Joint Press Release from the International Federation of Human Rights, Human Rights in China, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Sans Frontieres, International Campaign for Tibet-Europe, and Amnesty International.

As the 56th session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights approaches, we, the undersigned organizations, urge the European Union to fully acknowledge China’s deteriorating human rights situation by co-sponsoring a resolution on China.

Since 1997, the European Union has abandoned support for a China resolution at the Commission in favor of relegating criticism of Beijing to behind-the-scenes discussion, in the framework of a constructive dialogue on human rights. But the approach of dialogue alone has proved futile in stopping rights violations, let alone in fostering fundamental human rights progress.

The Chinese government is currently conducting the most ruthless repression of dissent since the 1989 crackdown. This is most vividly evidenced in the drive against the Falungong movement and the harsh sentencing of labor, political and spiritual activists and Tibetan religious leaders to prison terms of up to 18 years. Thus we are seriously questioning the substitution of quiet diplomacy for multilateral pressure as a way to effectively improve the human rights situation in the People’s Republic of China.

In the history of the Commission, a China resolution has not yet been adopted. Thus its full potential has never been realized. Yet, even in its unfulfilled state, the resolution has provided a key focus for debate about the state of human rights in the PRC and has exerted an important form of pressure on Chinese authorities. The experience of the last several years demonstrates the Chinese government’s extraordinary sensitivity to the prospect of debate on its human rights record in the U.N.’s highest human rights situation. The past shows that the kind of pressure resulting from the tabling of a resolution on China has generally been a successful tactic for achieving concessions from Beijing, such as the occasional release of prisoners, promises to sign U.N. treaties or steps towards legal reform. By the same token, when the prospect of a resolution was abandoned, these kinds of concessions dwindled.

Dialogue must not become an end in itself, and that is now happening with China. Continuation of the dialogue, with the prospect of predictable marginal concessions which have no bearing on the current crackdown, cannot be enough any longer. We strongly believe that multilateral pressure must now be part of the strategy to enforce respect for human rights in China. Dialogue without pressure in the face of persistent gross violations of human rights is simply appeasement and degrades the authority of international human rights standards.

The United States has already announced that it would support a resolution on China this year. In the interest of upholding the universality of human rights, it is of the utmost importance that the issue of human rights in China be taken up as a multilateral effort, and not be reduced to a topic of U.S.-China politics in accordance with its own aims in relation to Common Foreign and Security Policy, namely to develop and strengthen democracy and rule of law as well as human rights and fundamental freedoms (art. II EU Treaty), the European Union has a significant role to play.

Although the main impetus for change will come from within China, we believe the international, multilateral pressure provides crucial leverage to those forces inside China that favor progress towards more respect for human rights. The European Union has asserted that the possibility of tabling a resolution would be re-examined every year, depending on the progress of the human rights situation in China. We firmly believe that there is sufficient indication that China has taken a radical step backwards in the realm of human rights. Thus we urge the European Union to support a China resolution at the 56th session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.