German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker must substantively raise serious human rights concerns during the upcoming visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Berlin, Germany and Brussels, Belgium from May 31 to June 2.
In recent months, the Chinese government extended its outright assault on even the most basic aspects of Uyghur life including renewed restrictions on religious and cultural freedom, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and movement. China continues to engage in practices ranging from arbitrary detention and the outright denial of legal rights, to the collective punishment and securitization of the Uyghur population. There are few places left on Earth where a group continues to be so physically and mentally confined.
It is in this context in which leaders of the most important union of states will meet to discuss their strategic partnership during the EU-China Summit. Although we recognize that it is in the best interest of the EU to sustain amicable social, political and economic ties with states, it must also be reinforced that the EU officially maintains a position that requires the promotion of the most basic human rights standards internationally.
The EU’s Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy sets out guiding principles with regards to foreign policy, outlining the fact that the EU is founded upon the shared principles of “respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.” In addition, the document sets out the intention of the EU to “promote human rights in all areas of its external action without exception.”
It is therefore discouraging that in past dialogues, the EU has done little beyond paying lip service to China’s gross human rights violations across the country. Living up to the principles that undergird the EU’s approach to international relations requires a sustained and substantive commitment to the citizens who are ostensibly represented at these high level meetings.
An open letter release by Human Rights Watch has also been signed by a number of major human rights organizations including the World Uyghur Congress imploring President Juncker, President Tusk and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini to use the occasion of the EU-China Summit to “lead the EU and its member states in demonstrating [a] unified and unambiguous commitment to promoting human rights in China.” Such a letter demonstrates the importance that civil society holds for the incorporation of human rights into any communications.
The letter sets out a number of recommendations for the EU as a whole as well as Member States that are supported by the WUC here:
- Identify specific human rights violations that the Chinese government needs to address as a strategic priority for the EU and its member states;
- Announce the EU and member states’ intention to suspend and review the bilateral human rights dialogue, as made possible by the June 2016 China strategy, and the intent to pursue dialogues with good-faith actors until a meaningful exchange with the Chinese government can be established;
- Announce the establishment of an accountability mechanism to ensure that human rights issues or cases are discussed in all high-level EU-China meetings, and the pursuit of new Foreign Affairs Council conclusions on human rights in China;
- Explain the steps the EU and its member states will pursue if the Chinese government does not address the concerns raised, invoking the June 2016 China strategy, which states that the EU “will hold China to account for its human rights record”;
- Reiterate the need to resume Dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives and to release immediately and unconditionally those detained solely for engaging in peaceful support for the Dalai Lama;
- Given the timing of the Summit, call for full accountability for the Tiananmen Square Massacre
The EU and German government stand in a unique to position with regards to China and should demonstrate their priorities by stressing the mutual importance and significance of the respect for human rights. It is not just in the interest of the Uyghur people to have their most basic rights protected, but also in the interest of Chinese and European leaders who wish for genuine stability and cooperation on all sides.
Progress in terms of economic growth cannot and must not be divorced from progress in terms of the social well-being of the most vulnerable groups within concerned states. The lack of a strong statement in support of internationally agreed upon human rights standards will merely provide tactic support for increasingly harsh restrictions on Uyghurs in East Turkestan and elsewhere in China.
We therefore call on German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her meetings on May 31 as well as President Donald Tusk, President Jean-Claude Juncker and High Representative Mogherini to make a concerted effort to focus substantive attention to the issue of human rights in China today.
The article appeared in the World Uyghur Congress www.uyghurcongress.org 5/30/17