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EU - China relations

Dr. Laima Andrikiene, MEP
EU-China Relations: Opportunities and Challenges
EPP-ED Study Day   
European Parliament
Brussels, October 18, 2007

Let me first of all thank the organizers of this Hearing which is to discuss various aspects of EU-China relations, our common challenges and opportunities. I will concentrate on human rights issues and EU-China human rights dialogue. It is not a pleasure, not at all to speak about human rights violations in any country, be it my homeland - Lithuania or China, but taking into account that we speak about hundreds or even thousands of people who are suffering, whos rights are denied, it makes sense.

Why we care about human rights in the world and in China? The answer is simple: "Whenever a free man is in chains we are threatened also. Whoever is fighting for liberty is defending America." Those words by William Allen White you can find on the Capitol Hill in the USA, but they are exactly about us, and instead of America we could say Lithuania, China or, for example, Russia.

European Union is committed to the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms all over the world. The EU regards human rights as a vital issue for the long-term social and political stability of any country.

Supporting China“s transition to an open society based on the rule of law and the respect for human rights is central to EU-China relations. The EU is committed to promote human rights in China in an active, sustained and constructive way.

Human rights are mainly discussed between the EU and China in the framework of both their political dialogue as well as a specific dialogue on human rights (since 1995). Two rounds of the dialogue take place every year, under every EU Presidency. It allows the EU to channel all issues of concern such as the death penalty, re-education through labour, ethnic minorities“ rights, civil and political freedoms, individual cases etc., in a forum where China is committed to responding. The EU has made it clear on several occasions that it wanted the dialogue to achieve more tangible improvements in the human rights situation on the ground. Nothing will demonstrate that non-confrontational dialogue produces results more effectively than China“s own concrete actions.

On September 6 the European Parliament adopted a report by Elena Valenciano calling on the Commission and the Council to ensure a greater degree of coherence in the EU“s human rights dialogues with third countries, China, Russia, and Iran in particular.

The report emphasises the need to considerably strengthen and improve the EU-China human rights dialogue and stresses that China“s human rights record remains a matter of serious concern. What are those problems the EU and EP in particular are concerned? They are the following: continuing use of the death penalty and abusive forms of administrative detention, the arbitrary detention, imprisonment, torture and harassment of human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers, and the censorship of the Internet. We consider that positive reforms in all of these areas are essential if China is to live up to its promises to improve human rights.

Let me start with the death penalty. The death penalty continues to be applicable to more than 60 offences in Chinese criminal law, including non-violent crimes such as economic crimes, for example, tax fraud. Death penalty prisoners continue to be handcuffed and shackled on death row in all parts of China, including Beijing. Prisoners are executed by shooting, usually to the back of the head, and increasingly lethal injection. Some international human rights organizations, like Amnesty International is alarmed that the use of lethal injection may facilitate the extraction of organs from executed prisoners. Organ transplants have become a highly profitable business, particularly since the commercialisation of health care in China. There are serious concerns that the potential to profit from such transactions combined with apparently widespread corruption among police, courts and hospitals may lead to abusive practices. New regulations on organ transplants released by the Chinese Ministry of Health which took effect on July 1 2006 does not address the crux of the problem, because they only offer guidance on transplants from live donors and failed to address key issues such as the source of organs.

Lack of transparency about the process of execution is mirrored by official secrecy over the exact number of people sentenced to death and executed every year in China. My firm belief is that the whole system of state secrets in China is against its citizens.

The Chinese government refuses to publish full national statistics on death sentences and executions. In March 2004, Chinese legislator Chen Zhonglin estimated the figure at around 10,000 executions per year. No one who is sentenced to death in China receives a fair trial in line with international human rights standards. A number of cases recently reported in the Chinese press reveal that innocent people had been put to death in China due to the widespread use of torture by the police to extract confessions.

In this context let me remind you European Parliament“s resolution of 27 September 2007 on a universal moratorium on the death penalty. The Parliament "urged the EU Presidency and Member States to present a resolution on the moratorium at the 62nd United Nations General Assembly under the heading of 'human rights', in order for it to be adopted before the end of 2007, and reiterated its call on the EU Presidency to involve as many countries as possible as co-sponsors of the resolution. We also called on the EU Presidency to encourage those remaining countries which have not signed and ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to do so, and those Member States that have not signed Protocol No 13 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms on the death penalty to do so.

