Human Rights Challenges in China

March 5th marks the beginning of the 12th National People’s Congress, where Communist Party leader Xi Jinping is expected to assume full power as President and head of the Central Military Commission. Ahead of the congress, influential activists and scholars have signed open letters urging the government to implement political reforms, including ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. While citizens in China are increasingly vocal in criticizing injustice and asserting their rights, the Communist Party continues to resort to extensive repression to maintain its hold on power. What are the main challenges for human rights in China today? What are the prospects for change under China’s new leaders? And how can Europe and the United States encourage greater respect for human rights in China?

Freedom House and ChinaAid cordially invite you to a discussion on

Human Rights Challenges in China

Tuesday, March 5, 2013
10:30 a.m.  – 12:00 p.m.
Room 210, Cannon House Office Building
Capitol Hill, Washington DC

Introductory Remarks By:

David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House
Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee

Featured Speakers:

Chen Guangcheng (right), human rights activist
Geng He, wife of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng

Commentary By: Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice-President of the European Parliament responsible for Democracy and Human Rights


For more information, please email 

ChinaAid is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy

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You Say You Want a Revolution … Then What?

A fascinating first-person account by veteran journalist and media trainer Carolyn Robinson chronicles her experiences training broadcast journalists in Libya after the  death of leader Moammar Qaddafi. Robinson outlines some of the challenges she faced in managing two USAID/OTI grants for Internews in the early days after the revolution, and how her team adopted novel approaches to overcome the difficulties they faced on the ground. She outlines not so much about what can and should be done for media development in Libya today, but about how to structure training in chaotic post-conflict environments.

Following the death of Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi in the revolution of 2011, Internews became one of the first international media development groups to offer assistance in Libya.

USAID and its Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), along with an implementing partner, moved quickly to make funds available for this project. This speedy start enabled Internews to generate goodwill, strong credibility, and considerable trust with its local partners.

The program sprang out of an Internews media assessment mission in Libya during the height of the conflict in May-June 2011, followed by a second fact-finding mission in October 2011 shortly after Qaddafi’s death.

I spent four months as program director for Internews in Libya, from January to May 2012. Our small field team of four, including our two Libyan assistants, our resident journalism adviser from Gaza, and myself, an American, faced a short timeframe, external operational delays, a very turbulent media scene, and a highly uncertain security situation. Despite these challenges, we organized five embedded trainings, nine open workshops, and two content analyses, most of which took place over a two-month span in March and April.

Obstacles and Challenges

Our four-month project faced a host of challenges: a constantly shifting media landscape, which made training, assessing media needs, and measuring local media content difficult; finding the right local partners; contending with security concerns and ever-changing visa requirements; operating in a cash-only economy; reporting to multiple funders; and trying to coordinate donor efforts.

Shifting Media Landscape

How to train journalists at local outlets in a constantly changing media environment? That was the chief dilemma we faced throughout our projects in Libya. New private radio stations popped up and vanished like quick-blooming flowers. Entrepreneurs pitched many proposals for new TV stations. Print media went on overdrive after the revolution, with dozens of new titles appearing weekly at newsstands, but with costs of publication usually exceeding income, sustainability was always a big question mark.

Before the revolution, all print and broadcast media in Libya were under state control, including the national TV and radio network with branches in several cities. By the time we arrived just a few months after Qaddafi’s death, there were hundreds of new print publications along with several private radio and TV stations, mostly centered in Tripoli and Benghazi but also in Misrata, the third-largest city, and smaller towns throughout the country. The state broadcasting system was still operating, but its channels had splintered into several semi-autonomous outlets that were still defining their management structure and mission purpose in the new free Libya.

Just to complicate things, many media outlets had the same or similar names…..

Libya is a unique example of a country in transition. I have worked in other post-conflict nations, including Tunisia and East Timor, and each country brings its own fresh, individual challenges. Perhaps the only common denominators are confusion and turbulence.

I thought about this one day in Tripoli as I watched hundreds of swallows zooming around wildly as usual outside my hotel windows. It dawned on me that over several months, I had never seen these birds flock together in any organized fashion. They just flew around separately making fast, random swoops and always seemed excited. The poor creatures were probably shell-shocked from all the constant gunfire and shooting into the air. Whatever the cause, it seemed to be a metaphor for the whole country. If the birds can’t even group together post revolution, how much should we expect from a traumatized human population?

The first small steps of training and development in post-conflict environments may not necessarily produce dazzling results on paper, but when these are coupled with speed and flexibility in addressing real needs of local journalists instead of our own predetermined agendas, the reward is a strong relationship between local journalists and international media developers that can pay off handsomely for all in the long run.

