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U.S. Must Deliver on Promise of Making Human Rights the Guiding Principle of its China Policy

(Chinese Human RightsDefenders, January 17, 2011) In a speech beforethe United Nations last fall, President Obamaemphasized that “part of theprice of our own freedom is standing up for thefreedom of others,” statingthat “this belief will guide America's leadership inthis 21st century.” DuringChinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington thisweek, Obama must send a strong and clearpublic message that hisadministration is committed to standing up for thefreedom of Chinese citizens.The U.S.governmentshould take this opportunityto articulate a coherent and strategic approach to thepromotion of humanrights in China, a central part of which should bedirect and vocal support forChina’s civil society.  The Chinese governmentrejects efforts by the international communityto raise rights concerns as “imposing Western values”or “interfering inChina's internal affairs.” Yet the ChineseConstitution contains languageexplicitly affirming the guarantee of Chinesecitizens' human rights, and Chinais a state party to major human rights conventions andcovenants as well as anactive player in the UN Human Rights Council. The U.S.government and theinternational community in general must not shy awayfrom holding the Chinesegovernment accountable for its words and deeds. As amatter of principle and itscommitment tomakerespect for human rights a guiding principle of foreign policy, the Obama administration should invokeinternational human rights norms to hold the Chinesegovernment accountable toits constitutional and treaty obligations to protectthe rights of all Chinesecitizens.  Although the Chinesegovernment appears confident and powerfulinternationally, its greatest fear is of its ownpeople—the government spent$75 billion in 2009 on maintaining internal“stability,” a figure nearly on parwith its spending on the military ($80.5 billion) inthe same year.[1]While the Chinese government is investing huge amountsof money in tamping downdissent and silencing calls for reform, Chinesecitizens are organizing andleading tens of thousands of mass protests annually—workers’ strikes over lackof labor protection, protests in ethnic minorityregions such as Tibet andXinjiang, and demonstrations organized by teachers,veterans, bank employees,victims of pollution, and others. The internet hasradically changed theability of individuals and groups to make their voicesheard on these and otherissues: now, as one Chinese scholar puts it, “everyonehas a microphone.”[2] Through protesting,posting information on the internet, andpetitioning the government, citizens are also fightingagainst corruption,forced expropriation of their farmland, and demolitionof their homes. Yet, astheir actions become bolder, they face an increasingrisk of retaliation fromofficials. The more support Chinese civil society isable to obtain from theinternational community, the more effective Chineseactivists can be in theirefforts to promote human rights.  In order to live up to the administration's promise to make human rights aguiding principle of its Chinapolicy, CHRD calls on the U.S. government to: 1.     Continue tomake strong and clear public statements supportingcivil society, human rightsand human rights defenders in China.A lack of such messages can be read by the Chinesegovernment as a compromisein exchange for the government's cooperation on othertrade and strategicmatters. Take every opportunity to speak directly tothe Chinese people, andnot just to the government.2.     Continue toraise individual cases of activists at all meetingswith the Chinese government. CHRD urges President Obamato continue to speakpublicly and privately to demand the release of hisfellow Nobel Peace PrizeLaureate, the imprisoned writer and activist LiuXiaobo (刘晓波), as well as to raise otherindividual cases,including thatof human rightslawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), who has been “disappeared”after being subjected toarbitrary detention and torture. Many former prisonersof conscience andpersecuted activists have reported encouragement andeven reduced mistreatmentafter their cases were publicly or privately raisedwith the Chinesegovernment.3.     Strengthendirect contact with activists and show publicsupport for their activities. Meet with civil societyactors during officialvisits to China.Visit the homes of activists under illegal housearrest. The U.S.government should increase its diplomaticpresence at trials of activists, and attend activitiesorganizedby members of the civil society. The U.S. government’sresources to promotehuman rights and rule of law in China should focus oncivil societyorganizations and actors. 4.     Hold theChinese government accountable to its ownconstitutional and legal commitmentsto its citizens, as well as its internationalobligations.Play a leadership role in multilateral institutions, such as the UN Human RightsCouncil, to strengthen internationalhuman rights norms andmechanisms.5.     Facilitateinternet freedom, central to organizing efforts byChina’s civil society. The U.S. government canprovide direct technical andfinancial support to efforts to undermine the Chinesegovernment's “GreatFirewall,” to train activists on internet security,and to discourage U.S.-basedcompanies from supplying technology to the Chinesegovernment to assist withonline censorship and surveillance.6.     Make “rule oflaw” assistance programs and the “legal expertsdialogue” relevant to legal andadministrative problems responsible for systematichuman rights abuses. One example is the problemof widespread torture, atopic currently generating great attention, if littleconcrete action, withinChina. The U.S. might use its legal aidresources to address issues such as how to preventdeaths in detention and how,in court trials, to reject evidence that was extractedby forced confession. aid could also be used to strengthen protectionsfor criminal defenselawyers from prosecution or being barred frompracticing law as punishment forrepresenting victims of human rights abuses. 7.     Resume the U.S.-ChinaHuman Rights Dialogue only if transparency andparticipation by representativesof civil society in China are guaranteed.Any future dialogues should be open—i.e., publiclyreported in full—in theiragendas, their objectives, and their outcomes. Thetalks should be resumed onlyif it can be shown that real progress has resultedfrom the previous round.  Non-governmentalhuman rights organizations in both countries should beinvited to participatein the dialogues, to engage in parallel dialogues, orat least be sufficientlyconsulted and heard well in advance and afterward.  Media ContactsRenee Xia,International Director (English and Mandarin), +85281916937 or +1 301 547 9286Wang Songlian, ResearchCoordinator (English and Mandarin), +852 81911660David Smalls, Researcher(English), +1 347 448 5285[1]PerryLink,“China: From Famine to Oslo,” January 13, 2011,  New York Review of Books,  [2]“YuJianrongis Hot,” Southern Metropolis Weekly, December 8,2010, translatedexcerpts at China Digital Times,

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