The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A2
by fax: 613 941 6900
January 31, 2012
Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to you, as members of the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China, in advance of your upcoming visit to China. We view your visit as a valuable opportunity to advance human rights as a key priority in Canada’s relationship with China and in particular to highlight a number of critical issues, including the plight of prisoners of conscience. We recognize that you face competing pressures regarding issues to prioritize, including trade considerations at a time of economic uncertainty. We trust that you will agree with us that human rights cannot be sold short to these interests. The rights of the many millions of people who face injustices at the hands of Chinese authorities on a daily basis matter too much to be given secondary attention. And ultimately, the relationship between Canada and China will be stronger if it is grounded in mutual respect for key international human rights principles.
A critical moment
Prime Minister, you travel to China at a critical time for increased and more forceful attention to human rights in the China/Canada relationship for three key reasons.
First, the past year has been a very difficult time for human rights protection in China. Coming in the wake of the global human rights scrutiny that accompanied the Beijing Olympics in 2008 or the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in 2010, the international community’s interest in China’s human rights situation appears to have waned during 2011. Unfortunately, that diminished concern comes alongside deterioration in China’s human rights record.
Notably, throughout the year there has been a relentless crackdown against the country’s beleaguered human rights community. Human rights lawyers and other activists have been arrested, disappeared in custody, subjected to torture and ill-treatment, held for long periods without charge or trial, and convicted after blatantly unfair trials. The crackdown reflects Chinese government fears that reformers in China intended to launch a peaceful protest movement similar to the so-called “Arab Spring”. But while the world spoke out forcefully about the repression in the Middle East and North Africa, China’s moves against individuals pressing for democratic and human rights change went largely unchallenged by other states.
Against this backdrop, changes to China’s Criminal Procedure Law have been proposed which would allow detention for up to six months in undisclosed locations without charge or trial, essentially legalizing “disappearances.”
Second, your visit comes at a time when the balance of influence Canada has with China has shifted in important ways. Past Canadian governments have argued that Canada holds little sway with China and that forcefulness with respect to human rights concerns will be ignored and will only harm Canada’s commercial links with the country. However, that has changed considerably in recent years with the Chinese government’s notable interest in gaining a foothold in the Canadian natural resource sector, including oil, gas and mining companies and projects. That merits, in our view, a more confident and bold willingness to raise human rights concerns during your meetings with Chinese officials.
Third, we have noted the priority your government has given to the need for strengthened protection of the right to freedom of religion, reflected in the decision to establish an Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs. Many of the very serious human rights problems prevailing in China involve violations of this right, be it the persecution of Tibetans and Uyghurs, the campaign against practitioners of Falun Gong, and the ban on “underground” Christian churches. The government’s decision to establish an Office of Religious Freedom, with a global mandate, offers a timely opportunity to raise these concerns.
In particular, the unprecedented wave of self-immolations as a form of desperate protest by sixteen Tibetans in recent months, and the demonstrations by Tibetans and escalating violence by Chinese security forces in response in Sichuan Province over the past week, are all cause for grave alarm.
In fact, the human rights situation in China continues to be worrying on very many fronts and has worsened recently in some respects. Attached to this letter we have provided a summary of some of the key concerns of members of our Coalition. We have also included a list of ten cases of individuals detained in China at this time who we consider to be unjustly imprisoned. A complete list of such cases would, unfortunately, be far too lengthy to compile. This list is a selection of emblematic cases which we feel represents that range of cases.
Prime Minister, we began this letter urging that you make human rights issues a priority focus of your upcoming visit to China. In that regard we specifically call on you to:
Raise concerns about the worsening situation in Tibet, in line with previous statements made by the US and German governments.
Press for reforms to be instituted to ensure that the right to religious freedom and all other universally-recognized human rights of Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Christians and other faith groups is fully respected.
Raise concerns about the prisoner cases outlined in the list compiled by our Coalition. The document includes the case of Husseyin Celil, which we expect you will pursue at all possible opportunities. We urge you to press forcefully for Canadian consular access to Mr. Celil finally to be granted, and demand that due to the failure to provide him with a fair trial he should be promptly and unconditionally released.
Make it clear that Canada is gravely concerned about the crackdown against human rights lawyers and activists.
Urge that the proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Law be withdrawn and that any further reforms be consistent with international human rights requirements.
We will follow the news of your visit with close interest and look forward to hearing of the efforts you take to press these and other human rights concerns while you are in China.
Amnesty International Canada,
on behalf of the Canadian Coalition for Human Rights in China