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

Yang Speech at Third Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

SPEECH by Dr. Yang Jianli

Geneva, March 15, 2011

Good afternoon fellow delegates and distinguished guests. Thank you for the opportunity to address you here today.

I am compelled to begin with a call for a moment of silence for the Japanese people, whose unimaginable suffering continues.  Their suffering speaks to our common humanity and to our recognition that their suffering is our suffering.

(Moment of Silence)

The nations of the world are providing assistance to the Japanese people, collectively working to help Japan regain its physical well being.   Unfortunately, we are here today because our collective response to willful destruction of the human spirit by the tyrannies of the world is not the same as our collective response to natural disaster.

Please allow me to present this situation, and appeal for help; since late February, the Chinese Government has launched its biggest clamp down on dissidents and human rights activists in the decade. So far, about 30 have been officially arrested and more than a hundred put under house arrest or made missing. The Chinese government has, once again, outperformed itself in its long-standing history of human rights violations. Although human rights is decreed part of the constitution, the Chinese government has never intended to honor this commitment. As a result, we see all kinds of human rights violations in China. Under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s one-party dictatorship, vast numbers of prisoners of conscience are imprisoned, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners perished under persecution, ethnic groups and religious groups are systematically repressed, and there is no free flow of information on the internet. For a long time, the Chinese government has been enforcing forced abortions, large-scale illegal evictions and farmers were forced to lose their lands without compensation or sell their lands at low prices to government and officials. These are currently taking place in China, and is enough to remind us of the severity of Chinese human rights issues.

Last October, the Nobel Peace Prize was announced to be awarded to the jailed Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo. His wife, Liu Xia, designated me to be the liaison to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on his behalf. However, not long after her request, Liu Xia was subjected to house arrest by the Chinese government. For five months now, I have not been to get in contact with her. Since then, none of their family members have seen Liu Xiaobo either.  I do not know what Liu Xiaobo is undergoing. I do not know what Liu Xia is undergoing. I do not know when I will be in touch with either of them again. The only thing I can do now is to pray for them, call the world to their attention and to support them. For those in their situation, every single voice of justice is precious.

The recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East remind us that the desire and need for freedom of mind and spirit is as universal and fundamental as the physical need for food, clothing, and shelter.

These uprisings remind us that, today, more than a quarter of the world’s population are deprived of basic human dignities of freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. This situation exists even though the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights more than sixty years ago. This situation exits through the actions of evil human beings and with the acquiescence of the democracies of the world.

Long-repressed peoples are mastering the modern tools of the Internet, the social media of Facebook and Twitter, and the locus of power is shifting from the tyrants to the people.  These tools are enabling people to organize and to communicate, releasing a tsunami of long-repressed calls for freedom and justice across the globe. If we miss this opportunity to nurture this call for freedom, our indifference will condemn our fellow human beings decades more of darkness and despair.

I know this because in 1989, one million of my countrymen peacefully assembled in Tiananmen Square in peaceful call for democratic reform. The corrupt remnants of a totalitarian regime stood on the verge of collapse. Then, the unthinkable happened. The world stood by as the tanks and guns of the People’s Army were turned on the very people they were sworn to defend.

And this was done with the acquiescence of the Western powers whose shortsighted vision and misguided polices condemned the people of China to decades more of humiliation and degradation. Let us not be blinded by the glitter of economic progress in my country. This same regime that gunned down innocent civilians and students in 1989 is the same regime in power today. Year after year, the United States Congressional Committee on China reports that the human rights record of this same regime in China is one of the worst in the world. This is the same regime that is now pursuing cultural genocide on our Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongolian brothers and sisters. This is the same regime whose foreign policies and models of repression enable the morally bankrupt regimes of North Korea, Iran, and Vietnam to suck the freedoms and dignities from their people.

This is the same regime whose paranoid fear of its own allows it to imprison and torture its best and brightest citizens. Why is this tolerated? Are the collective wills of the world’s great democracies so impotent that they cannot react? I do not think so. It is because the democracies of the world do not see the repression of basic human rights by tyrannical regimes as a threat to their own security.

The democracies of the world rationalize their acquiescence to tyrannical regimes by citing economic necessities, or the need for world stability. In fact, in my own country, the regime plays these false ideas of economic progress and societal stability as reasons for their hard line abuse of human rights.

This rationalization that human rights must be sacrificed for economic progress and societal stability have long justified the world’s support for the regimes in Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Egypt, Libya and others.

Isn’t it only through such rationalizations as these that a great country like the United States can witness the empty seat for Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in January; and a month later, hold a state dinner for Hu Jintao, the man who put Liu Xiaobo in jail.

We must now recognize that these compromises with tyranny are not only morally wrong but they do, in fact, promote instability and threaten world peace. This is what we are seeing unfold now with the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.

The time has come to recognize that, in the words of that great champion of human rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, “A threat to justice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” This simple but fundamental idea that support of human rights for others is not optional for us, but is truly necessary for our own security, is clearly stated in the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s announcement of the award to my countryman, Liu Xiaobo. I quote: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations” of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.’

My friends, the time has come to realize that tolerance for tyrannies does not promote security.  It just delays the day of reckoning.  It intensifies the instability and threat to our security that these regimes present. As such, support for human rights can no longer be an optional component of Western foreign policy.  It must be the foundation upon which all other bilateral issues rest.

My friends, the time has come for us to unify our efforts around promoting the connection between human rights and world peace and stability. We must rally our collective constituencies to convince leaders of the world democracies of the undeniable bond between human rights and world peace. We must get them to recognize that regimes that repress their own people are a direct and real threat to the peace and security of all people everywhere.

In conclusion, I propose that we take the first step here today by calling for a new direction in the foreign policies of the world democracies. That we call for foreign policies that make measurable progress on human rights the basis for progress on all other issues from trade to cultural exchanges. At the very least, this new foreign policy must tie progress in bilateral relations with progress in the actual implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At a very minimum, these regimes must demonstrate real and measurable progress in the following areas:

– Internet Freedom.

– Release of prisoners of conscience and the transparent application of the rule of law.

– Lifting restrictions and halting state interference in the practice of religion and the free exercise of cultural traditions including:  the practice of local languages and customs; the right of assembly, peaceful demonstration, and the ability to petition for redress of grievances without reprisal.

Implementation of this new foreign policy must be consistent, measurable, and tied to defined incentives and consequences for their implementation or lack thereof.

To those who say this cannot be done, I say that it has been done. Remember the bold action of the Jackson-Vanik amendment in the U.S. Congress? This amendment tied trade with the Soviet Union to the implementation of specific and measurable quotas in the emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel. This single piece of “carrot and stick foreign policy” is credited with setting the stage for Glasnost and the ultimate demise of Soviet totalitarianism.

To those who say this cannot be done, I remind them of Pope John Paul II whose quiet but determined diplomacy helped bring freedom to his homeland of Poland.

For those who say that times are different, I say that yes they are. The universality of human rights has never been more apparent than it is today. If we do not seize the opportunity now, history will judge us harshly.

Thank you.

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