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

On 10 December 2019 the international community marks the 71st anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations. The Universal Declaration was proclaimed by a multitude of nations. It says that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". The rights and freedoms enshrined in it, including the right to freedom of thought, freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association, are inalienable and universal rights.

Since its adoption, the Declaration has been the basis for all international human rights laws and for all progress made related to human rights worldwide. This anniversary is an opportunity to reaffirm the enduring human rights principles and standards – that human rights are not country-specific, they are indivisible and inalienable entitlements of all people, at all times and everywhere. On this day the European Union and its Member States reaffirm the shared commitment to maintain and to advance human rights.

China has made remarkable progress in the social and economic situation of its citizens, including poverty alleviation, gender equality, improved access to health and education, and reduced maternal and infant mortality.

At the same time, basic human rights in the civic and political field, including rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration and also in the Constitution of China, are not being guaranteed. China is yet to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights it signed in 1998.

Each year a significant number of people are still sentenced to death and executed by the Chinese authorities, also for many non-violent crimes. The EU urges China to reduce the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty, subsequent moratorium and ultimately abolition of the death penalty.

The EU is concerned at the continuously worsening human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and in Tibet. Reports point to severe restrictions of the freedom of expression and association, and of the freedom of religion or belief in all of China; as well as continuous large-scale extra-judicial detentions. Destruction of mosques, temples and other religious sites take place systematically. Mass detentions of Uyghurs and other minorities in political re-education centres and intimidation of citizens by mass surveillance in Xinjiang still continue. Uyghurs abroad, including in the EU, are being harassed and in some instances returned to China involuntarily.

The EU considers that the access to Xinjiang and Tibet by international officials, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, independent experts, or journalists should be unrestricted, unfettered and meaningful, and is concerned at the lack of such access and at the lack of unsupervised contacts with the local population.  

The EU is also concerned at the continuous arrests, detention and imprisonment of human rights defenders, lawyers and other citizens exercising fundamental human rights. Human rights defenders and activists including Ilham Tohti, Tiyip Tashpolat, Wu Gan, Tashi Wangchuk, and Huang Qi, human rights lawyers Wang Quanzhang, Li Yuhan, Gao Zhisheng and Yu Wensheng have been convicted, detained, or forcibly disappeared. Released activists, such as Jiang Tianyong, have been put under heavy surveillance that amounts to a house arrest and are denied medical treatment.

The EU expects China to end the detention and harassment of these and other Chinese citizens and human rights defenders and their family members. All criminal defendants should have fair trial, access to lawyers of their own choosing, to medical assistance and to their family members, and should not be subjected to forced and public confessions, torture or other mistreatment.

The EU also notes with concern reports on growing restrictions on access to information, including internet freedom. Several major international media outlets have been blocked in China, and foreign correspondents face visa restrictions, harassment, intimidation or surveillance. The European Union and its Member States emphasize the importance of media freedom as vital to good governance.

We also call on China to allow foreign and domestic NGOs to register and operate freely and effectively.

Having endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Union and its Member States and China made a public commitment to the international community to uphold international human rights laws and to defend universal values. Protecting human rights is an essential foundation of stable, secure, prosperous and functioning societies. The European Union and its Member States are ready to work closely with China, within the framework of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue and multilateral fora, to promote respect for the rule of law and human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration.