Montreal: Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) today called upon Canada to suspend its current "bilateral human rights dialogue" with the People's Republic of China until a thorough evaluation of its effectiveness has been conducted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
Amnesty International, the Canada Tibet Committee, the Canadian Labour Congress, PEN Canada, and the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, called for the suspension following the recent crackdown on human rights defenders and activists in China. They further urged the Government of Canada to take steps to introduce a resolution condemning China's human rights practices at the upcoming 55th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
"There is no use engaging in private government to government discussions on human rights when there is no system for public accountability nor benchmarks by which to measure progress of the dialogue", said Cheuk Kwan, Chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China. Government reports of the dialogue sessions are not available to the public.
Canada was the first western country to adopt the bilateral human rights dialogue in 1997 following a controversial decision not to co-sponsor a resolution on China at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. At the time human rights groups and trade unions condemned the policy shift, warning that removal of multilateral scrutiny of China's human rights record would only decrease pressure on China to reform.
"China is a signatory to international agreements such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights", said Thubten Samdup, President of the Canada Tibet Committee. "But at the same time, the 9 year old Panchen Lama has been held for over three years in incommunicado detention. It is a complete mockery of international legal norms and universal rights. The bilateral dialogues being pursued by Canada and other western countries have not produced results".
In recent weeks, sham trials resulted in sentences ranging from 11 to 13 years for Xu Wenli, Wang Youcai and Qin Yongmin who had been arrested for efforts to form the China Democracy Party (CDP). Last week a 10 year sentence was imposed on veteran labour activist Zhang Shanguang, following a three hour trial. Zhang was accused of reporting incidents of labour unrest to Radio Free Asia in Hong Kong.
"We want to see Canada participate in multilateral fora because bilateral dialogue appears to be ineffective. The Chinese Government threatens citizens who challenge its one-party government through attempts to form an opposition party. This is a clear violation of the freedoms of opinion, expression and association," said Charlotte Gray, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN Canada.
As well as urging the Canadian Government to suspend bilateral dialogue with China, the NGOs also called upon China to immediately release all political prisoners, to respect the human rights of its citizens and to ratify and implement the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights.
For more information:
Isobel Harry, PEN Canada (416) 703-8448
Cheuk Kwan, Toronto Association for Democracy in China, (416) 804-1527
Mary Rowles, Canadian Labour Congress (613) 526-7404
Thubten Samdup, Canada Tibet Committee, (514) 487-0665
John Tackaberry, Amnesty International/Canada, (613) 744-7667