EU must press China over human rights: Amnesty, HRW

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Human rights groups Monday urged the European Union to use talks with China this week to demand Beijing release dissidents, withdraw curbs on freedom of expression and end arbitrary arrests.

"The European Union must seize this opportunity to address the serious human rights violations reported throughout the country," said Esteban Beltran, the director of Amnesty International Spain.

It should demand "strong action from the Chinese government to promote the reforms needed to once and for all respect human rights," he said in a statement.

Spain, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, hosts the latest round of a human rights dialogue with China in Madrid on Tuesday.

But the US-based organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged that the dialogue, which began in 1995, has "consistently failed" to produce substantive results because it is not linked to other issues "such as trade, investment and the environment.

"For too long, the EU-China human rights dialogue has been a toothless talk shop which has failed to meaningfully address the Chinese government's poor record on human rights," Sophie Richardson, HRW's Asia advocacy director, said in a statement from the organisation.

"The EU has an opportunity this week to transform this dialogue into an instrument of meaningful human rights protection in China. A failure to do so will raise serious questions about the utility of the exercise."

For its part, Amnesty International Spain said the European Union "cannot ignore these human rights violations for the sake of economic and commercial interests."

HRW urged the EU to set "benchmarks" for rights improvements at the talks.

In particular, the bloc should press for improvements on freedom of expression, including Internet censorship, and for the release of government critics and rights activists, HRW said.

It urged an end to "arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, particularly those that have occurred in Xinjiang in the aftermath of the July 2009 ethnic violence in Urumqi and those related to 'black jails,' a system of secret, unlawful detention centers that illegally imprisons thousands of Chinese citizens annually."

Xinjiang's ethnic Uighurs -- a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people -- have for decades alleged Chinese political, religious and cultural oppression in the vast region abutting Central Asia.

That anger burst out into savage unrest in July 2009 in Urumqi, when Uighurs attacked members of China's dominant Han ethnic group in violence that left nearly 200 people dead, according to government figures.

China has blamed the unrest on "separatists" but provided no evidence of any organised terrorism.

Amnesty condemned the "arrest and arbitrary detention" of thousands of Uighurs in Xinjiang and called for an "independent and impartial investigation into the events of July 2009."

It also condemned the "severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and religion in Tibet" since Beijing's March 2008 crackdown in the region.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos "should extract concrete commitments on human rights from the Chinese government and make them transparent," Amnesty said in its statement, released in Spanish.

© 2010 AFP

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