General Secretary of Amnesty International Canada: "Prime Minister's Three Days in China Must Be All about Human Rights"
October 20, 2003
Good morning. I'm Alex Neve with Amnesty International.
One day before Prime Minister Chrétien arrives in China, for what will almost certainly be his last trip there as Prime Minister, Amnesty International is urging that he take advantage of this visit to accomplish clear and convincing human rights goalsá-- because, as the Prime Minister arrives, there is simply no denying the fact that grave human rights abuses continue in all parts of China, on an alarming scale, including arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment, unfair trials, and widespread executions.
The impact is felt throughout the country, including by the Falun Gong, Christians, political activists, human rights defenders, workers and labour rights activists, Uighurs, and Tibetans.
The Prime Minister must make it uncompromisingly clear that he is deeply distressed that promised improvements in China's human rights record have not been forthcoming, and that it is long past time for Chinese authorities to take immediate and decisive steps to bring these abuses to an end.
Specifically, the Prime Minister should press the following concerns:
Firstly, the case of Lizhi He. Lizhi He has been in detention since July 2000, arrested and imprisoned simply because of his Falun Gong activities and belief. His prison term will come to an end early next year, but he is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately. Only two weeks before he was arrested, Lizhi He received papers authorizing his immigration to Canada. His wife, Li Zhang, has lived in Canada as a permanent resident for over two years. Throughout his years in detention, there have been concerns about his health, including reports that he has been coughing up blood and is suffering from kidney and lung problems. Amnesty International urges Prime Minister Chrétien to raise Lizhi He's case with Chinese authorities, to urge that he receive immediate medical care, and to insist that he be released promptly and unconditionally from prison. The Prime Minister should also make it absolutely clear that the ongoing crackdown by Chinese authorities against Falun Gong followers, which includes brutal and systematic torture that has led to hundreds of deaths in custody, is unacceptable and must cease now.
Obviously, our main concern in gathering this morning is the case of Lizhi He and that is our primary request to the Prime Minister. And underscore, however, that it's also important during his days in the country, he use advantage of every opportunity to promote human rights messages. It is absolutely critical, for instance, that Chinese authorities and the Chinese public hear clearly from the Prime Minister that Canada will not countenance human rights violations that are carried out in the name of security, a growing and alarming trend in China. As well, the Prime Minister must take advantage of all opportunities and all audiences he has to promote the message that in trade and investment, all business opportunities, it is Canada's expectation and demand of Canadian companies, of Chinese companies, and of the Chinese government that human rights will always come first. So whether it be in doing business, in enhancing security, or in achieving justice and freedom for Lizhi He, the Prime Minister's three days in China must be all about human rights.
Q: Mr. Neve, this is Prime Minister Chrétien's last visit to China. How would you categorize his policy regarding human rights in China? We've heard a lot of talk about this policy of engagement and dialogue. How would you rate Mr. Chrétien's policy in promoting human rights in China now that he's at the end of his tenure?
A: I think it is a sad and undeniable fact that starting with the point of time when Canada -- and not just Canada, a number of governments -- chose to adopt a quiet policy of engagement with China with regard to human rights, rather than more public and visible forms of pressure -- this goes back to 1997 -- from that point on, we have not only not seen an improvement in the human rights situation in the country, quite the contrary, there's been a marked deteriorations in the human rights situation in China. There are obviously many factors that contributed to that, but I think it is almost undeniable that one is the fact that China is not held accountable on the international stage, be it publicly, in bilateral relations between Canada and China and other countries and China, or in important multilateral bodies within the United Nations, for instance, where there is absolute silence with respect to China's abysmal human rights record. Well, that provides no particular motivation for China to comply with whatever government officials are trying to achieve through quiet engagement processes.
Engagement is important. Engagement should continue. Governments should at all times be talking about human rights at all levels of government. But unless it is matched with clear public indications that these are serious issues and that governments demand and expect change, then the efforts of engagement are bound to fail. And I think that, unfortunately, would be our assessment of Prime Minister Chrétien's years of seeking to engage China about human rights.
Q: ... calling on Mr. Chrétien to take a more active role in negotiations? Isn't it difficult to ask an outgoing Prime Minister to have any kind of influence or any kind of clout or any kind of leverage ...?
A: I think there are two important reasons why it's very critical that the Prime Minister be seen as visibly and genuinely concerned about human rights during his three days in China.
The first is this is his last trip to China. It will be seen and understood and reported in that way, including in China. And therefore, final words, parting thoughts from the Prime Minister, who has traveled to China a number of times during his years in office, are significant and it will carry weight. We hear much talk about the Prime Minister's interest in his legacy. Well, here is a particular piece of legacy that is very important
The second, though, is setting the stage for where the government will go next in regards to China policy. If the Prime Minister is very clear and visible and sets the bar high then it makes it difficult for whoever comes next to lower that bar. If the Prime Minister leaves the bar low, then it is only too easy for the government to leave it there. And I think it is critical that he uses this trip as an opportunity to get it up there.
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