim credit for making efforts to improve human rights without producing any meaningful reforms. The U.S. government has taken a stronger tone than usual ahead of the talks, announcing its priorities and promising to raise issues and cases directly related to the current crackdown on Chinese civil society. The Chinese government, in return, has already publicly opposed the U.S.’s position as interfering in China’s “internal affairs.”

The onus is now on officials from the U.S. to show that the human rights dialogue can be a useful endeavor despite these differences and despite past failures. President Obama spoke last year about making “standing up for the freedom of others” a guiding principle of his administration. U.S. officials are tasked with carrying out that vision amid the Chinese government’s most aggressive campaign against activists in at least a decade. The U.S. government must, at a minimum, clearly and forcefully demonstrate its support for universal human rights both in private and in public during the upcoming talks in Beijing.

“Such closed-door meetings between officials from two governments with sharply different views on human rights have produced very few concrete results,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director. “But the U.S. government can and must use these meetings to hold the Chinese government accountable to its international and constitutional obligations to protect human rights, which means bringing an immediate end to the use of torture and releasing dozens of missing and detained Chinese citizens swept up in the latest crackdown on civil society.”

Since anonymous calls for “Jasmine Revolution” protests appeared online in mid-February, the Chinese government has engaged in a sustained campaign to threaten and intimidate its most outspoken citizens. The authorities are concerned not only with stifling potential protests, but with silencing the entire activist community. A total of 39 individuals have been criminally detained since mid-February, and six of those have been formally arrested and face potentially lengthy prison terms. At least 17 remain missing, and some, including lawyers Teng Biao (腾彪) and Li Tiantian (李天天), have not been heard from in more than two months. Lawyer Jin Guanghong (金光鸿), who recently reappeared after approximately 10 days of enforced disappearance, has stated that he was tortured and drugged during that time. It is highly likely that others who are currently missing, and others who have already returned but have been barred by authorities from speaking up, were or are being subjected to similar abuse and mistreatment.

The U.S. officials attending the dialogue must strongly support the victims of this current crackdown, and civil society in general, during tomorrow’s and Thursday’s talks. Raising cases with the Chinese government, as the U.S. government has already promised to do, remains an important advocacy tool. Past experience has shown that conditions for political prisoners often improve once their cases are raised, even if they are not released. Far from “interfering in internal affairs,” pressing the Chinese government on these cases is a matter of protecting universal human rights. Torture, enforced disappearances, and extralegal detentions violate both the Chinese Constitution and international human rights standards, and the Chinese government is currently pursuing these methods to retaliate against individuals for exercising their freedoms of expression, assembly, or other basic human rights.

To increase pressure on the Chinese government, U.S. officials should seek as much public exposure as possible for the issues discussed during the dialogue. The U.S. government must make strong and clear public statements during the next few days about the cases and issues they raised and the Chinese government’s response. U.S. representatives should push for openness to the media, both for themselves and their Chinese counterparts. U.S. officials should also take any opportunity they can to speak directly to the Chinese people without censoring their own speech, perhaps through online social media or through hosting forums at U.S. consulates in China.

Finally, the U.S. government must keep the momentum going after the conclusion of the human rights dialogue on Thursday. Less than two weeks from now, the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) will be held in Washington, D.C. This is a critical opportunity to integrate human rights concerns with social justice issues such as labor rights, environmental protection, and food safety. Moreover, during the S&ED, U.S. officials should raise the broader implications of the Chinese government’s disregard for the rule of law and the basic socioeconomic rights of Chinese citizens on the overall relationship between the U.S. and China.

Media contacts

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 240 374 8937 (reneexia@chrdnet.com)

David Smalls, Researcher (English) +1 347 448 5285 (davidsmalls@chrdnet.com)

For more information

Please see our website for an updated list of individuals detained or disappeared during the current crackdown: https://www.nchrd.org/2011/04/15/jasmine_crackdown/

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