UK-China Human Rights Dialogue an empty ritual?Human Rights Groups call on Foreign Secretary to take a more robust approach for tangible outcomes"Denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability," David Cameron
[1 March, London] Thirteen human rights organisations and groups have issued a joint Statement on the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue that calls attention to deep-seated concerns held on the Dialogue process and urges the British government to review ways in which the Dialogue can meaningfully make progress.
Philippa Carrick, CEO of Tibet Society, one of the 13 signatories to the statement, commented, "Despite world focus being on Libya and the Middle East, it must not be forgotten that China's human rights record, adherence to internationally accepted human rights norms and its upholding of the rule of law do not bear scrutiny. The Foreign Secretary has issued very robust statements on Libya and, previously, on the people's actions in Egypt. When in Kuwait, the Prime Minister also reiterated the British government's commitment to upholding the values of right to peaceful protest, in freedom of speech and the Internet, in freedom of assembly and the rule of law. It is to be hoped that David Cameron's assertion that, 'As recent events have confirmed, denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, rather the reverse. But these are not just our values, but the entitlement of people everywhere; of people in Tahrir Square as much as Trafalgar Square' (1), presages greater openness and meaningful intent in seeking freedoms and rights for those suffering suppression in China, Xinjiang and Tibet."
A statement on the process of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue from Human Rights groups working in the UK to the Foreign Secretary William Hague.
On January 13-14, 2011, the UK government held its 19th round of annual UK-China Human Rights Dialogue in the UK. As specialists in human rights, China, Tibet and Xinjiang, we are concerned that these annual dialogues have become an all-too familiar and empty ritual that ultimately are not resulting in positive change on the ground. Worse, they can even be counter-productive in that they allow the Chinese government to claim an “achievement” on human rights when in fact no progress has been made. We support engagement with China, but believe that it is time for a new and more robust approach together with other dialogue partners based on achieving real, short-term goals. We outline some recommendations in this statement.
After a generation of economic development and numerous rounds of similar human rights dialogues with countries including the US, Canada, Australia and Japan, as well as with the EU, the human rights situation in China and Tibet has actually deteriorated. This is not a new conclusion; as far back as November, 2000, the cross-party Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, briefed by some of the signatories of this letter, said there had been a “serious deterioration” in the human rights situation in China in the past two years since the UK government began its dialogue in 1998. This lack of progress has been noted by the FCO who, in 2008, acknowledged to the Foreign Affairs Committee that: “China has made little progress towards greater respect for human rights in 2008” (Clause 177, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmfaff/557/55710.htm#a48).
Since then and despite millions of pounds of assistance to promote ‘rule of law’ in China, the Chinese government has engaged in a systematic attack on the rule of law and civil society, has developed the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship system, has intensified religious repression particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang, and characterises two prominent Nobel Peace Prize winners, the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo, as “criminals”.
The need to address this is urgent because human rights underpin almost all of the issues that the UK and other governments face with China today.
Our recommendations are as follows:
• The UK-China human rights dialogue should be transparent; maintaining opacity has enabled the Chinese authorities to misrepresent the process and to undermine essential follow-up of discussions that took place behind closed doors. The dialogue should involve participation with expert NGOs and representatives from civil society and, ideally, also with representatives of the Tibetan and Uyghur communities in exile. When the dialogue is taking place in the UK, the UK should set and share specific benchmarks for what would constitute progress, and both substance of the dialogue and benchmarks should be specific and publicly known. Following the dialogue, UK officials should offer to do interviews via the UK-based media outlets with Chinese-language services, and arrange for their remarks to be translated and circulated inside China, this would help to prevent the Chinese government’s attempts to prevent its citizens from knowing what the UK says about human rights.
• Each round of dialogue should be based on realistic and tangible short-term goals. For example, these could include the release of specific prisoners; the agreement on a date for further dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s envoys and the Chinese authorities; progress towards the repeal of dangerously ambiguous ‘state secrets’ and ‘subversion’ laws; the lifting of restrictions on weiquan (rights protection) lawyers. Discussions to further progress should be continued outside the context of the official meetings.
• UK HMG Dialogues with China have done nothing to significantly improve the Chinese people’s access to justice or the establishment of an independent judicial system. Programmes to assist ‘rule of law’ reforms and to facilitate exchanges of ‘legal experts’ should be designed to address specific structural, administrative and legal problems in China that lead to human rights abuses. Legal programmes would be best directed towards addressing problems such as widespread torture, strengthening protection for defence lawyers who face disbarment when defending political cases and lack of due process. There should be a geographical spread incorporating Tibetan and Uyghur areas when allocating funding for legal training, with a particular emphasis on empowering lawyers in these ‘minority’ areas. Attention should be paid to the need to make lawyers’ associations fully independent, insulated from interference by Party officials, security officials, and the Ministry of Justice, and repealing aspects of annual bar registration for lawyers which allow judicial system authorities to put pressure on and arbitrarily retaliate against lawyers for political and other reasons.
• Dialogue topics should not focus only on abuses of social and economic rights but should assert the importance of addressing violations of civil and political rights. Exchanges on specific prisoners should not be sidelined to the margins of the discussion but affirmed as part of the main agenda and information shared with multilateral partners, particularly the EU. Follow-up based on specific, up-to-date information is critical. The UN Human Rights Council should be used to advance human rights principles and thematic issues.
• Civil society in China, Xinjiang and Tibet should be supported both diplomatically and financially. UK Ministers and senior staff should take every opportunity to meet human rights defenders, lawyers, writers and others who are taking personal risks to promote human rights and the rule of law. Private dialogue should always be accompanied by strong and clear public statements in support of these individuals. Engagement between Tibetan, Uyghur and Chinese scholars and representatives from civil society on key issues such as autonomy and governance should be facilitated and encouraged where possible, for instance in round-table discussions.
• The issue of human rights should not be an addendum or after-thought. Prior to any formal engagement with Chinese leaders, a public statement setting the tone of the encounter and referring to the importance of human rights should be made. Human rights must not be allowed to be ‘ring-fenced’ to only be publicly raised within the official bilateral dialogue framework. Rather, rights issues should be integrated into the agendas of the full wide array of bilateral engagements. Issues such as tainted powdered milk and lead-painted toys should give rise to voicing concerns about the denial of a free, investigative press in China as much as they do about implications to standards of trade and commerce.
• Each round of dialogue should be followed with an open discussion of impact and progress towards bench-marked practical goals. Dialogue should be resumed only if mechanisms are put into place that build upon these areas and if some measurable progress appears to have been made. Decision-making needs to be set within the context of a longer-term strategy to tackle the issues at stake and not based on consequences that could be perceived to risk progress in the short-term, for instance a suspension of the dialogue from the Chinese side.
• Given the UK’s unique historic connection with Tibet, we welcome the UK government’s affirmation of the importance of dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. We are disappointed that the Prime Minister did not raise the coalition government’s position on this issue strongly during his visit to China on 8-11 November 2010, particularly in the light of his earlier discussions directly with the Dalai Lama on May 21, 2008 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qXCQjz6CF0). We recommend that strong statements on this matter are made at the highest levels at every opportunity and not just within the context of the human rights dialogue; and that these statements are reiterated in public both inside China when the occasion arises and elsewhere.
• We welcome the UK’s strong position on not lifting the EU arms embargo on China and encourage UK officials to urge its EU partners to follow the same approach.
We would like to conclude by citing the findings of the Foreign Affairs Committee report in 2008, which stated: “We conclude that there remains little evidence that the British Government’s policy of constructive dialogue with China has led to any significant improvements in the human rights situation. We recommend that the Government sets benchmarks and specific targets for making progress in this dialogue; these should take account of but not be restricted to the time-specific commitments given by China itself during its Universal Periodic Review process.”
Tibet Society, Philippa Carrick, CEO
International Campaign for Tibet, Kate Saunders
Chinese Solidarity Campaign, Dr. Stephen NG
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
English PEN, Gillian Slovo, President
English PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Salil Tripathi, Chair
Federation for Democratic China (UK), Lucy Jin
Free Tibet, Stephanie Brigden, Director
Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy Director
Shao Jiang, Independent, (participant of Tiananmen Square protest in 1989)
Students for a Free Tibet UK, Liam Allmark, Political Lobbying Co-ordinator
Tibetan Community in Britain, Pempa Lobsang, Chair
Tibetan Youth UK, Karma Chura-tsang, Director
Uighur UK Association, Enver Tohti Bugda