Two days after the world marked 30 years since Beijing’s massacre of students on Tiananmen Square, Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada told a Senate committee how international efforts to tackle rights abuses in China have been ineffective and urged countries to earnestly bring a human rights lens to their approach to trade with the communist regime.
The secretary general of AI Canada was testifying before the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on June 6 about human rights in China particularly in Tibet.
“Efforts by the international community to address human rights violations in China have proven inadequate and have too often lacked serious determination,” Neve said. “Many governments including Canada are keen to boost trade and investments with China, which is far too often prioritized over the human rights concerns.”
Canada needs “a human rights-based trade policy with respect to China,” Neve said in response to Senator Jane Cordy’s question of how to reconcile this issue.
“That’s not just about putting a few aspirational ‘feel good’ human rights words into trade deals,” Neve said.
“It’s about combining that with real and concrete measures, [such as] human rights impact assessments, clear processes when it can be demonstrated that an approach to trade is leading to human rights violations. We need to have an assurance that it’s in a context that is giving serious and deliberate attention to human rights.”
Direct, Serious Consequences for Canadians
Neve took notice that the timing of his testimony was amid tension in the Canada-China relationship related to the extradition case of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, and that China’s severe rights abuses not only impact Chinese citizens but also Canadians.
Meng, who faces fraud charges in the United States in relation to violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran, was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 under Canada’s extradition treaty with the United States.
It was widely seen as retaliation when, just days later, China detained Canadian former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, and later sentenced Canadians Robert Schellenberg and Fan Wei to death for drug offences.
“Their plight alongside other cases including Uyghur Canadian Huseyin Celil, imprisoned for 13 years now, and Canadian Falun Gong practitioner Sun Qian, detained for over 2 years, are stark reminders that China’s abysmal human rights records have direct and very serious human rights consequences for Canadians,” said Neve.
Expanding Suppression, Intimidation
Neve said Chinese laws and institutions have “in recent years even further centralized government power and deepened surveillance and control,” noting that this is “the backdrop to an expanding context of suppression and intimidation.”
There is an ongoing campaign against human rights defenders and lawyers, who have been “threatened, monitored, arrested and detained, tortured and disappeared for their human rights work.”
“The range of human rights violations in China is extensive and certainly includes systematic breaches of the fundamental freedom to expression, assembly, and religion, particularly of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and the people of Hong Kong,” Neve added.
He also noted that there are increasing incidents of repression targeting Chinese dissidents, human rights activists, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, and others living abroad, including in Canada.
About 10 organizations representing these groups in Canada have formed a coalition focusing on human rights in China, Neve said, and over the last several years they have started to come forward with numerous accounts of these incidents.
“Individually, or their organizations, or broadly within their communities, they’re being targeted, subject to online surveillance, having their public activities being disrupted, having numerous instances of receiving threats, including family members in China, receiving threats for things that are happening here,” Neve said.
Unfortunately, these are “rarely adequately investigated by national authorities and very often appear to originate with Chinese officials or proxies linked to the Chinese government.”
Call for Action
Neve said the coalition has submitted a confidential report to the Canadian government and is making an urgent call for concerted actions.
The coalition is calling for a well-coordinated strategy across the Canadian government so that the public security, intelligence, as well as criminality aspects of these kinds of activities get understood and addressed in a coherent way, Neve said.
This means leveraging all areas where Canada has exchange and influence with China, not only relying on the diplomats who carry the human rights file. It also means being “crucially in very close, strategic coordination with other countries.”
“Not only is this a broad concern for those of us interested in the Canada-China relationship, this has real consequences for people in their ordinary daily lives,” Neve said.