European Union (EU) High Representative Catherine Ashton should publicly raise concerns over ongoing and persistent human rights violations in China when she visits Beijing later this week, Human Rights Watch said today. Ashton’s visit to China will take place on April 25 and 26, and is the Head of the EU’s External Action Service’s first official visit since the new Chinese leadership assumed power.
“As EU’s top foreign policy official, Ashton cannot ignore the deteriorating human rights environment in China,” said Lotte Leicht, European Union advocacy director. “She needs to make it a central part of her agenda in Beijing.”
Ashton should also urge top Chinese officials to stop obstructing Security Council action on Syria, including humanitarian access to all civilians in need, and referring jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court.
However, the people at Human Rights Watch know that their wish is not a very realistic one. They know that EU leaders mostly speak about human rights in festive speeches. When actually meeting the violators - particularly when they represent large and ec0nomically important countries like Russia and China - EU bigwigs mention human rights only in a very formal manner, if at all:
the EU’s engagement on human rights in China has been extremely weak since Ashton was nominated as the EU’s first foreign policy chief.
The more than thirty rounds of the official EU-China dialogue on human rights have had little discernible positive effect for those standing up for human rights in China, and at other levels of political dialogue the EU has failed to give human rights and the rule of law a degree of public attention commensurate with the importance of these issues in China.
There is little evidence to suggest that the EU’s statements in defense of human rights are effectively pursued collectively by EU and EU member states diplomats, making it easy for Chinese officials to ignore individual member states or diplomats who do offer up principled criticism. In spite of EU foreign ministers’ June 2012 pledge to “raise human rights issues vigorously in all appropriate forms of bilateral dialogue, including at the highest level” the EU remains hesitant to ensure that human rights violations are addressed and expectations articulated publicly.
For example, when accepting the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and Council President Hebert van Rompuy chose not to mention by name the 2010 Prize-winner, Liu Xiaobo, presumably for fear of irking the Chinese government.