This is a brief extract from a special report published by The Center for International Media Assistance, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy. CIMA works to strengthen the support, raise the visibility, and improve the effectiveness of independent media development throughout the world.


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Polish NGOs will help new EU endowment for democracy

A European initiative to fund pro-democracy groups was introduced to Polish activists this week by its new director, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Jerzy Pomianowski (left), UPI reports:

Pomianowski, appointed by the European Union last month to lead the new European Endowment for Democracy, told a gathering of Polish pro-democracy non-governmental organizations in Warsaw Tuesday they will play a big role in determining how the EED spends its money in promoting political freedom and human rights in the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe.

The European Union and its member states launched the political project in October as a private foundation under Belgian law and three months later awarded it an $8.1 million grant. Several other EU members along with Switzerland have pledged up to an additional $10.5 million for its activities.

“Polish NGOs are a natural base for EED’s future activities on account of their experience relating to the Polish systemic transformation and their support for democratic changes in the EU’s Eastern Neighborhood, especially in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova,” he said. “The EED will certainly tap into their expertise.”

The recently-formed foundation is modeled on the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Polish NGOs such as the Solidarity Fund PL, assists states “undergoing transformation in the direction of market economy and private entrepreneurship,” will help determine the endowment’s priorities, Pomianowski said.

The new fund, he said, will “provide donations to entities that have been somewhat forgotten or underestimated by other entities that support democratic change in the world, in the form of funding that is key to securing the start-up of an organization or just a group of persons interested in democratic transformation.”

The EED will focus on “unregistered groups” in countries such as Belarus, because the EU currently has “limited funding options for unregistered political groups, or civic groups that have a political goal. Relatively little attention is devoted to these emerging leaders,” said Pomianowski.

“If they haven’t been around long enough to actually achieve success, they escape observation and the possibility of support. This is an area where the fund may be able to provide flexible financial support mechanisms.”

“That is exactly what N.E.D. did with Solidarity under Communism and continues to do so with other pro-democracy individuals and groups throughout the world,” said NED president Carl Gershman.

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Burma needs ‘bottom-up action to match top-down reform’


President Thein Sein’s government top-down reform process has pushed through important initiatives at a rapid pace to open unprecedented political space in Burma, says a leading rights advocate.

“But open political space will not bring meaningful change unless more people throughout the country and in all segments of the society move into this space and start to use it,” said Michael H. Posner (right), Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The veteran rights advocate will shortly leave the administration to join a new center for business and human rights at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

“Making Burma a home for all of its people will require broad, grassroots engagement by the widest possible range of its citizens, from ethnic leaders and bloggers, to lawyers and lawmakers, to factory workers and human rights advocates,” he told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission today:

I’ve just returned from my fourth and final trip there, where I followed up on the President’s visit and on the first-ever bilateral human rights dialogue, held in October in Naypyitaw. That discussion, which covered everything from legal reform to responsible investment to the protection of civilian populations in war zones, featured a Burmese interagency delegation including three ministers, members of the military, opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (left), as well as our own delegation including representatives from the White House, the Pentagon, and several other agencies.

I. Political Prisoners

The official “Political Prisoner Review Committee has the potential to achieve three objectives critical to the country’s democratic transition. First, it can accurately determine the number of remaining political prisoners in detention and prompt their unconditional release. ….Second, the Committee’s consideration of specific cases should give it an opportunity to identify laws that need to be reformed going forward and to make recommendations to that end…..Finally, the Committee has the potential to help advance efforts to provide care and facilitate the reintegration of released prisoners.….

II. Legal Reform

Revision and repeal of flawed laws and regulations is another key area to which the government – both executive and legislative branches – should pay attention in the coming years. In the last two years the parliament has drafted, and the executive has signed, a series of new laws that constitute the first important phase of legal reform. During this period the government has passed laws criminalizing forced labor, legalizing labor unions, and allowing the opposition to run in the April by-elections.

However, a number of other laws remain in place, many are hold-overs from the colonial administration that are inconsistent with international human rights standards. The government has begun to review and revise these laws, for example by repealing two problematic laws last month, one banning public gatherings of more than five people and another banning daily newspapers.

Broadly speaking, these remaining laws fall into three categories: 1) media and “electronics” laws that restrict freedom of expression and the press; 2) laws that are inconsistent with the freedom of association by restricting membership in associations of which the government does not approve; and 3) vaguely defined national security laws that give the government overly broad authority to arbitrarily arrest citizens. While the government has mostly ceased enforcing these laws, reforming outdated legal statutes should be a high priority for the parliament and the executive.

