Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ottawa weighs shelving Chinese rights dialogue

Ottawa weighs shelving Chinese rights dialogue
Beijing warns of 'serious' repercussions if annual talks put on ice


BEIJING, OTTAWA -- The federal government, under heavy criticism for its ineffective talks with China over human rights, is debating whether to proceed with the "human-rights dialogue" as planned this fall.

The annual event was a centrepiece of the previous Liberal government's policy of engagement with China. But many members of the new Conservative government are sharply critical of China's human-rights record and are seeking a tougher approach.

The dialogue was launched in 1997 as part of an agreement between the two countries when Canada decided not to co-sponsor a resolution about Chinese rights violations at the United Nations human-rights commission in Geneva. It is an annual event, usually lasting one or two days, in which Canadian and Chinese officials discuss an agenda of human-rights issues.

It has been assailed by a coalition of Canadian human-rights groups, which is calling for its temporary suspension and reassessment. And a study by a Canadian professor found that the dialogue is largely a propaganda exercise, intended by China to defuse foreign criticism.

While federal officials did begin preparations for the talks about six weeks ago, there is still no date set, and the normal consultations over the agenda have not yet begun. The delay is seen as a hint that the Tories are reconsidering the event.

A senior government source confirmed yesterday that the government is looking for a stronger mechanism. The source said the dialogue might still be held this year, but could be replaced in future.

A parliamentary subcommittee, headed by Conservative MP Jason Kenney, will also hold a hearing Tuesday to review the annual talks. Mr. Kenney, who acts as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's parliamentary secretary, is a strong advocate of more actively advancing the human-rights cause in China.

The coalition of human-rights groups had sought the review for five years, but were snubbed until the Conservatives took power.

A popular Chinese newspaper warned this month that Canada would face a "serious diplomatic problem" in its relations with China if it cancelled the dialogue. The Beijing-based Global Times newspaper told readers there were "cold winds blowing" from a "behind-the-times" government in Canada.

The Harper government has been badly divided on its China policy, with its caucus and cabinet split between those who want to emphasize human rights and those who want to give priority to trade.

At a closed-door consultation with key groups on Oct. 19, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and International Trade Minister David Emerson heard criticism from Canadian business leaders and academics who warned that Canada's relationship with China is suffering neglect and damage because China is increasingly unhappy with the policy vacuum and the negative signals from Conservative MPs who seem to favour Taiwan over Beijing.

Mr. MacKay, however, gave no indication that the Conservatives would announce a new policy as long as they remain in minority.

In a letter to the government this month, a coalition of a dozen human-rights groups and other China-related organizations said the human-rights dialogue should be "temporarily suspended" because of China's recent crackdown on human-rights defenders and because the Tory government has failed to develop a new China policy.

The coalition, citing a detailed study by Brock University political scientist Charles Burton, said there are "substantial shortcomings and failings" in the dialogue, launched by the previous Liberal government in 1997, and argued that it should be delayed until the government responds to the Burton report.

Mr. Burton, who has been invited to testify to Mr. Kenney's parliamentary subcommittee, concluded that the dialogue is plagued by "pervasive cynicism" and "dialogue fatigue." Most of it is scripted in advance and has "little connection" to realities on the ground, he found.

The event has gradually been downgraded by Beijing and does not even involve the right officials, because the Chinese side is represented by Foreign Ministry officials who have no involvement in human rights, Mr. Burton found.

Carole Samdup of Rights & Democracy, part of the rights coalition, said a suspension would be "good news" if it means a serious rethinking. "The dialogue, in its current form, does not serve human-rights interests," she said.



October 5, 2006
Right Honorable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
FAX: 613-941-6900

Re: Government of Canada Policy regarding Human Rights in China

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

We are a coalition of Canadian organizations that has been working together since 1993 to promote human rights in China.[1] In particular, the coalition submits annual recommendations to the Government of Canada around the UN Commission on Human Rights (now Human Rights Council), participates in government briefing sessions related to the Canada-China bilateral human rights dialogue and maintains an updated prisoner list. In May 2005 and June 2006, we co-organized roundtable discussions with the Human Rights Division of Foreign Affairs Canada to press for a formal evaluation of the bilateral dialogue and, with it, a strengthened approach to the promotion of human rights in China.

The Canada-China bilateral human rights dialogue is a policy of quiet diplomacy adopted by the Government of Canada in 1997 as an alternative to sponsorship of a resolution at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. It became the centre piece of Canada’s efforts to promote human rights in China. Since 1997, our coalition has expressed numerous concerns about the dialogue, in particular the lack of a clear definition and objectives, poor transparency and the absence of benchmarks and monitoring procedures and above all concrete results.

We were therefore pleased that the government agreed, following the May 2005 meeting with our coalition, to conduct a formal evaluation of the dialogue. The report, issued in April of this year, makes clear that there are substantial shortcomings and failings with both the content and process of the dialogue. It also supports many of the concerns expressed by civil society over the years. Notably, the report’s author, Professor Charles Burton of Brock University, indicates that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers that the main purpose of the dialogue is to “defuse foreign unease with China’s human rights record.”

We understand that another session of the bilateral dialogue is now being planned for later this fall. In our view, this is happening without adequate reflection by government concerning the contents and import of the Burton Report. The logical next step would be to undertake a full policy development process not only for the dialogue, but also for Canada’s broader China policy. Recent media reports raise concerns that Canada lacks a coherent China policy. We believe that the time is right to launch a public process to develop and adopt such a policy with human rights at its centre. Among areas needing attention are:

* fundamental reforms to the human rights dialogue between Canada and China;
* other strategies and mechanisms focused on human rights;
* trade and investment;
* conditions for development assistance;
* various matters associated with immigration;
* measures to better protect the human rights of Canadian citizens detained in China, as typified currently by the case of Huseyin Celil.

