BEIJING, China –
Today we celebrate International Human Rights Day and commemorate the
66th anniversary of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. In the United States, we use this day to reflect on the
importance of human rights, as outlined in the Universal Declaration. We
Americans know from our own national experience that promoting justice and
respect for human dignity is difficult, never-ending work. We have made
progress. More must be done.
Since I became U.S. Ambassador to China earlier this year, I have worked
tirelessly to strengthen the U.S.-China bilateral relationship. As I travel
across this great country, I have seen many Chinese enjoying improving living
conditions. As important as living standards are, the other rights recognized
in the Universal Declaration are equally important. No country can expect to
achieve the intellectual vitality, innovation, and stability crucial to a
successful modern society without strong protections for the full spectrum of
As President Obama said during his recent visit to Beijing, “We think history
shows that nations that uphold these rights – including for ethnic and religious
minorities – are ultimately more prosperous, more successful, and more able to
achieve the dreams of their people.” The President also underscored the
importance the United States places on speaking out for the rights of all men
and women, wherever they live.
In that spirit, we call on China to dedicate itself to upholding its
international human rights commitments and the “promotion of universal respect
for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” as called for in
the Universal Declaration.
Throughout the past year, too many Chinese citizens were jailed merely for
peacefully expressing their views. One was rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was
arrested following his participation in a meeting to peacefully mark the 25th
anniversary of the violent suppression in Tiananmen Square. Another was
Professor Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for peacefully
advocating for ethnic Uighur rights. We urge Chinese authorities to release the
many human rights defenders in prison and under house arrest. Mr. Pu and Mr.
Tohti should be free; so should Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and his
wife Liu Xia, and New Citizens Movement leader Xu Zhiyong.
We call on China to fully implement the rule of law and ensure all receive
fair trials. We believe that government censorship, restrictions on press
freedoms, and policies that deny basic freedoms to ethnic and religious
minorities undermine the trust that binds diverse societies. We urge China’s
leaders to engage in constructive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his
representatives to reduce tension in Tibetan areas.
All countries, of course, have civil liberties and human rights issues,
including the United States. Many of us have followed recent events back home,
which have sparked conversations that we hope will bring about positive change.
That dialogue is made possible by our enduring respect for freedoms of
expression and assembly.
We hope to see human rights progress in China. Many of my Chinese friends
expect that the recent Fourth Plenum judicial reform agenda will result in a
freer and more just society. I am certain that implementing reforms in
accordance with the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration would help
unleash the boundless potential of the Chinese people.