U.S. Must Underscore Importance of Human Rights Issues at Strategic and Economic Dialogue

(Chinese Human RightsDefenders, May 6, 2011) Officialsfrom the U.S. and Chinese governments will meet todiscuss a range of issuesduring the third U.S.-China Strategic and EconomicDialogue (S&ED), whichwill be held in Washington, D.C. on May 9 and 10.Following last week’sU.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue in Beijing, U.S.Assistant Secretary of Statefor Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posnerstated that “thediscussion of human rights will be part of theStrategic and EconomicDialogue,” adding that “most senior governmentofficials of the United Statesare deeply concerned about the deterioration of humanrights in China over thelast several months,” which Mr. Posner referred to as“a serious backsliding.” Ata press briefing on the S&ED yesterday, AssistantSecretary of State forEast Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbellreinforced this point, stating, “itis our intention to raise issues of concern directly,honestly, and open[ly]with our Chinese interlocutors, including issues ofconcern associated withhuman rights.”While CHRD welcomesthese remarks, we urge not only StateDepartment officials but also other members of theU.S. delegation from acrossthe government to make strong and clear statementsexpressing concern aboutChina’s deteriorating human rights situation and toraise specific cases intheir meetings during the S&ED.  Duringapress briefing on next week’s dialogue, China’s ViceForeign Minister CuiTiankai (崔天凯) reportedly accusedthe U.S. of “being preoccupiedwith individual cases” and added that the Chinesegovernment hoped the U.S.would “not devote too much energy to individual casesor cases that involveviolations of Chinese law.” “The Chinesegovernment is anxious to maintain thestatus quo of past Strategic and Economic Dialogues,which is to sideline humanrights issues,” said Renee Xia, International Directorof CHRD.  “The U.S. must stressthat human rights issuesare part and parcel of strategic and economicconcerns. For example, fullrealization of such rights as freedom of expressionand freedom of association arenecessary preconditions for protecting theenvironment, improving food safety, andsafeguarding workers’ rights.”  The involvement ofChinese civil society isessential to any hope of meaningful progress on labor,health, environmental,housing, and other issues. Yet the Chinese governmentmaintains a harsh legaland regulatory framework that  restrictscitizensfrom communicating facts and expressing views thegovernment wants silenced andfrom organizing to address these and other issuesrelating to social andeconomic rights. Moreover, the government frequentlyretaliates against civilsociety activists who speak out or try to take action. This trend has worsened notablyin recentyears, and the current crackdown on civil societyfollowing calls for “JasmineRevolution” protests in February highlights theseverity of the situation. Inparticular, restriction of civil and politicalliberties has directlyundermined progress in the following areas:

  • Workers’ rights: The Chinese government continues to restrict the rights of workers to form independent unions and to strike; as a result, labor disputes remain among the leading causes of protests and demonstrations each year. Stories of unpaid wages, nonexistent benefits, and unsafe working conditions abound in both the state-run media and in online message boards and social media. China is a member of the  International Labour Organization, yet by denying Chinese workers the right to freedom of association and “effective recognition’’ of the right to collective bargaining, among other concerns, it falls well short of satisfying its international obligations.
  •  Health and food safety: Wide swaths of Chinese society are put at risk daily as the Chinese government chooses to persecute grassroots activists rather than encourage their work on issues such as food safety, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, discrimination against Hepatitis B carriers, and reproductive rights. In some cases the Chinese government is acting to prevent these individuals from filling a gap in public services. Other times, authorities pursue individuals who are working to expose government misconduct and to protect the health rights of fellow citizens. 
  • Environmental protection: Given the scope of China’s steadily worsening environmental crisis, the government should actively encourage the assistance of civil society in addressing this critical issue. While the government appears to realize this, it is also clear that local officials continue to prize economic growth and “stability” over protecting the environment. As a result, when environmental NGOs or activists begin to challenge polluting businesses, corrupt local officials, or government policy, they often find themselves the victims of persecution, and the citizens whose rights they have worked to protect suffer as well.
  •   Land and housing rights: Farmers living on the outskirts of cities are struggling as their land is increasingly being unlawfully expropriated by local governments and developers eager for quick, sizeable profits. In the cities themselves, officials continue to infringe upon the housing rights and other basic rights of countless Chinese citizens through abuses related to forced evictions and demolitions. Though the Chinese government, perhaps responding to public outrage over a string of highly-publicized suicides and violent clashes over forced evictions, passed new Regulations for Expropriation and Compensation of Residential Buildings on State-owned Land last year, it appears that these new administrative guidelines have done little to curb the worst of these abuses. Activists who organize farmers and rural residents to stand up for their land rights are routinely harassed or imprisoned. 