Re-education through labour also remains in China despite repeated calls from both inside and outside China for the system to be abolished. Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be held in RTL facilities across the country as a punishment for so-called minor offences which are not deemed serious enough to be punished under the criminal law. Periods of RTL, ranging from one to three years are imposed by the police without charge, trial or judicial review. The rise of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in China and the mass detentions of Falun Gong practitioners which ensued after it was banned in 1999 have often been cited as a key reason why the authorities may be reluctant to abolish RTL.

Very few words about arbitrary detention, torture and harassment of human rights defenders: grassroots human rights activists, including defence lawyers, legal advisors as well as journalists and other reporters of human rights violations play an essential role in China, as in all other countries including my own country, of drawing attention to ongoing abuses. The crackdown on individual journalists, newspapers and websites in China has continued over the last year, raising serious doubts about China“s commitment to ensure complete media freedom during the Beijing Olympics. Many aspects of domestic Chinese law and policy conflict with international human rights standards, including rights to freedom of expression. Over the last year, the Chinese authorities have intensified their controls over media outlets, including newspapers, magazines and websites. I do not have enough time to speak about Internet censorship and very new Investigative Report written by Chinese technician working for an Internet company with a pen name "Mr Tao" as well as about other important issues. I hope that other speakers of this panel will do that.

European Parliament in its resolution on the human rights dialogues with third countries also considered that the matters discussed in the successive rounds of dialogue with China, such as ratification of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reform of the criminal justice system, including the death penalty and the system of re-education through work, freedom of expression, particularly on the internet, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience, thought and religion, the situation of minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang and in Mongolia, the release of detainees following the events in Tiananmen Square, and workers" and other rights, will continue to be raised in the context of the dialogue, in particular with regard to the application of the recommendations resulting from previous dialogues and seminars on legal affairs; to this end, we called on the Council to consider extending the time period of the dialogue and to allow more time for discussion of the issues raised.

Speaking about our common challenges and opportunities I would like to stress that the European Parliament in its resolution on human rights dialogues also calls on China and the EU to increase the opportunities for two-way exchanges of information and strategies on the protection and promotion of human rights. The EP considered that China is today facing an ever growing demand for democracy and human rights from among its own people, and stresses that slight progress has been made in some fields, although it is difficult to gauge precisely what impact the EU-China human rights dialogue has had on the changes that have taken place. We also emphasised the need to reframe the dialogue so as to make it more results-oriented and to focus on implementation of China's obligations under international law;

It is important to point out that the human rights dialogue should not be treated as separate from the rest of Sino-European relations. So we should urge the Commission to ensure that its trading relationship with China is linked to human rights reforms, and call in this regard on the Council to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the human rights situation before finalising any new partnership and cooperation framework agreement.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me finish by saying that the Olympic Games are an excellent opportunity to improve the human rights situation in China. And the Games should not provide a new excuse for a crackdown. Chinese Government itself could give a very clear signal and example to follow for many countries on the eve and in the spirit of Olympic Games: to free everyone who has been in prison since the 1989 Tiananmen protests as well as prisoners of conscience, suspend all executions in China pending abolition of the death penalty, and allow free and independent trade unions. And last, but not least: to announce the date of free and fair election in the autonomous region of Tibet. Tibetans also should enjoy the right of expression as well as many other freedoms. Taking into account that for the Communist Party chiefs Tibet remains a controversial issue, that secession is not an option, that "One China policy" is intended to be pursued, and H.H. the Dalai Lama is still refused to return from exile despite his repeated assurances that he would accept Tibetan autonomy under a "One China system", the whole nation would benefit from free and fair election in Tibet autonomous region. I still remember our first free and fair elections in Lithuania 17 years ago after almost 50 years of occupation and Communist regime, and believe me, those elections helped a lot the Communist Party in Lithuania to better understand the reality and future perspective.