In the absence of such a process, and in light of the recent crackdown on human rights defenders in China, we recommend that the dialogue meetings be temporarily suspended. This will allow time for a policy reflection as described above including a re-visioning of the bilateral dialogue. Our coalition is currently in the process of developing recommendations specifically for the bilateral dialogue:

* The level of official participation should be raised to Deputy Director. While we do not necessarily endorse or take a position regarding the Canada-China Strategic Partnership, we do consider that as long as the Partnership continues, the human rights dialogue should be situated within it. Inherent in this recommendation is the view that human rights should not be de-linked from other elements of the Canada-China relationship, but should, rather, be part of a “whole of government” approach.

* The dialogue should better integrate the participation of relevant civil society organizations in both Canada and China. Civil society participants should be self-selecting and have established expertise in China issues. Diaspora NGOs should not be excluded from the dialogue process.

* Prisoner lists and support for human rights defenders should be better managed and should include additional dimensions such as prison visits, trial observation, family support and other visible signs that the Government of Canada is strongly supportive of the work of human rights defenders in China.

* CIDA programming and the plurilateral symposium, both announced as part of the bilateral dialogue process, should be subject to a comprehensive and public review.

It must be emphasized that we are not advocating cancellation of the Canada-China bilateral dialogue. We are, however, suggesting that further sessions be delayed until the findings of the Burton Report are adequately addressed. Almost ten years have been spent in a process that was undefined and non-accountable. We now have an opportunity to learn from these mistakes and build a new approach, one that will make a more meaningful contribution to improving the protection of human rights in China.

As always, the members of our coalition offer our support and participation in the next steps of this important process. Please feel free to contact us through XXX at XXX. We look forward to continued collaboration with government in the interests of human rights promotion in China.

Alex Neve
Secretary General
Amnesty International Canada
(English branch)

Mohamed Tohti
Uyghur Canadian Association

Cheuk Kwan
Toronto Association for Democracy in China

Constance Rooke
PEN Canada

[1] The coalition currently includes Amnesty International, ARC International, Canada Tibet Committee, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Canadian Labour Congress, Democracy China-Ottawa, Falun Dafa Association of Canada, Human Rights Watch/Canada, PEN Canada, Rights & Democracy, Students for a Free Tibet (Canada), Toronto Association for Democracy in China, and the Uyghur Canadian Association

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Canada not protecting its own

Canada not protecting its own
Husseyin Celil is being treated as a terrorist in China but Stephen Harper doesn't seem to care


About time!

The CBC's China correspondent has finally discovered Husseyin Celil, the 37-year-old Canadian citizen and father of six who was sentenced to 15 years in a Chinese prison for alleged terrorism.

What's disquieting about this case is that Celil, who came to Canada in 2001 after escaping from China, was virtually kidnapped while visiting his wife's relatives in Uzbekistan last March, and turned over to the Chinese who promptly jailed him.

Canada showed awesome lack of interest in the case -- perhaps because anyone accused of "terrorism" is automatically suspect and presumed guilty. Look at unfortunate Maher Arar, whom Canada cheerfully accepted being sent to Syria as a terror suspect until it turned out he was guilty of nothing.

The government has apologized to Arar and blamed the Mounties. Some think Arar should get the Order of Canada for the mistake. If that doesn't reek of guilt expediency, nothing does.

The manner in which Celil was arrested and shipped to China is as outrageous as Canada's lack of concern. Celil is no more a "terrorist" than others who seek to escape tyranny.

To its credit (better late than never), the CBC's Anthony Germain traveled to Xinjiang province in northeast China to chat with Celil's 80-year-old mother, brother and sister. Their grief and anger is at China, not Canada, whom they hope will do something. Fat chance.

The response of Harper's Parliamentary Secretary Jason Kenney, a pretty straight shooter, is that Celil's is a "complicated case."

Horsefeathers! It's alarmingly simple.

Celil is a Uighur -- the dominant ethnic and cultural group in Xinjiang which used to be the East Turkistan and is both the largest Chinese province, and the only one where ethnic Chinese are outnumbered.

Because Uighurs are Muslim, yearn for freedom and democracy -- yes, democracy of the sort we in the West profess to defend -- the Chinese view them as "terrorists."

Ever since 9/11, any who struggle for identity and independence in China are branded "terrorists" -- including Tibetans. This seems to dissuade Canada from anything more than token support for Celil.

Research by Foreign Minister Peter MacKay's bureaucrats would quickly establish that Uighurs are not terrorists -- despite a few being caught in the net at Guantanamo, most of them since released as victims of Pakistani bounty hunters.

While Canada doesn't have much leverage with the Chinese, one thing certain is that "quiet diplomacy" is not the way to go. That's what the damned Liberals specialized in when they ran Ottawa, and their record of rescuing Canadians in trouble was abysmal.

Harper could at least raise hell in front of microphones, at the UN, with trade delegations and Chinese businessmen. Alert Canadians and the world.

Celil is a Muslim Imam, with a wife in Burlington.


His mosque seems distinctly un-militant -- at least according to Mehmet Tohti president of the Uighur Canadian Association and Alim Seytoff of the Uighur American Association which is aggressively pro-American.

At least the government should drop its dual citizenship policy with tyrannies -- then there'd be no doubt that Husseyin Celil is Canadian and not Chinese chattel. As it is, the Harper government seems to have more trust in Beijing's justice than it does in Beijing's victims.