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U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue: Time to Make it Effective

(ChineseHumanRights Defenders, May 10, 2010) On May 13, the governments of China andtheUnited States are set to hold the next round of talks in the U.S.-ChinaHumanRights Dialogue. These dialogues, which have been held on 12 previousoccasionssince 1989, are widely viewed as not having yielded any substantiveresults. Inorder to break from this precedent, CHRD believes that the two sidesmust agreeto specific commitments and benchmarks by which to measure progressafter thetalks. The involvement of Chinese civil society, which is crucial toaddressinghuman rights concerns and monitoring government action after thedialogue, mustbe stressed during these talks as well. CHRD believesthat the human rights dialogue could be made more effective if the U.S.governmentfocuses on concerns that the Chinese government already feels pressuretoaddress as a result of domestic public debate. Moving forward, thesehumanrights issues should be raised in other bilateral dialogues, so thathumanrights concerns are not relegated to only one forum. Finally, the U.S.government must continue to raise individual cases of prisoners ofconscience,as such actions have proven in the past to have a positive effect onthesituation of those incarcerated. “It will take a serious commitment from both sides to makethis round of talks anything more than a public relations exercise,”said ReneeXia, CHRD’s International Director. “The Chinese government must stopusing these dialogues as an excuseto avoid taking action to curbviolations of human rights,and the U.S. government must make the talks one part of a comprehensiveand consistenthuman rights policy towards China.”  CHRD urges the U.S.government to highlight five critical areas of concern – difficultiesfacinghuman rights lawyers, internet freedom, labor rights, torture, andforcedevictions – which deserve specific attention during the upcomingdialogue (seeattached appendix for further details). While there arecertainly many otherpressing human rights issues whichmerit discussion in the upcoming dialogue – including religiousfreedom, rightsof ethnic minorities, and children’s rights – these five issues havegeneratedconsiderable interest andpublic debate within China in recent months.  CHRD alsobelieves that some of these issues, especially internet freedom andlabor rights,are closely linked to topics which may be discussed during otherbilateraltalks, such as the next round of the U.S.-China Strategic and EconomicDialogue,which will be held in Beijing starting on May 24. By bringing suchconcernsinto other diplomatic exchanges, the U.S. government may be able toexert greaterpressure on the Chinese government to change its practices on humanrights.  Furthermore, in order to independently monitor whether theChinese government takes any concrete steps to address issues raised inthedialogue, Chinese civil society actors must be involved. Chineseofficials havesteadfastly refused to allow independent Chinese non-governmentalorganizationsthe opportunity to participate in bilateral human rights dialogues,includingthe upcoming talks. The U.S. government must facilitate theparticipation of NGOsbefore, during, and after the talks to send a clear message to theChinesegovernment.  Finally, CHRD urges the U.S. government to raise the casesof persecuted human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience duringthedialogue, prioritizing the cases of those individuals who are seriouslyill(such as Hu Jia and Chen Guangcheng) or who are serving particularlylongsentences (such as Liu Xiaobo and Guo Quan). CHRD continues to call fortheunconditional and immediate release of these and all other Chineseprisoners ofconscience. Media Contacts:Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin),+852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286Jiang Yingying, Researcher (English and Mandarin), +852 8170 0237Appendix: Five issues that shouldbe raised in the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue1. DifficultiesFacing Human Rights Lawyers In the past year the Chinese government took unprecedentedsteps to harass and intimidate human rights lawyers. Primarilyconcerned withtwo issues—lawyers who handled politically sensitive cases, such asdefendingFalun Gong practitioners, and lawyers who advocated direct elections totheleadership of the Beijing Lawyers’ Association—the authoritiesthreatened boththe jobs and safety of human rights lawyers in higher numbers than inrecentyears. In May 2009, the licenses of a group of about 20 human rightslawyers werenot renewed by the judicial authorities, and eight still have not hadtheirlicenses renewed as of the time of writing.[1]Two morelawyers had their licenses suspended over the course of the year. Inthe firsthalf of 2010, a handful of lawyers were beaten by either governmentofficialsor unidentified individuals believed to be instructed by theauthorities. Atleast two lawyers were sentenced to prison for defending their clientsin caseswith human rights implications. Most recently, a hearing was held in Beijing regardingtheproposed permanentrevocation of two human rights lawyers’ licenses, a severepunishment usually only exercised after a lawyer has been convicted ofa crime. 