OPEN LETTER TO EU MEMBER STATES THE EU/CHINA HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE

27/09/2000
Press release
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OPEN LETTER TO EU MEMBER STATES
THE EU/CHINA HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE, SEPTEMBER 29, 2000

We welcome the initiative taken by the French Presidency of the European Union (EU) to invite international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to the upcoming session of the dialogue on human rights between China and the European Union, to be held in Beijing on September 28-29. This gesture is appreciated as an effort to make the dialogue a more transparent process, something NGOs have called for since the dialogue was renewed in late 1997.

But human rights NGOs have decided not to go to Beijing. There are several reasons for this. First, we believe that the bilateral dialogue has failed to encourage respect for universally-recognized human rights standards in China. Human rights abuses have reached such alarming proportions over the past two years that we believe that the government of China is currently conducting the most ruthless repression since the 1989 crackdown. Second, NGOs have been invited to participate in other dialogues, such as those with the UK and Australia, but this has been done in such a way as to preclude any real discussion of the abuses occurring in China. Our reasons are laid out in further detail below

International dialogue combined with domestic confrontation
In its current form, the dialogue excludes those in China who are most actively engaged in promoting human rights inside the country. As long as Chinese government uses repression internally while advocating dialogue internationally, the validity of the dialogue should be questioned. Truly constructive dialogue can only occur when the Chinese government opens a dialogue with domestic human rights advocates, and allows for the participation of independent social groups, scholars and lawyers and other individuals in the bilateral dialogues in which it engages.
The participation of independent international human rights organizations begs the question of why they have no counterparts in China. In this regard, we question the legitimacy of dialogues that do not seek to include independent forces within China. As well as inviting independent international human rights organizations to participate in the dialogue, the EU should encourage the Chinese government to engage in dialogue domestically. Unfortunately, the opposite tendency currently appears to be in the ascendant: the Chinese government is suppressing any efforts to organize independently around human rights issues, and has responded to peaceful advocacy for the respect for international standards with confrontational tactic, such as detention, imprisonment, harassment and the deprivation of rights to the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. The Chinese government cannot even tolerate Chinese citizens engaging in human rights advocacy outside the country. Although Human Rights In China was officially invited to participate by the EU, the Chinese government refused to accept the group’s inclusion in the list of participants while accepting the other international organizations. We call on the EU to protest this unjustified exclusionary measure.

Meetings without substance
So far, the participation of NGOs in the dialogue has been virtually a proforma affair, with no opportunity provided for real exchanges between human rights groups and Chinese officials. This is the case in the meetings associated with the UK and Australian dialogues. In general, so little time has been provided for NGO meetings with Chinese officials, that there has been no opportunity for anything that could really be called a "dialogue," and as in the HRIC case, the Chinese government has excluded groups that it does not approve.

No pressure, no result
We are not opposed to bilateral dialogues aimed at achieving improvements in human rights. However, exclusive reliance on such an approach fails to acknowledge the fact that abuses are not caused only by ignorance of international rights standards-where training programs can certainly make a difference. They also result from intentional deprivation of rights, including officially-sanctioned, legally-mandated restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms. We question the wisdom of ignoring this reality and of substituting quiet diplomacy for multilateral and public pressure to address these manifestly state-sponsored violations of human rights. The experience of the last few years demonstrates the Chinese government’s extraordinary sensitivity to the prospect of a debate on its human rights record at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (CHR): the kind of pressure resulting from the tabling of a resolution on China has generally been a successful tactic for achieving concessions from Beijing, such as the occasional release of prisoners, promises to sign U.N. treaties, or steps toward legal reform. The EU justified the renewal of the dialogue with China by listing a number of concessions, presented as indications that Beijing was making progress in the field of human rights. In fact, after China made these few "gestures of good will," it rid itself of public and multilateral pressure. Without such pressure, these gestures might not have become "bargaining chips" in the first place. Now that pressure from the EU has disappeared altogether, dialogue alone does not seem to give China enough incentive to continue with even such symbolic concessions, let alone follow through with concrete actions. This shows that, for Beijing, the dialogue is an end in itself: by engaging in dialogues with more and more countries, China reinforces its immunity against multilateral, concerted monitoring. The Chinese government has imposed a clear conditionality: at any sign that countries or groups of countries are considering using multilateral pressure-the legitimately established response of the UN system to rights violations-Beijing threatens to cut off the dialogue and the cooperation programs associated with it.

Cooperation or window-dressing?
Both the 1997 visit of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and China’s invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Torture have been much touted as "achievements" of the bilateral human rights dialogues. Although the former went ahead, it only did so under such circumstances as to make the utility of the trip highly questionable ; in the latter case, because the Special Rapporteur on Torture Nigel Rodley has insisted on applying the open methods he uses in all other country missions, his visit has been postponed indefinitely.. A much cited achievement has been China’s signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These are, of course, welcome and long-overdue steps. However, China has continued to engage in egregious violations of the standards they contain, and has failed to give any timetable for ratification.
After the visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to Beijing in September 1998, a U.N. Needs Assessment Mission went to China in March 1999 to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding a program of cooperation between the Office of the High Commissioner and the Chinese government. Robinson’s second visit to Beijing in March 2000 was supposed to be an opportunity to finalize details and sign the MOU. But she left empty-handed with no indication of when such an agreement could be reached, or whether the existing MOU would have to be renegotiated-a perfect example of China’s stalling tactics.
Thus in practice, China’s much-vaunted cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms is all too often more words than substance. A great deal is made of the fact that they happened at all, but there is little attention to what, if any, results were achieved in terms of improving the human rights situation. Dialogue alone does not seem to give China enough incentive to continue with even such symbolic concessions, let alone follow through with concrete actions.

Substance, transparency, accountability
The dialogue should aim at achieving tangible results, such as seeking the release of detained human rights defenders, eliminating all forms of administrative detention-as China was requested by the UN Committee Against Torture to do during the body’s recent review of China’s report-, imposing a moratorium on death penalty, or prompting China to ratify the two covenants without reservations and implement their provisions. The EU should make public the schedule and content of the dialogue ahead of each session, and report regularly on the achievements of the dialogue. Cooperation programs-when they actually get started, which often takes an inordinately long time-should be carefully designed so that they address the real causes of human rights violations. Training and cooperation programs should be publicly and thoroughly described: goals and means, stage of implementation, budget, participants, time frame and results; and regular, independent evaluation of programs should be undertaken based on established benchmarks. The EU should make public the content of its political and technical exchanges with the PRC. The virtually complete blackout on reporting back regarding responses (if any) to individual cases and situations raised in the political dialogue means that there is no possibility of follow-up on such matters, and thus raising them becomes a singularly pointless exercise.

Dialogue should not be continued at all cost
Human rights should remain a core element of foreign policy relating to the PRC, with dialogue forming part of an integrated strategy. Dialogue should be among a package of measures, and must be backed up with significant pressure, including monitoring of rights violations by the CHR. Dialogue without pressure is nothing but appeasement and will merely serve to degrade the authority of international human rights standards. Dialogue and cooperation programs must not be used to undermine other approaches to achieving improvements in human rights conditions in China. Dialogue should not be continued at all cost. We believe that if there is no progress in eliminating the root causes of human rights abuses and establishing protections for rights, dialogues should be suspended and other avenues, such as multilateral action, should be pursued. We call on the EU to make public the results of its own assessment of the dialogue and to be consistent with its own position, as expressed in the March 20, 2000, General Affairs Council : "The EU maintains its position that dialogue is an acceptable option only if enough progress is achieved and reflected on the ground."

Liu Qing
President of HRIC

Patrick Baudouin
President of FIDH

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