Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pressure China on rights, MPs say

This is a step in the right direction.

Draft report sees window of opportunity by BRIAN LAGHI

Globe and Mail: May 10, 2007 at 4:23 AM EDT- Ottawa is being urged to use the 2008 Olympics as a lever to press China to change its human-rights policies, according to an all-party draft report obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The draft report also recommends a substantially tougher Canadian stand in the official dialogue between the two countries over human rights.

The report was produced by a subcommittee of the foreign affairs all-party committee and says that a number of witnesses testified that the Games provide a significant opportunity to press China to improve its human-rights record.

"While witnesses were not advocating a boycott of the Olympic Games, the consensus was that the Beijing Olympics represent an opportunity for Canada and the international community to press China on human-rights issues," says the report.

The document also quotes Alex Neve, the secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, who told the committee that, during the coming two years, "the Chinese government is likely to be more sensitive and concerned about its international image than it has in the past."

Although the final report has not yet been released, the preliminary document shows that the seven-member MPs' committee agrees with the witnesses and Mr. Neve.

"The subcommittee believes that the period leading up to the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing represents an opportunity for Canada and the international community to press China more effectively on human-rights issues."

However, a source said that using the Games as a lever has been somewhat controversial and wasn't sure how far the committee should go in suggesting that the Games be linked with human rights.

It's unclear whether the statement will survive to the final report. The document must now go to the full foreign affairs committee. If accepted, it would serve as advice to the government.

Linking the Games to the human-rights agenda is not new. Actress Mia Farrow, for example, dubbed the Games the "Genocide Olympics" in a recent article and said corporate sponsors should demand that China push for a solution to difficulties in the Darfur region of Sudan. China is a major investor in the country.

But the issue of the Games is only one of several that the subcommittee wants to tackle.

It recommends, for example, that Canada suspend its annual human-rights dialogue with China until significant changes are made.

"All the witnesses pretty much believe that the dialogue is a dismal failure," said Mario Silva, Liberal MP for Davenport. Mr. Silva added that the committee has very few examples across the world with which to compare the Canadian dialogue.

The bilateral dialogue began in 1997, and involves officials spending one or two days discussing an agenda of human-rights issues. However, a coalition of human-rights groups has roundly criticized it as too weak.

The subcommittee recommends that a new committee be constituted that includes independent, non-governmental organizations. Canada should also discontinue the practice of presenting prisoner lists to the government of China, at least until it can ascertain that it is not making things worse for the prisoners.

Mr. Silva added that some parliamentarians might have difficulty with the robust tone of the report. Some MPs, he noted, may be more prone to support a government line with a stronger focus on issues such as trade.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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