Human Rights Watch slams EU dialogue on human rights

24th January 2011

Human Rights Watch’s latest annual report criticises the trend by governments using soft talking, ineffective ‘private talks’ and dialogues with governments who abuse human rights instead of applying public pressure. "The ritualistic support of ‘dialogue' and ‘cooperation' with repressive governments is too often an excuse for doing nothing about human rights".

Human Rights Watch’s analysis of dialogues by EU member states on human rights with abusive regimes mirrors Free Tibet's criticisms of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue. In mid January, Free Tibet has called for the suspension of Dialogue, a process that has failed to bring improvements for human rights and is only a box-ticking exercise aimed at deflecting criticism of the government's silence on human rights. (see Free Tibet's analysis below)

Human Rights Watch states:
When the problem is a lack of political will to respect rights... the quest for dialogue and cooperation becomes a charade designed more to appease critics of complacency than to secure change, a calculated diversion from the fact that nothing of consequence is being done.
Moreover, the refusal to use pressure makes dialogue and cooperation less effective because governments know there is nothing to fear from simply feigning serious participation.

Defending human rights is rarely convenient. It may sometimes interfere with other governmental interests. But if governments want to pursue those interests instead of human rights, they should at least have the courage to admit it, instead of hiding behind meaningless dialogues and fruitless quests for cooperation

On benchmarks:
Dialogues would have a far greater impact if they were tied to concrete and publicly articulated benchmarks. Such benchmarks would give clear direction to the dialogue and make participants accountable for concrete results. But that is often exactly what dialogue participants want to avoid. The failure to set clear, public benchmarks is itself evidence of a lack of seriousness, an unwillingness to deploy even the minimum pressure needed to make dialogue meaningful.

On Prime Minister David Cameron's visit in China in November 2010

The new British prime minister, David Cameron... did not mention Liu [Xiabo] in his formal meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, saving the matter for informal talks over dinner. And his public remarks stayed at the level of generality with which the Chinese governments itself is comfortable–the need for “greater political opening” and the rule of law–rather than mention specific cases of imprisoned government critics or other concrete rights restrictions.