Statement of the EU Delegation in China on the International Human Rights Day

Today the world celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since its adoption in 1948, the 30 articles of the Declaration sparked transformations in all areas and spheres of human lives all over the planet. Human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent. This means that every person is entitled to human rights; that human rights are of equal importance and are related and applicable at all times including in times of conflict or crisis. Human rights cannot be subject to geographical or cultural adaptations.

The European Union recognises that in recent years, China has made notable efforts in poverty alleviation, improved access to health, education and implemented other social improvements for its citizens. At the same time, civil and political rights are not guaranteed and are in some cases deliberately and systematically violated.

Against this background, the EU reiterates its concerns about the very serious human rights situation in China and urges China to abide by its obligations under national law, including its own Constitution, and international law, to respect, protect and fulfil human rights for all, including Uyghurs, Tibetans and persons belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities across China.

The seriousness of the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has been corroborated by the assessment report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The EU underscores the need for justice and accountability and urges China to cooperate with the OHCHR on the implementation of the report’s recommendations, and the need for a substantive discussion on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. Key concerns include mass detention, widespread surveillance, tracking and control measures, the use of forced labour, torture, forced abortion and sterilisation, birth control and family separation policies, and sexual and gender-based violence. The EU is particularly concerned about the systemic and severe restrictions on the exercise of fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of religion or belief, and systemic restrictions on the right of minorities to enjoy their own culture, and to use their own language, in private and public, including in the field of education. These restrictions risk leading to cultural erasure. In Tibet, obligatory boarding schooling and DNA sampling are further indications of the dire human rights situation. The EU continues to call for meaningful, unrestricted and unsupervised access by independent international experts, foreign journalists and diplomats to Tibet, Xinjiang and elsewhere in China.

The estimated number of death sentences and executions in China exceeds by far that of all other countries taken together. In contradiction to international standards, China also applies capital punishment in the case of non-violent offences. The EU calls upon China to provide more transparency in the application and imposition of the death penalty and to further reduce the number of criminal offenses punishable by death. The EU reaffirms that the death penalty remains an ineffective, unnecessary and irrevocable punishment, and therefore urges China to introduce a moratorium on executions and ultimately abolish this inhuman practice.

Human rights defenders, human rights lawyers, journalists, independent reporters, other media workers and intellectuals continue to be exposed to harassment, intimidation and surveillance and subjected to exit bans, house arrest, torture and ill-treatment, unlawful detention, sentencing and enforced disappearance including via Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location (RSDL) that could amount to torture and ill-treatment. 

The EU urges China to ensure full respect for the rule of law,  ensure fair trial and due process guarantees and to investigate thoroughly reported cases of arbitrary detention, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and harassment of human rights defenders and their families. Those detained should be guaranteed access to lawyers of their own choice, medical assistance and their family members. China should stop the practice of RSDL, which has been condemned by the UN Special Procedures, as well as discontinue the use of torture inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detained persons to extract forced and public confessions.

The EU continues to closely monitor the situation and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of, among others, Pastor Cao Sanqiang, Chang Weiping, Chen Yunfei, Cheng Yuan, Ding Jiaxi, Gao Zhisheng, Go Sherab Gyatso, Guo Quan, He Fangmei, Huang Qi, Huang Xueqin, Sakharov Prize winner Ilham Tohti, Kamile Wayit, Li Qiaochu, Li Yanhe, Li Yuhan, Peng Lifa, Qin Yongmin, Qin Yongpei, Rinchen Tsultrim, Ruan Xiaohuan, Tashi Dorje, Tashpolat Tiyip, Wang Aizhong, Wang Bingzhang, Wang Jianbing, Pastor Wang Yi, Wang Zang, Xu Na, Xu Qin, Xu Yan, Xu Zhiyong, Yang Maodong, Yu Wensheng, Pastor Zhang Chunlei and Zhang Zhan, as well as EU citizen Gui Minhai whose right to consular access must be respected.

Freedom of expression and access to information have been severely suppressed in China by means of censorship, intimidation and surveillance of journalists and media workers. Foreign journalists and media workers in China continue to face harassment, intimidation, arbitrary detention, visa restrictions and surveillance because of their professional activities. The EU emphasizes the critical importance of freedom of expression and media freedom as vital to good governance. The EU also urges China to respect the right to peaceful protest.

The EU firmly believes that gender equality, women’s rights and rights of LGBTI persons should be fully respected and protected globally. In China as in the EU, gender based violence remains widespread. In this context, the EU urges China to ensure protection of female activists, who have been victims of human rights violations and abuses. The EU continues to call upon China to uphold its pledge to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence.

Furthermore, the EU remains concerned about the human rights situation in Hong KongThe repressive use of the National Security Law and of the Sedition Law undermine fundamental freedoms. The sweeping changes in the electoral system erode democratic principles and political pluralism. The EU is following with great concern the trials of politicians and pro-democracy actors and is particularly concerned about the case of Jimmy Lai. The EU urges the Chinese central government and the Hong Kong authorities to restore full respect for the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and democratic principles. These are key to preserve Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, in compliance with Hong Kong’s Basic Law and China’s international obligations.

China must also respect the principle of non-refoulement, and refrain from any extraterritorial activity (including coercion) that is not in line with international law.

Despite systemic differences between the EU and China regarding Human Rights, the EU believes that bilateral exchanges, including through the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue can and should be held to discuss these differences and to cooperate in areas where there is a potential for engagement. 

By commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the EU reaffirms its commitment to the full realisation of human rights. The simple idea enshrined in the Declaration that rights cannot be given, but they belong to every person, continues to have an undisputable impact still today - in the European Union, in China and everywhere in the world.

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