Stijn Deklerck, senior officer of Amnesty International’s China human rights program, holds a Ph.D. in sinology at the University of Leuven (Belgium) and has been engaged in China’s human rights issues for years. On December 10, 2019, Mr. Deklerck, as representative of Amnesty, participated in the rally and made a speech at Dam Square in Amsterdam, where over a hundred participants, including Tibetans, Uyghurs, Chinese Christians, human rights activists and Hongkongers, gathered to denounce the Chinese government and demand an end of persecution, respect of human rights and release of all prisoners of conscience. Mr. Deklerck said that the human rights record of China is extremely bad, and that the human rights conditions in the country are continuing to worsen with growing Chinese contempt of human rights as internationally defined. He called on people to stand up with a strong voice to preserve and strengthen the current system of human rights norms. The following is the full transcript of an interview with Mr. Deklerck at the event on China’s human rights issues.
Q: The CCP has always declared that people enjoy human rights and freedom of religious belief in China. I know you have been watching human rights in China for 19 years. What do you think of the situation of human rights and religious freedom in China?
A: Well, unfortunately, the human rights record is not good, and it’s even like worsening day by day as we speak in China. I know China declares it respects human rights and it’s also written inside the Constitution. But the reality is that we see a huge lot of human rights violations going on. Specifically when you ask about the freedom of religion, at this point, it’s not respected in China. I mean, when it comes to religion, people have to go to a church that’s associated to the Chinese government, to the Communist Party, everybody who wants to have a free [life] of their own belief, and they are not connected to the state or to the Communist Party, these people are being persecuted, are being jailed, are being detained, whether it is in prisons or in camps. So, we can say that human rights and religious freedom have unfortunately not been respected yet in China.
Q: What are the impacts of the CCP’s persecution of human rights on democracy and freedom in China and the world?
A: Today is the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Universal Declaration of Human Rights, China has also committed itself to it. The whole world is taking notice of the fact that China is not respecting these human rights, especially I would say in the West, in the E.U., in the U.S., but also in other countries around the world. More important people are seeing the research that is coming out, the internal documents that are being leaked, seeing proof of how human rights are not respected. China itself, as you know, is always claiming human rights are not an international issue, they’re like a domestic issue, they are internal affairs, other countries can’t say anything about that. That is simply not true. According to the international rules which China has itself also committed, other countries can speak to other countries when there is violation of human rights. So in that way, I think it’s very important for the global community to keep to these international commitments that have been made also by China and to basically address China for not wanting to respect its responsibilities and obligations. I think at this moment it’s just really urgent and very important that all international community starts doing this with all engagement with China.
Q: Amnesty International has been active to condemn China’s terrible human rights situation. Seeing the worsening situation of human rights in China, what extra effective actions will you take next?
A: Just to clarify, also Amnesty International, I mean we are talking about human rights everywhere in the world, so, not just in China. I mean China is one of the countries that we address unfortunately, because the human rights situation is so bad. It’s a country that we say a lot about. But we address China as we do like any other countries in the world. Extra actions that we foresee is to basically make sure that more and more people are aware of what is happening in China, are also aware of the influence and the impact that China is having on the rest of the world, making sure that people value their own human rights and stand up for their human rights, because sometimes people tend to forget this will that human rights are important for everybody in the world. So we always believe in the power of the people, like today we have the “Write for Rights” actions. We invite everybody around the world to write letters to Chinese authorities to personally express that they actually also care about what happens in China. And if we have that international pressure, a combined pressure from other governments combined with also businesses which stand up for human rights, I think we can really do something. So our goal with Amnesty International is to make sure that like all these parts of the international community, governments, international public, businesses like everybody basically stands up and protects and strengthens human rights.
Q: What actions do you recommend the international community to take to rescue prisoners of conscience in China?
A: I think we constantly need to speak out on the people that are in prison there. And what we need to do is [that when] government leaders [are] in their meetings with China, it’s important that they publicly mention these people, that they call them by name. It’s basically also what we do are making sure that they are not forgotten, making sure that they don’t appear into silence. We give them attention and also legitimacy for their fight and also for the fact they’re standing up for human rights, which, as we discuss, is like an international thing that is inalienable and universal that people are allowed everywhere in the world to stand up for. So I think what is important is to keep making sure that they are not forgotten and to keep telling the Chinese government that we have not forgotten them, to our governments, to ourselves by writing letters, true like always we can make sure that they’re not forgotten, make sure that China knows that we are thinking about them.