III. Kachin State and Rakhine State Updates

The government has signed ten ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic groups in the past year, including with the Karen National Union with which it had previously been at war for over 60 years. Still, the government’s previously longest running and most stable ceasefire with the Kachin broke down 18 months ago and fighting has intensified in recent months. ……………

We remain concerned about the situation in Rakhine State, which has resulted in more than 100,000 IDPs since violence erupted in June and October. This violence broke out quickly and included attacks on non-Rohingya Muslim communities such as the Kaman, one of the country’s 135 officially- recognized national races. …..

On the religious freedom front we are deeply concerned about reports of continuing human rights and religious freedom violations in the ethnic nationality regions, including reports of sexual violence, the use of churches as military bases by the Burmese army in Kachin State, and coerced religious conversions in Chin state. ……

IV. The Political Economy of a Rights-Respecting Democracy and U.S. Sanctions Policy

….. The military-business nexus is still strong despite recent political reforms. There is still insufficient transparency relating to revenues from natural resource or into where these revenues end up. Some critics allege that the country’s natural wealth, auctioned off to highest bidder, continues to be siphoned to offshore accounts rather than flowing into the national budget. Investment in many natural resources are still controlled and financed by military controlled enterprises, such as the Myanmar Economic Corporation and the Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited or their sub-entities.

Our sanctions remain in place on these entities for this reason. If Burma is to develop the political economy of a modern, rights-respecting democratic state, the government will have to tackle this nexus with the tools of transparency—auditing, public disclosure, and full accountability for corruption. The Government of Burma has committed to join both the Open Government Partnership and the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative, both of which will provide opportunities to enhance transparency and ensure broad based development……….

We also instituted the Reporting Requirements for Responsible Investment, which require U.S. persons making investments over $500,000 to report on their human rights, environmental, labor, and anti-corruption due diligence procedures. Companies without such due diligence procedures in place may nevertheless invest in Burma, provided they report that they do not have these policies in place. Our expectation is that companies that report a lack of adequate human rights policies will face pressure from civil society actors here and in Burma to develop them, and our hope is that companies will develop policies in collaboration with these groups.

Some have argued that these reporting requirements are too onerous and discourage investment, while others argue that they are too permissive and do not providing adequate human rights safeguards. But we’ve also heard from large American companies and members of Burmese and U.S. civil society who strongly support them. Our intention is to strike a balance, guarding against an economic free-for-all that would funnel investment to the military and its companies while still incentivizing responsible investment that contributes to Burma’s economic modernization, job creation, and widely-shared prosperity.

This is an edited extract from today’s testimony.


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Beyond Assad: Building a New Syria from the Grassroots

Under exceptionally harsh conditions, various civilian actors are striving to create the foundations of a post-Assad Syria.  Their work encompasses civil society, local governance and service provision, and humanitarian relief efforts.

As the second anniversary of Syria’s uprising approaches, its deepening turmoil and expanding humanitarian crisis underscore the tragic dimensions of the Arab world’s bloodiest uprising. The Assad regime maintains its hold on power, but has retreated from vast swathes of territory, particularly in northern and eastern areas of the country.  In the northern city of Aleppo-mired in a months-long stalemate, it is estimated that 70% of the city is under rebel control.

A diverse panel of activists and experts involved in different realms of Syrian society will discuss their efforts and insights into the challenges and needs on the ground.

The Stimson Center and the Middle East Institute are pleased to co-host a panel discussion on grassroots efforts to begin laying the groundwork for a new Syria.

Syria Beyond Assad: Building a New Syria from the Grassroots

Thursday, March 7, 2013

10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.

The Stimson Center

1111 19th Street, 12th Floor
Washington, DC

Please join a timely discussion featuring:

Leila Hilal

Director, Middle East Task Force, New America Foundation

Rafif Jouejati

Director, FREE-Syria, non-profit humanitarian organization devoted to women’s empowerment and English-language spokesperson for the Syrian Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists throughout Syria

Elizabeth O’Bagy

Senior Research Analyst, Institute for the Study of War

Honey al-Sayed

Co-Founder and Board member-ROYA Association For a Better Syria & Radio SouriaLi and Host & Producer-Radio SouriaLi

Mona Yacoubian

Senior Advisor on the Middle East, Stimson Center (Moderator)

To register for this event, click HERE.

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