March 22, 2005
MEMORANDUM TO: OPINION LEADERS
FROM: ELLEN BORK, Deputy Director
SUBJECT: Human Rights and the EU Arms Embargo
From numerous accounts, it appears that the European Union will postpone plans to lift the arms embargo it imposed on Beijing in response to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. According to the same accounts, Beijings enactment last week of a law authorizing the use of force against Taiwan tipped the scale against lifting the embargo before summer. Actions taken to exert even greater control over the Beijing-appointed leadership in Hong Kong reportedly also played a role, especially in London.
Neither Chinas intentions toward Taiwan, nor its denial of autonomy to Hong Kong should have come as a surprise to European leaders. But the fact that it was Chinas own actions that made it impossible for the EU to lift the embargo at this time should cause European leaders to question the assumptions upon which they based their drive to lift the embargo.
In particular, Europeans who favor lifting the embargo insist that they need to send a positive signal to the leadership in Beijing. But what about the signal it would send to the people of China? If it is true, as some accounts state, that Paris and Berlin have only agreed to stand down for now, perhaps the plea by former Chinese protesters at Tiananmen Square and other activists, released today in Paris, will lead them to reconsider their claim that the abuses of 1989 are no longer relevant today.
The letter, signed by 500 human rights and democracy activists, was sent today to Javier Solana, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission. The signers, including many who reside inside China, contest the claim that Chinas human rights situation has undergone a fundamental change since 1989 and ask the EU not to lift the arms embargo until three conditions are met:
1. A general amnesty of all prisoners of conscience, including those imprisoned in connection to peaceful protest in 1989, and public trials by independent court for those charged with criminal acts.
2. A reversal of the official verdict on the 1989 movement as a counter-revolution riot, allowing an independent truth commission to investigate and provide a comprehensive account of the killings, torture, and arbitrary detention, and bringing to justice those responsible for the violations of human rights involved.
3. Adoption and implementation of the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights, taking concrete actions to enforce other international human rights conventions and treaties that China has joined.
Doing away with this sanction without corresponding improvements in human rights, the dissidents argue, would send the wrong signal to the Chinese people, including especially those of us who lost loved ones, who are persecuted, and for all Chinese who continue to struggle for the ideal that inspired the 1989 movement.
We could not agree
more. The events of 1989 and the Chinese leaderships position
on them today are central to the question of how to deal with Beijing
now and in the future. If Europe, the United States, and the worlds
democracies are to work constructively in shaping Chinas rise, then,
it is essential that the defense of human rights be the bedrock of that
partnership. See the full text of the letter below:
The Open Letter to EU Secretary General and President of the European Commission
March 22, 2005
José Manuel Barroso
Dear Secretary-General Solana and President Barroso:
Sixteen years ago, the European Union set specific human rights conditions when it imposed a set of sanctions on China for its military crackdown on pro-democracy protest in June 1989. Despite continued human rights abuses, and specifically, the Chinese governments refusal to be accountable for the crackdown, the EU is considering lifting the arms embargo, the last and most significant of these sanctions. While the EU has temporarily postponed its decision, it should not resume the discussion until China meets specific conditions of human rights.
We, the former leaders in the 1989 pro-democracy movement and families of victims of the Tiananmen massacre, would like to respectfully remind the EU of the enduring relevance of the events of 1989 to the Chinese people. We request that any future discussion about ending the embargo be conditioned on improving human rights in three particular areas:
1. A general amnesty of all prisoners of conscience, including those
imprisoned in connection to peaceful protest in 1989, and public trials
by independent courts for those charged with criminal acts.
Contrary to the claims made by some European leaders recently, the human rights situation in China has not undergone any fundamental change since 1989. The regimes position that peaceful demonstration to demand democracy and freedom was counterrevolutionary, hence justifying brutal suppression and even use of deadly force - remains unchanged. Public commemoration and demands for re-evaluating this official verdict remain punishable offenses. In the last few months alone, police detained, beat and put under house-arrest several dozen people, including members of the Tiananmen Mothers and former student leaders, who openly demanded the government to reverse its verdict on June 4th and release the more than 250 political prisoners jailed for their roles in the1989 movement.
Sixteen years after Tiananmen, the Chinese state remains highly repressive despite its calculated token gestures to avoid international censure. Rapid economic growth has not been translated into improvement of social economic rights and has resulted in new patterns of rights abuses. The state continues to incarcerate people for expressing their ideas or organizing to defend their own rights, detain people in Re-education Through Labor camps without judicial review, persecute practitioners of officially unsanctioned religions, use torture to extract evidence, and engage in widespread and arbitrary use of the death penalty. The Chinese government has made use of sophisticated technology to infringe upon freedom of expression and information.
In 1989, the imposition of the arms embargo and other trade sanctions sent a clear message to the Chinese government to censure its bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters. They demonstrated Europe and other democratic nations strong commitment and firm support for the arduous struggle of the Chinese people for human rights and democracy. While the impact of easing non-military trade sanctions is ambiguous due to possible distress of such sanctions on the life of ordinary Chinese, lifting arms embargo is unjustifiable on similar ground due to its impact on regional security.
Given the EUs commitment to promoting human rights, democracy, and rule of law in China, we hope the EU will not let business interest stand in the way of advancing its core values. We believe it is imperative that the EU make concerted efforts to pressure the Chinese government to meet the three minimal conditions specified above before reconsidering whether to lift the embargo. Doing away with this sanction without corresponding improvements in human rights would send the wrong signal to the Chinese people, including especially those of us who lost loved ones, who are persecuted, and for all Chinese who continue to struggle for the ideal that inspired the 1989 movement.
The Tiananmen Mothers in China:
Ding Zilin, Zhang Xianling, Zhou Shuzhuang, Li Xuewen,
Student leaders and activists of the 1989 Tiananmen movement:
Wang Dan, Liu Gang, Jiang Qisheng, Tong Yi, Wang Youcai,
And other pro-democracy and human rights activists:
Liu Binyan, Fang Lizhi, Su Xiaokang, Gao Han, Che Hongnian,
As well as about four hundred activists on the Zhao Ziyang Memorial Committee.
(The above is a partial list of supporters to this letter. Many names are withheld for the safety of those living in China.)
Josep Borrell Fontelles
Ambassador Julien Alex
Ambassador Martine Schommer
* Zhao Ziyang Memorial Committee seeks accountability and justice for the June 4th 1989 massacre and strives for fundamental democratic reform and human rights protection in China. The group was formed after the Chinese government suppressed efforts calling for reversing the official verdict on 1989 at the occasion of the death of Zhao Ziyang, the former Party Secretary General, who died on January 17 after sixteen years house arrest for being sympathetic with the student movement. Chinese Rights Defenders is a network of volunteers assisting grassroots human rights activism in China.