Li Xiaorong: What I Told Obama About Beijing’s Human Rights Problem

Long-time human rights activist Li Xiaorong reports for the New York Review of Books blog on her recent meeting with President Obama:

Many Chinese activists view state-sponsored “political reform” in China as simply dead. Human rights lawyers and legal scholars have concluded that “rule of law” reform is regressing. Flagrant human rights violations—including torture, arbitrary detention, censorship, repression of religious and ethnic minorities—continue unabated. (These practices are well documented in annual US State Department reports and the Congressional Executive Commission on China, as well as by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.) Yet the major Western democracies have largely chosen to remain silent—as each competes, apparently, for a piece of China’s “miracle growth.” Such economic interests make multilateral efforts to address China’s human rights problems difficult. But the US could change this pattern by taking a strong stand now.

Looking beyond the upcoming summit, the US administration should also formulate a clear longer-range strategy toward the problems of human rights in China, bearing in mind that this issue profoundly undergirds virtually all of the other issues that the US and the world face with China. Here are some suggestions:

1. Support civil society, and in particular activists and lawyers who are taking great personal risks to promote human rights and . The good news is that Chinese citizens are learning to speak up, to organize, and to demand that their rights be respected. For nearly a decade now, a civil rights movement known as the “rights defense movement” has spread among citizens of many backgrounds. Victims of forced eviction or migrant laborers are transformed into rights activists when they see their efforts to remedy injustices answered with censorship, police brutality, and corruption in legal institutions. Most of the 12,000 signers of Charter 08 —farmers, workers, AIDS activists, environmentalists, and others—are citizens who decided to endorse the charter even after police had suppressed it and imprisoned one of its authors, .



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