Harper Urged to Raise Human Rights on China Visit

November 26, 2009 3:13 am Last Updated: November 26, 2009 12:18 pm

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement of his China trip came within days of the release of a book by two prominent Canadian human rights defenders that concludes that over 40,000 Falun Gong practitioners in China have been killed so their organs could be harvested and sold.

Former MP and Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour, and Order of Canada human rights lawyer David Matas, released "Bloody Harvest" following two drafts of their same-titled report.

“Unravel the repression against the Falun Gong and all other victim groups will benefit,” the book notes. It reports that “[China] persecutes the Falun Gong more than any other group…. The documented yearly arbitrary killings and disappearances of Falun Gong exceed by far the totals for any other victim group.”

Falun Gong represents two-thirds of torture victims and half the people in forced labour camps. Practitioners and prisoners sentenced to death are the sole victims being killed for their organs for transplants, the authors write.

“As a matter of strategy as well as principle, the expression of concerns about human rights violations should lead with condemnation of the worst violations first. . . . Opposing human rights violations in China while remaining silent about Falun Gong victimization ignores the kernel at the centre of human rights violations in China,” Mr. Kilgour and Mr. Matas conclude.

On Wednesday, Falun Gong practitioners held a press conference and rally on Parliament Hill to urge the PM to “specifically and publicly” call on the Chinese authorities to end the decade-long persecution against their practice during his trip to China December 2-6. They were joined by Mr, Kilgour along with MPs Bill Siksay (NDP) and Keith Martin (Lib) from the all-party Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong (PFOFG).

"There is a place for developing relationships and negotiating with other countries, you have to do some talks behind the scenes. I acknowledge that that’s necessary. But I don’t think that on an issue like persecution that you stay silent in public as well. So you have to do both. You have to negotiate behind closed doors, and you have to be clear in public," said Mr. Siksay, chair of the PFOFG.

"I think Mr. Harper needs to express . . . in a very clear way to the government in Beijing [that] respect for human rights leads to social stability and economic stability, which will lead to an improved climate for investment and business. That’s in the interests of Beijing, that’s in the interests of Canadian companies," said Mr. Martin.

At a Parliament Hill event on Monday, when asked about Harper's trip to China, Senator Consiglio Di Nino, who initiated the idea of forming the PFOFG and serves as a director of the group, said he has "no doubt that the Prime Minister will raise the appropriate issues. Prime Minister Harper is the most principled Prime Minister that I’ve seen in my life."

MP Irwin Cotler, another PFOFG member, is the Liberal Party’s Special Counsel on Human Rights and International Justice. He said in an interview that "the formation of the Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong was really so as to affirm the rights of the Falun Gong and to send a message to the Chinese government that they should cease and desist from oppressing a group that is seeking nothing other than to be law-abiding citizens and to reflect and represent that which is part of the Chinese heritage itself."

Prominent Chinese activist Hou Wenshou, a Harvard law School Human Rights Program alumni Visiting Fellow who is currently teaching a course on "Human Rights in China" at the University of Ottawa, also attended the Wednesday events.

She suggested that Harper request the signing of a memorandum of understanding with China disallowing exports of forced labour products from that country. Moreover, he should "ask China and Canada to have some exchange in terms of prisons, criminal law, and re-education through labour. Not just talk, but inspection and investigation," she said.

"Canada has much more resources than China does per capita . . . There's no reason to be submissive to China."

Pastor Lyle Notice of the Ottawa Seventh-day Adventist Church spoke at the rally to lend his support. He urged Harper to raise the issue of Falun Gong and the 14 imprisoned practitioners who have close family ties in Canada.

"Mr. Harper needs to represent these families," he said. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, so even though it's taking place across the border in China, that affects us here today."