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Advancing a peaceful transition to democracy in China through truth, understanding, citizen power, & cooperative action

Speech at We Have a Dream: Global Summit against Discrimination and Persecution

By: YANG Jianli

Sept. 21, 2011, New York

Dear friends, today we live in a land of shadows. Stark shadows cast by what is worst in us on what is best.

In 1945, as one of the worst convulsions of violence in the history of mankind drew to a close, the United Nations was formed and its Charter signed by twenty-six nations. This was a ray of light in a world still shrouded in darkness.

The best of mankind was on display in the UN Charter, which affirmed the “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, [and] in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was another milestone in the evolution of man’s global consciousness, emerging as it did in 1948 in the aftermath of world war. In 1998, the government of the People’s Republic of China publicly proclaimed its commitment to the principles of the Universal Declaration.

But we must ask today how it is that this Charter, which speaks so eloquently to the aspirations of men and women around the world to live peacefully and secure lives is so readily ignored by some of its signatory states.

And we must ask how this Declaration, which states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile,” is so casually traduced by one of the most powerful nations in the world.

Dear friends, what is best in us, what is most hopeful about us, what gives our joint future as a species such promise is beautifully articulated in the Charter and the Declaration. These are the principles of light and hope by which we should organize ourselves as a human family. These are the principles at the core of any meaningful democracy.

And yet, too many of our eyes have adjusted the shadows that power and greed cast on the existence of our brothers and sisters around the world. Whereas the brave and visionary people who created the United Nations could see a world beyond the catastrophe they had just endured, we live in an age where what has been gained in principle, what has been recognized in fact, has been eroded by an acceptance that it is better to accommodate the evil-and hope it changes on its own-than to seek to change it through pressure, denouncement, and direct confrontation.

What else explains the presence of China on the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body supposedly responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe?

Back in March, I had a chance to address the Human Rights Council in the capacity of a Chinese citizen. This was just after Libya was suspended for its outrageous abuses against its own people.

While in front of that body, I recalled the case of Liu Xiaobo, among others. I asked how China’s communist regime, whose victims run into the hundreds of millions, could remain a member while Libya was expelled for its abuses.

Where were you, I asked the representatives of the member nations, when there was only an empty chair at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo?

Where were you, I asked, when police and hired thugs brutally beat Mr. Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights defender, whose house has been surrounded all day every day since his release from prison in September of 2010?

When, I asked, will you demand accountability from the individuals responsible for the Tiananmen Massacre, and for other gross and systematic violations of human rights in China?

And so on and so forth.

To be sure, there were many more I did not get enough time to ask.

Unfortunately, I received no answers.

More unfortunate than this, China remains a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Dear friends, it says a lot about the importance of our work that an institution created to represent the best of what we can be retreats from conflict with the worst. It says a lot about the work that must be done that the discussion we are having today must take place outside of the United Nations, instead of inside its halls, and must take place among NGOs instead of governments. Clearly, we have a great deal to do.

And so we have gathered here, in the shadowy valley of our times, to summon the wisdom and the best heritage of mankind and remind the entire world once again that each one of us has an opportunity to act in a way worthy of the best of our humanity.

The other option is to adjust our eyes to the shadows.

But friends, I have seen firsthand what takes place in these shadows. In 1989, I was in Tiananmen Square. I saw my countrymen crushed beneath tanks and felled by machine-gun fire.

Even today, we do not know the names of all the victims of Tiananmen massacre. The noble souls of the Chinese people who died in the crackdown do not rest in peace-not because so many are unknown, but because the goals of their sacrifice are still suppressed by the Chinese regime.

The events of June 4th, 1989 were not a one-time event. In the twenty-two years since the Tiananmen massacre, China has never stopped violating the human rights of its citizens. It has never lacked for prisoners of conscience in its jails.

No country that behaves this way towards its own citizens should have a place on the Human Rights Council. No country.

We must demand that the United Nations readjust its eyes to the light and remove China from the Human Rights Council. China’s membership will expire next May; it needs 97 votes to get remain a member. If each and every democracy says no, China will stand no chance. This is a test of the sincerity and commitment of every democracy to democracy.

Yes, China, with its great territorial expanse, large population, economic power and military forces, is a very powerful member of the United Nations. But the UN should not apply different human rights standards to different member countries based on considerations of power. The UN stands for fundamental values and principles. It must say no to the Chinese government on human rights violations. It must show the victims of human rights violations in China and the rest of the world that justice and fairness are valued in our world after all. It must not capitulate to expedience.

For what does it say to Tiananmen mothers, to Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, to Wang Bingzhang, Gao Zhisheng, Liu Xianbin, Chen Guangcheng,  Chen Wei, Ding Mao, Hada, to Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians,  to House Churches members, Falun Gong practitioners, and to the victims of Forced Abortions, Forced Evictions, Forced disappearances and Black Jails, if China remains a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council?

What does it say to our brave brothers and sisters in the Arab world, to our friends in Burma and Cuba, to the victims of dictators in Burma, North Korean and Sub-Saharan Africa if China continues to cynically sit on a council supposedly committed to expanding the reach of the rights guaranteed by both the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

No, the behavior of China towards its own people, and internationally, cannot be condoned.

Those people in the middle of the last century who created the UN rose to the challenge of their times in the midst of the worst the world had ever seen. Surely we, with their work as our foundation, can rise to the challenge of our own times. Surely we can all see the shadows for what they are, and say that it is time to begin living in the light.

Thank you.

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