The EU and China have been engaged in a human rights dialogue since 1997, but the results of that dialogue have been limited, and human rights abuses and violations in China remain serious and extensive. Repression of any form of dissent is still widespread - against pro-democracy activists, cyber-dissidents, critical journalists, dissatisfied workers and underground churches and religious practitioners such as the Falungong. In addition, social unrest is on the rise in different regions of the country, due to a deterioration of the economic and social rights and the collapse of a social safety network for the majority of Chinese people. Economic liberalisation and the current high growth rate have benefited only a minority of the population, spreading discontent among peasants and workers. Unpaid wages, forced relocations and disruptions, and increased corruption, particularly at local level, fuel that discontent.
Last fall, the EU conducted its first assessment of the EU/China human rights dialogue. In October, the twenty-five EU ministers for foreign affairs welcomed that evaluation and concluded that the human rights dialogue is a valuable instrument and has the potential to positively impact the human rights situation in China.
The FIDH and HRIC urge that the evaluation be made public. “We do not see the point of having an assessment process if the result of the assessment must be hidden from public scrutiny,” noted Sidiki Kaba, President of the FIDH. In February 2004, FIDH and HRIC, prepared and submitted a preliminary assessment based upon the benchmarks announced by the EU and included concrete recommendations and suggestions.
Human rights must be on the agenda in a meaningful way not only at the separate human rights dialogue, but also at the EU/China Summit this week. If the EU is to truly embrace human rights as a corner stone of its foreign policy, the human rights dialogue must be part of an overall policy agenda whereby human rights are systematically discussed at EU/China meetings, at all levels.
The FIDH and HRIC also urge the EU to retain the weapons sales embargo on China, and urge those EU leaders that support lifting the embargo to push China on human rights progress before such a lift is considered.
Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China urges, “The EU must get serious about using its leverage, and strengthen the transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of the dialogue process.” Key issues include reform of the Reeducation Through Labour (RTL) system, ratification of the ICCPR, greater investment into education and health care, and as the Dalai Lama has advocated, a peaceful solution on Tibet must be reached.