2.6.1. Human rights dialogue with China
Two further rounds of the EU-China dialogue on human rights were held during the reporting period: the 24th round took place in Beijing on 17 October 2007 and the 25th in Brdo, Slovenia, on 15 May 2008. As is customary, a field trip and “courtesy visit” at political level formed part of the dialogue package on both occasions and a list of individual cases was handed over prior to the meetings. After a year’s interruption, the practice of holding a human rights legal seminar back to back with the dialogue was resumed in May 2008. In Beijing in October 2007, reform of the criminal justice system in China, freedom of expression, freedom of religion in Tibet and labour rights were key issues for the EU. Substantive responses were received from the Chinese side on the ICCPR, the death penalty, torture, freedom of speech and cooperation in UN fora.
In an exchange that spurred the most robust debate of the session, the EU and China discussed freedom of religion in Tibet, and in particular new measures tightening state control over approval of reincarnated lamas. In the framework of the dialogue, the EU Troika undertook a field visit to Shanxi Province. During the 25th dialogue meeting in Brdo, Slovenia, on 15 May 2008, special attention was given to questions related to freedom of expression, the rights of persons belonging to minorities, in particular in Tibet, and cooperation in UN fora. The EU expressed particular concern about the continuing restrictions on freedom of expression in China, including on press freedom and on the Internet, as well as the situation of human rights defenders and petitioners.
The EU voiced grave concern regarding the human rights and humanitarian situation in Tibet following recent events. China reiterated in detail its customary position on the situation in Tibet and the role of the Dalai Lama, while noting that the door to further talks remained open. Other activities in connection with the dialogue included a field trip to the institutions of the Italian minority in Koper and Piran and the legal seminar held in Bled on 13 and 14 May, which focused on the right to health and children’s rights. This was the first such seminar since 2006 as the seminar planned for Berlin in May 2007 was cancelled due to Chinese opposition to the attendance of two NGOs invited by the EU. The Bled seminar provided a platform for constructive exchanges among Chinese and European academics and officials as well as international NGOs specialised in the topics under discussion. A number of international human rights NGOs, which had been invited by the EU to take part, decided not to participate in the seminar. The next round of the dialogue is scheduled to take place under the French Presidency in Beijing during the second half of 2008.
During the period under review, the human rights situation in China came under intense scrutiny by the international community and civil society due to the hosting of the Olympic Games in August 2008. Based partly on promises made by China as part of and during its Olympic bid, notably complete media freedom for foreign reporters before and during the Games, there were high expectations that China would strive to present a positive image to the world by improving human rights.These expectations were altogether not met and, on the contrary, preparations for the Games led to a strengthening of security measures at the expense of civil liberties and paradoxically contributed to human rights violations in some cases. These included the silencing of critical voices through intimidation, harassment and arrests ahead of the Games, Internet control, forced evictions of people from their homes to make room for Olympic construction works and a general clean-up operation in Beijing involving rounding up of petitioners, activists and others.
The EU carried out an unprecedented number of démarches, including on some high-profile arrests and sentencing of human rights defenders such as Hu Jia, who was also subject of a rare public EU statement. Two meetings of the EU-China human rights dialogue took place during the reporting period127 and human rights concerns were also raised during other high-level political dialogue meetings, including the College of Commissioners’ visit in April 2008.
The March 14 disturbances in Lhasa and subsequent unrest in other areas inhabited by Tibetans further tainted China’s human rights record and made it the target of international criticism. While it is clear that serious violations of human rights were committed, their full extent is difficult to assess since Tibet was effectively sealed off.The reported number of dead, wounded and detained varies widely and there is continuing concern about maltreatment and torture of detainees, the absence of internationally guaranteed fair trial rights and an intensified patriotic re-education campaign.
On 17 March the EU issued a public declaration which, inter alia, called on the Chinese Government to address the concerns of Tibetans with regard to issues of human rights and encouraged both sides to enter into a substantive and constructive dialogue with a view to reaching a sustainable solution acceptable to all that would fully respect Tibetan culture, religion and identity. Following international pressure, two meetings have taken place between the representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities, but with few concrete results so far. Repression of cultural and religious identity remained a problem with regard to the Uighur minority in Xinjiang Province. On the other hand, the Sichuan earthquake in May galvanized an outpouring of international sympathy and support for the Chinese people and initial openness in reporting and news coverage contrasted favourably with the secrecy surrounding the Tibet events.