Europe and China: Notes from a Five-Week Tour

From late May to early July Executive Director John Kamm visited eight cities—Geneva, Berne, Zurich, Brussels, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Beijing, and Hong Kong—to conduct advocacy, outreach, and research. Kamm met with ambassadors and foreign affairs officials representing China, Denmark, the European Union, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Owing to Dui Hua’s special consultative status with the United Nations, Kamm also attended the 17th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

UNHRC: Issues of Expression, Translation

UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UNHRC

During her opening remarks UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay expressed concern for limitations on freedom of expression in China. In his response, Chinese representative Xia Jingge stated that China’s restrictions on freedom of expression are in conformity with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has signed but not ratified. Observers believe this is the first time China has publicly referred to the ICCPR in justifying its policies on human rights.

Although China responded to seven of the 13 cases raised by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression during the roughly one-year period ending March 31, only one of those responses, which pertains to veteran political activist Liu Xianbin, had been translated in time to be included in the special rapporteur’s report to the 17th session of the Human Rights Council. Since the report is not made available in Chinese, one of the six official languages of the international body, these responses remain inaccessible to the public. Speaking with various UN organizations, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kamm urged the timely publication of government responses, whether translated or not, and offered Dui Hua’s continued assistance in the analysis of Chinese responses.

Juvenile Justice

Dui Hua made headway in its juvenile justice initiative by meeting with key experts and officials and conducting a site visit in Hong Kong. In Geneva, Dr. Jean Zermatten, director of the International Institute for the Rights of the Child (IDE) and chair of UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, briefed Kamm on recent developments with both the institute and the committee. In Beijing, the Supreme People’s Court welcomed Kamm’s proposal for additional juvenile justice exchanges, building on the success of Dui Hua’s 2010 and 2008 initiatives.

In July, Kamm visited juvenile rehabilitation facility and school Christian Zheng Sheng College with Dui Hua Development and Program Manager Daisy Poon and summer Intern McAllister Jimbo. According to Alman Chan, principle of the school which houses about 92 youths, Hong Kong’s juvenile justice system is not well developed. As an example he said that complete expunging of juvenile records does not exist in Hong Kong despite being common in the United States and being piloted in mainland China.

Tibetan Talks

John Kamm with Tanak Jigme Sangpo (center) at Tibet Institute Rikon in 2003

At Tibet Institute Rikon in Zurich, Kamm visited Tanak Jigme Sangpo, formerly the world’s longest-serving Tibetan political prisoner. Jigme Sangpo was released in April 2002 after serving 28 years for counterrevolution (his original sentence was extended three times). Kamm played an important role in securing the release of the activist nine years ahead of schedule. While in Zurich, Kamm also met with Kelsang Gyaltsen, envoy of Dalai Lama, to better understand prospects for a renewal of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue and the repercussions of the spiritual leader’s March decision to vacate his political post in the Tibetan government-in-exile. Switzerland is home to the largest Tibetan community in Europe.

European Engagement

Kamm speaking at EIAS. Credit: EIAS

In Brussels, Kamm spoke on the Sino-US human rights dialogue—bilateral dialogs were a major theme of the trip (see Mainstreaming Human Rights, for Better or Worse)—at the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS). His talk examined issues including China’s crackdown on dissent; the apparent improvement of China’s international image despite negative news on the human rights front (see Poll Position or No Price to Pay); and Dui Hua’s role in monitoring prisoners of conscience, mass incidents, the use of capital punishment, and the juvenile justice system.

Greater China

In China, Kamm met with members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and others. He received official responses to a number of cases of concern raised by Dui Hua and commitments that more responses were forthcoming.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, Kamm and Dui Hua Research and Administrative Officer Luke Wong analyzed official responses and materials obtained during the trip from Chinese libraries and bookstores. Wong joined Dui Hua in 2008 and will oversee Dui Hua research and databases following the departure of Senior Manager for Research and Hong Kong Operations Joshua Rosenzweig. After nine years of service, Rosenzweig will step down in August to pursue a PhD in Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He will continue to contribute to Dui Hua publications and consult on special projects. Wong will be joined in the Hong Kong office by Publications Officer Megan Ko, who joined the foundation in May.