Human rights groups slam EU over Tibet stance

19.03.08 @ 09:19

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have slammed the European Union's stance over Tibet, calling the reaction "tepid" and demanding much more robust pressure on China from the 27-nation European bloc.

  • Human rights groups say the EU is applying a double standard to Chinese human rights abuses in Tibet (Photo: wikipedia)

"Once again, this is a test for the European Union, which needs to decide whether it's going to be a serious player or just sit on the sidelines," Human Rights Watch's Asia director, Brad Adams, told the EUobserver.

"The EU's reaction has been tepid and needs to be much stronger," he said, criticising the statements from both the European Council and European Commission calling for restraint from both protesters and the Chinese authorities.

"While there has been violence on both sides, the ultimate responsibility lies with China. They've created the conditions for the unrest."

"You can see the difference between how they are dealing with China and how they dealt with Burma, when there was a similar crackdown," he said, referring to the autumn 2007 assault by the Burmese military junta on high-profile dissidents and Buddhist monks in which thousands of protesters were rounded up and unknown numbers killed.

At the time, the EU banned imports of gemstones, timber and metal from the country.

"The EU shouldn't just take strong action in response to human rights violations of small states, but also strong states, like China," said Mr Adams.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International echoed their fellow human rights campaigners. "We've seen a very weak statement from the council," said Susi Dennison, the group's external relations officer at its Brussels office, in an interview with the EUobserver.

"And the EU presidency statement called on China to respect international democratic principles, but China actually needs to go further and adhere to its international legal obligations, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention Against Torture."

"The EU needs to be pushing for the Chinese government to account for detained citizens in particular, and in the run-up to the Olympics, while the world is watching, they need at a minimum to press China to live up to the human rights commitments that it made ahead of winning the games."

"Specifically, Amnesty is calling on the EU to push for China to allow an independent investigation, letting in international observers."

Mirroring Amnesty's demands, the Human Rights Watch official said: "We've called for China to let in the UN to conduct an independent probe into alleged abuses, and we'd like the EU to echo that call."

European Parliament president opens door to boycott

There have been stronger statements coming out of some member states, such as France and Italy, said Ms Dennison.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said that the EU should put forward a common denunciation of the events in Tibet. "What is happening is deeply worrying, and there are no doubts that what we have said so far will be reiterated more vigorously."

Meanwhile, the country's foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador to Rome for talks on the unrest.

French Socialist leader Francois Hollande said Monday (17 March) that his country should consider boycotting the games, while France's foreign minister said he was considering boycotting the opening ceremonies.

But the EU collectively has been ineffective, said Ms Dennison, while other member states have hidden behind the EU statements.

"When the EU speaks with one voice, it is at its most powerful. Unfortunately, this is similar to our criticisms we had of the EU over Darfur.

"The EU has the ability to speak with one voice, but too often, it doesn't use it."

Hans-Gert Poettering, the centre-right president of the European Parliament, who, speaking on German public radio on Tuesday (18 March), said that politicians should reconsider attending the opening of the Beijing Olympic games if the attacks from Chinese authorities continue.

"One has to say to the Chinese: if the repression continues like this, it will cause political leaders who plan to attend the opening of the Olympic Games, as I plan to, to consider whether such a trip is a responsible move," President Poettering told Deutschlandfunk radio.

He also said he did not rule out a wider boycott of the games. "We must send a signal to Beijing," he added.

Mr Poettering's words are a departure from the president's initial comments on the topic, who the day before had repeated the other European institutions' call for both sides to show restraint, adding that he hoped that the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing would be a success.

Christina Gallach, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, responding to the complaints from human rights groups about double standards regarding Burma and China, said: "The relations between the EU and China are totally different from those between the EU and Burma."

"The EU has bilateral agreements with China and various human rights dialogues with the country. Our relationship with China goes back 30 years."

"Whereas we have expanded sanctions on the Burmese junta. There is no comparison with Burma."

She also said that it is not foreseen that the EU will have a special envoy for Tibet, as they do with Burma, a key demand of Tibetan protesters.

'Classic Chinese lock-down on information'

Meanwhile, European and International journalists' associations are calling on the EU to beef up its language around freedom of the media in Tibet. International and Hong Kong journalists have been banned from the region, while foreign television news reports have been blacked out in China, along with access to stories and video about Tibet on the internet.

"The EU should immediately press the Chinese authorities to open the door to scrutiny by the international media," said Aidan White, general-secretary of the International Federation of Journalists. "What we're witnessing is a classic Chinese lock-down on information, a cordon sanitaire to stop journalists reporting and the world from knowing what's going on."

France-based Reporters Sans Frontieres on Tuesday urged political officials to boycott the 8 August Olympic opening ceremony.

"China has not kept any of the promises it made in 2001 when it was chosen to host these Olympics," the press freedom organisation said. "Instead, the government is crushing the Tibetan protests and is imposing a news blackout."

The Peoples' Republic of China say that demonstrators have killed 13 civilians in protests in recent days, while exiled Tibetan leaders in India say some 100 people may have been killed by the Chinese authorities.