Michael Ignatieff silent on Nobel Prize Committee’s “Megaphone Diplomacy” with China

Jailed Chinese pro-democracy dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Xiaobo was arrested in 2008 for being an author of “Charter 08″, a manifesto demanding greater free speech, improved human rights, and open and free elections in China. His award is a statement for those seeking democratic reform in the world’s most populous nation and is a positive impetus for liberty in the world.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the following statement regarding Xiaobo’s prize,

“Our government has expressed concerns in the past about his imprisonment…

I would hope the fact that he is now a Nobel Peace Prize winner would cause our friends in the Chinese government to look seriously at that issue of his release from prison.

But, as I say, I think more than anything, we’re delighted for him and send him our congratulations.”

In the past, the Prime Minister’s vocal criticism of China over its human rights record has been a point of conflict between Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Harper.

Ignatieff, during a tour to China earlier this year criticized the Prime Minister,

[A Chinese student] said Ignatieff properly praised China for pulling so many people out of poverty with the success of its economic engine, but he had avoided saying anything substantial about human rights challenges, “the fact, for example, that there are many activists currently imprisoned for no apparent reason. He just avoided that.”

In an interview, Ignatieff said he didn’t believe in “megaphone” diplomacy — a reference to Prime Minister Harper’s early, high-profile, public criticisms of China on human rights.

The Nobel Prize Committee released this statement regarding its awarding of the 2010 Peace Prize to Xiaobo,

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2010
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. 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.

Over the past decades, China has achieved economic advances to which history can hardly show any equal. The country now has the world’s second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened.

China’s new status must entail increased responsibility. China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Article 35 of China’s constitution lays down that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”. In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China’s citizens.

For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China. He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008. The following year, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power”. Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights.

The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.

Michael Ignatieff released a statement congratulating Barack Obama on his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize the day it was announced that the US president had won it. However, it’s Monday, and Ignatieff has yet to weigh in on the Nobel Committee’s bold statement that may promote positive change and more freedom in China.

Universal or selective human rights?

This week, the Prime Minister is in China to supposedly thaw relations he has been criticized for frosting since the years he was in opposition criticizing the government.

Stephen Harper, and indeed, a number of prominent Conservatives have, for years, roundly admonished China for its poor human rights record since the days of the Reform Party. For this, members of the opposition have suggested that the Conservatives firm stance against China has harmed our economic relationship with that country.

Among the Conservatives who have stood up against China is Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of Citizenship and Immigration. My first exposure to Jason Kenney’s breadth of politics came in 2005 when he and members of the Alberta Conservative caucus held a pro-Tibet movie night at the Conservative Party Convention in Montreal. In January of that year, while on a parliamentary trip overseas, Kenney was criticized by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin for embarrassing the Chinese when he visited the home of pro-democracy reformer Zhao Ziyang.

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In the Afghan detainee transfer agreement signed by General Rick Hillier and the Afghanistan defence minister, an entente was struck to prevent human rights abuses. Among other important guarantees it declares, “No person transferred from the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities will be subject to the application of the death penalty.” This is a strict yet progressive demand for the unstable government of an emerging democracy which in darker days used to slit the throats of thieves like sheep before a stadium of spectators in Kandahar province.

Last week China put a bullet in the back of the head of two company managers in the tainted milk scandal where six children died of contaminated milk. With an estimated 470 executions in 2008, China is believed to be the world’s leading executioner.

In Canada, some of our Liberal Parliamentarians have shown surprise over the past three weeks at allegations that some Afghans treat their fellow Afghans with callous disregard and fault Canadian officials for an uneasy balancing of coddling of a country reborn out of rubble going through the birth pangs of establishing a civil society, with the brutal hell of war against combatants that wear no uniform, splash acid in the faces of schoolchildren, and cut off the ears of those that would work to bring good governance to their country.

Meanwhile, Liberal observers have criticized the Conservatives for pushing human rights in China at the expense of trade. Liberals such as John McCallum describe the “broken Canada-China relation[ship] under the Conservative government” and Scott Brison who prematurely boasted that “the fact that Ignatieff is able to go to China as the leader of the opposition before the ruling party leader does is a clear indication of how good and solid relation[s] between the Liberals and China [are].” Ignatieff subsequently canceled his trip due to a pending fall election triggered by the Liberal leader himself.

This sentiment expressed by McCallum and Brison is not exclusive to the critics of the Liberal benches in the House of Commons. Rebukes of Stephen Harper’s tough stance on China’s abuses have also been echoed by former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien who complains that Canada used to be China’s “best friend”. Chretien bemoaned that comparatively, in the first three years that he was Prime Minister, the p’tit gars had visited China eight or nine times. Never mind the fact that Chretien started lobbying the Chinese government within weeks of stepping down as Canada’s twentieth Prime Minister.

