April 4, 2014
On Monday 31 March 2014, human rights activists gathered in Brussels, in front of the European Parliament, to demand freedom, justice and dignity in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The demonstration coincided with the first official visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Europe to meet with European leaders; European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission José Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz, as well as with the King of the Belgians and members of the Belgian Government.
European citizens, human rights activists, members of the Tibetan and Uyghur communities, Chinese dissidents and Falun Gong practitioners came together in solidarity to voice their concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in China, East Turkestan and Tibet, and to call upon the EU leaders to put human rights at the core of their diplomatic talks with President Xi.
The demonstration jointly organised by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), Tibetan Community in Belgium and Tibetan Youth Congress, commenced with a prayer by Tibetan monks, and continued with statements by civil society organisations, EU officials and representatives of the Chinese, Tibetan as well as Uyghur communities.
A visually powerful display of head-shaving performed by protesters in solidarity with the 130 Tibetan monks that have self-immolated since February 29 2009, drew attention to the Tibetans and Uyghurs, who have lost their lives defending the rights of their people living under China’s domination and occupation. The demonstration highlighted how the loss of lives, the loss of dignity and overall lack of opportunities to better their situations should mobilize a stronger international movement of support, sending a stronger and firmer message to Chinese leadership about universal human rights obligations.
“Human rights in China are not just an agenda item. They are the agenda!” read one of the official flyers circulated by the organizers.
During his first visit to the European Union, it was widely reported that President Xi intended to meet European leadership for high-level talks in an attempt to strengthen economic ties and broaden their diplomatic cooperation, as well as to promote China’s relations with Belgium. The heavy focus on bilateral trade relations is unsurprising; the EU-28 bloc is China’s biggest trade partner. Considering that President Xi’s visit was not followed by a press conference, unsurprisingly few details have emerged about the content of the meetings, further justifying the passions of protesters gathered outside the European Parliament.
“Xi Jinping, start the dialogue!” was one of the slogans cried by the protesters; it message clearly mirrored by a huge banner depicting President Xi shaking hands with the Dalai Lama stood overhead as a reminder of the pertinence of peaceful dialogue and cooperation.
The EU Policy Director of International Campaign for Tibet, Mr. Vincent Metten, pointed out that Xi Jinping’s Presidency has so far failed to bring about any significant change from his predecessors’ policy on Tibet. “On the contrary, President Xi has presided over a more systematic and deepening crackdown in Tibet and a deteriorating human rights environment across the PRC,” Vincent Metten remarked. “Those concerns must be addressed by the European leaders, when meeting president Xi.”
“Stop the killing in Tibet! Stop the genocide in Tibet! No human rights in Tibet! Allow the media in Tibet!” the protesters shouted in unison.
A representative of the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organization reminded the audience that “one of the basic human rights that is callously abused in the PRC is the right to self-determination,” and continued her intervention stating that “while these groups live in territories that have been officially labelled as ‘autonomous regions’, they continue to suffer from discrimination and repression; lack of choice in paving their futures.”
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization believes that President Xi’s visit was a unique opportunity for EU leadership to question China on its most endemic policy failures, encourage a fair and just solution, support the people’s right to self-determination, and promote the mutually beneficial outcome of improved inter-ethnic and inter-cultural relations in China.
Just one week earlier, UNPO also supported Tibetans, Uyghurs and other oppressed minorities in denouncing human rights violations in China at a protest held in Malieveld in the Hague, Netherlands.
You can read UNPO's intervention here.
You can see the official flyer for the demonstration here.