     ***During his pressconference after the U.S.-ChinaHuman Rights Dialogue, Assistant Secretary Posnersuggested that the U.S.delegation had raised the cases of Chen Guangcheng,Chen’s wife Yuan Weijing,Teng Biao, Ai Weiwei, Gao Zhisheng, Liu Xiaobo, andLiu’s wife Liu Xia, amongothers.  He also indicated thatat leastsome of the Chinese government responses were lessthan satisfactory.  CHRD urgesofficials from all agencies anddepartments of the U.S. government participating inthe S&ED to follow upon the specific cases raised during the Human RightsDialogue to which the U.S.government did not receive satisfactory responses.  In addition, CHRD urges membersof the U.S.delegation to discuss with their Chinese counterpartsthe issues outlinedabove, and to raise additional cases of activists whohave been imprisoned,disappeared, or otherwise unlawfully detained orintimidated for exercisingtheir rights to freedom of expression and associationrelating to their work onbehalf of worker rights, health and food safety,environmental protection andland and housing rights. The following appendixincludes a list of specific caseswe recommend the members of the U.S. delegationraise:  Appendix:  Individual Cases(Illustrativeindividualcases of Chinese citizens persecuted for theirefforts to promote and protect socialand/or economic rights relating to labor, health andfood safety, environmentalprotection and land and housing.) JiangTianyong (江天勇), Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵),and Li Fangping (李方平) arethree prominent human rights attorneys and legaladvisors to a few Beijing-basedNGOs that work on health rights. They have beentargeted recently by officialsduring the “Jasmine Revolution” crackdown; JiangTianyong was subjected to twomonths of enforced disappearance between February 19and April 19, Li Fangpingwas subjected to five days of enforced disappearancebetween April 29 and May 4,and Li Xiongbing disappeared between May 4 and May 6.CHRD is concerned thatthese lawyers may have been subjected to torture orother mistreatment while theywere illegally held incommunicado, and that they wereintimidated into silenceupon their release. KarmaSamdrup (噶玛桑珠) is a successfulTibetan businessman and founder of an environmentalprotection foundation. Hewas named philanthropist of the year in 2006 by CCTV.In June 2010, Karma wassentenced to 15 years in prison for “grave robbing” asretaliation for hisactivism and for speaking out on behalf of hisbrothers, who are alsoenvironmental activists, after they were detained foraccusing local officialsin Tibet of illegally hunting endangered animals. LiuZhengyou (刘正有), anactivist and founder of a rights-defense groupresponsible for providingassistance to petitioners and documenting local rightsabuses in his hometownof Zigong City, Sichuan Province, was sentenced to twoyears in prison in August2010. Liu is particularly active on land rights issuesand has been detainedand harassed numerous times for his efforts to leadlocal villagers in defenseof their land rights.LüJiangbo (吕江波), abusinessman-turned-villagedirector of Keren Village in Fujian Province, wassentenced in November 2010 toa harsh 11-year prison term for a variety of charges.His conviction andsentence are believed to be in retaliation for hisefforts to organizeresidents of Keren to defend their land rights.NiYulan (倪玉兰) is a formerlawyer and longtime housing rights activist who hasbeen repeatedly detainedand tortured over the past decade. She became involvedwith housing rightsissues in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, whenshe documented the forcedevictions of Beijingcitizens, and in 2008 her own home was demolished. Sheis currently undercriminal detention along with her husband, Dong Jiqin(董继勤),for “creating a disturbance” as part of the “JasmineRevolution” crackdown.TanZuoren (谭作人) is aSichuan-based activist and environmentalist. He wasconvicted of “incitingsubversion of state power” after he organized aninvestigation into the deathsof children during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake andattempted to assist parentsof these children in their fight for justice. Tan iscurrently serving afive-year prison term.TianXi (田喜), a 23-year-oldHIV/AIDS activist based in Beijing, was sentenced toone year in prison inFebruary 2011 by a court in his hometown of ZhumadianCity, Henan Province.Tian contracted AIDS as a child as the result of atainted blood transfusion.XuKun (许坤), an electedvillage director in Guangxi Province’s BaihutouVillage, was sentenced to fouryears in prison in April 2011 for leading villagers ina protest against theseizure of their land. YuanXianchen (袁显臣), a worker’rights advocate and “barefoot lawyer,” is currentlyserving four years inprison for “inciting subversion of state power.” Yuan,who is best-known forhis work as a legal advisor to workers at the DidaoMine in Jixi City,Heilongjiang Province, was detained in 2008 afterhelping collect signaturesendorsing an open letter entitled “We Want HumanRights, Not the Olympics.” ZhaoLianhai (赵连海) is a foodsafety advocate and founder of the online advocacygroup “Kidney Stone Babies,”which he created in response to the 2008 tainted milkpowder scandal. Zhao wasconvicted of “creating a disturbance” and sentenced totwo and a half years inprison on November 10, 2010. He was released earlierthis year on medicalparole, but has been living at home under closesurveillance.  For more informationon individuals subjected tocriminal detention or enforced disappearance in recentmonths, updated May 6, pleasesee: http://chrdnet.org/2011/04/15/jasmine_crackdown/ Media ContactsReneeXia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +8528191 6937 or +1240 374 8937, reneexia@chrdnet.orgWang Songlian, Research Coordinator (English andMandarin), +852 8191 1660, songlianwang@chrdnet.org David Smalls, Researcher (English) +1347 448 5285, davidsmalls@chrdnet.org

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