According to Amnesty International, China is guilty of a number of human rights abuses,

Growing numbers of human rights activists were imprisoned, put under house arrest or surveillance, or harassed. Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, continued. Falun Gong practitioners were at particularly high risk of torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Christians were persecuted for practising their religion outside state-sanctioned channels. Despite the reinstatement of Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty cases, the death penalty remained shrouded in secrecy and continued to be used extensively. Torture of detainees and prisoners remained prevalent. Millions of people had no access to justice and were forced to seek redress through an ineffective extra-legal petition system. Women and girls continued to suffer violence and discrimination.

Conservatives are usually criticized for dealing with issues in absolutes, in rights and wrongs, in black and white. Meanwhile Liberals sometimes suffer a charge of moral relativism from their opponents as they are accused of dealing in shades of grey. On their assessment of a nascent democracy suffering in horrific ravages of war, a country attempting to cast off ages of illiberalism and lawlessness, it is evident that Liberals have little sympathy for the harsh realities of an imperfect situation. Whereas on a country with an often brutal established dictatorial order, a country with a $4.3 Trillion GDP, and a country that actually bans human rights monitoring groups from operating within its borders, Liberals such as Bob Rae suggest:

“The Chinese are very concerned about stability, they’re very concerned about order. They’re very concerned about a billion people. They’re fearful of the consequences of losing that kind of control. Seems to me we just have to keep on trying to persuade them that liberty is the better way. It’s something we believe in and something we should share with them.” — Bob Rae

If you’re looking for Rae in the halls of Parliament these days, his tolerance seems selective and true concern seems focused elsewhere,

The opposition parties say it is not believable that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his senior ministers weren’t aware of Colvin’s troubling reports. If true, they could implicate Canada in the war crime of complicity in torture.

“The fact of the matter is that if there was ever at any time a view that there was a serious risk of people being mistreated, those prisoners should never have been transferred and such transfer is a breach of international law,” said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.

Torture is abhorrent and is a fundamental violation of human rights. I’m confident that most would agree that such a violation is terrible no matter where or against whom it occurs. Yet can we reasonably expect perfection from Afghans in an imperfect situation in their war-torn country while diminishing and invoking willful ignorance of the abuses by a modern, industrialized and enviably affluent state such as China?

Louise Arbour commits to eradicating “Zionism”?

Jason Kenney responds, see update

Louise Arbour responds, see update

Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has voiced her support of the Pan-Arab human rights charter, which among other things, commits to “rejecting all forms of racism and Zionism.” Critics have argued that rejecting “all forms” of Zionism is in effect an effort to delegitimize the state of Israel.

Arab Charter of Human Rights:

The Canadian government rejected sending delegates to a UN Conference against racism because it argues that the conference paradoxically promotes racism in the form of anti-antisemitism, questioning the validity of an Israeli state and because of the postering of conference walls with Hitler imagery by invited NGOs and activists protesting Israel at the original “anti-racism” UN conference in the fall of 2001.

Arbour is out of step with Amnesty International which has stated:

The draft Charter includes provisions rejecting Zionism as”a violation of human rights and threat to international peace and security”(preamble and article 2 (c)). Amnesty International believes that states and non-state entities should be held accountable for human rights violations under international human rights standards. For this to be done, Amnesty International believes that the reference should be international human rights standards rather than focussing on a particular ideology or ideologies.– Amnesty International

Furthermore, the International Commission of Jurists has expressed its view on the Arab Charter:

The ICJ invites the authors of the Arab Charter to remove the condemnation of Zionism in the preamble and in its article 1 in order to devote the Charter exclusively to protection of human rights in the Arab region, without digressions of a political nature liable to obscure the Charter’s basic purpose.– International Commission of Jurists

As a member state of the UN, Arbour is seen to represent Canada at that organization. As Canadians, we stand for human rights and ought to reject the language of the Arab Charter and its support by the UN High Commissioner Louise Arbour.

UPDATE: Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity Jason Kenney has written a letter to Arbour and calls her statements troubling and asks for her to clarify her remarks.

UPDATE: Arbour clarifies her support for the Arab Charter:

To the extent that (the charter) equates Zionism with racism, we reiterated that (it) is not in conformity with (the 1991) General Assembly resolution, which rejects that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination … OHCHR does not endorse these inconsistencies. We continue to work with all stakeholders in the region to ensure the implementation of universal human rights norms. — Louise Arbour