2. Internet Freedom In the past year, Chinese netizens havedemonstrated a growing willingness to challenge the government’scensorshippolicies not only online, but in real space as well. Coupled with thefalloutfrom Google’s decision to stop filtering results on itsChinese-language searchengine, the issue of freedom of expression online may be more of aconcernamong China’s400 million internet users now than ever before. And yet, the Chinesegovernment has shown every indication that it not only intends tomaintaincurrent censorship practices and restrictions on internet use, but toin factincrease such efforts in the foreseeable future. In 2009, theauthoritiesblocked access to proxy servers and other tools crucial to digitalactivistsand citizens seeking to circumvent restrictions on their internet use,continued to block or shut down blogs and web pages critical of thegovernment,and introduced administrative regulations which demand internet usersprovidepersonal information in greater detail than previously required. Mostrecently,on May 3, 2010, the Chinese government announced its latest internetcampaign,this time designed to target online crimes as well as “harmfulinformation”from "overseas hostile forces.” 3. Labor Rights The Chinese government is ever-more worried about thecontinued rise in the number of “mass incidents,” or large-scaleprotests.Labor disputes remain one of the major sources of such protests, and yet Chinese workers facepersecution if they try to organize independent unions to representworkers innegotiations with their employers. The only official union in Chinais the All-China Federationof Trade Unions (ACFTU), which is a centralized and hierarchical bodythatrarely, if ever, truly represents workers’ interests. Across China,workers’ spontaneous strikesand protests break out as they find no effective ways to expressthemselves orbargain collectively. When workers do try to organize among themselvesto presstheir demands, the government labels them “underground unions” andreactsstrongly to suppress them. At a recent meeting organized by the centralgovernment’s Politics and Legal Committee, officials stressed theimportance ofcracking down on these “underground” union activities as they have a“damagingeffect” on the stability of the regime.[2] 4. Torture  The persistence of torture has received nationwide attentionfollowing the death of a young man in February 2009, which theauthoritiesinitially attributed to injuries sustained while playing ahide-and-seek game (duomaomao). Other similar cases ofalleged torture were subsequently exposed on the internet, and thegovernmentresponded to these concerns by publishing articles in the state mediarecognizing torture’s existence, pledging to remedy the situation andpublicizing the few cases where perpetrators of torture were sentenced,albeitlightly. However, despite progress in the promulgation of legislationandadministrative documents, the Chinese government has been unable orunwillingto make headway in the fight against torture in recent years. Tortureisroutinely practiced across the country by government officials andindividualsacting on behalf of the state. Torture occurs inside detentionfacilities suchas detention centers and Re-education through Labor (RTL) camps, aswell asinside illegal and secret facilities such as “black jails.” Torturealso occursoutside of these facilities, such as during forced evictions and in theimplementation of family planning policies. Perpetrators of torture arealmostnever held accountable and victims are rarely adequately compensatedbecausethere are no independent complaint mechanisms through which to seekrecourse.   5. Forced EvictionsForced evictions have been a pervasive problem foryears, as many citizensacross all regions and classes have been deprived of their right toadequate housingand subjected to harassment, physical violence, and arbitrary detentionin theprocess. The November 2009 suicide of Tang Fuzhen in protest of herhome’sdemolition galvanized public opinion to a new degree. The Chinese mediaprovidedextensive coverage of the issue, and prominent legal scholars in Beijingsubmittedto thegovernment a well-publicizedcall for a review of the administrative regulations governing forcedevictions.The clearest indication that the Chinese government is concerned aboutthisissue came earlier this year, when the State Council issued a draft ofrevisedadministrative regulations governing forced evictions for publiccomment onJanuary 29, 2010. However, this draft regulation fails to address themain causesof forced evictions and may prove ineffective at curbing rampant rightsabusesassociated with the practice.  ------------------------------------------------------------[1]The eight lawyers whoselicenses have not been renewed are: Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), TangJitian (唐吉田),Yang Huiwen (杨慧文), Wen Haibo (温海波), Liu Wei(刘巍), ZhangLihui (张立辉),Li Jingsong (李劲松), and Tong Chaoping (童朝平). [2]Mingpao, New Focus on Maintaining Stability: Crackdownon Workers, Farmersand Soldiers, the Three Inner Forces (維穩新重點 打擊工農兵「內三股勢力」),March13, 2010.------------------------------------------------------------------  

Human Rights Watch also wrote the letter to Secretary ClintonRegarding the US-China Human Rights Dialogue.


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