The Geneva Summit is organized by a cross-regional coalition of 20 NGOs, including UN Watch, Freedom House and Ibuka, with the aim of providing a voice for the voiceless and advocating action on urgent human rights situations. The conference will feature victim testimonies from renowned human rights defenders, dissidents and experts, and produce draft resolutions for the UN Human Rights Council to adopt. For more on the conference, speakers and program, click here.
The Chinese government has been criticized by human rights groups and the U.S. State Department for gross and systematic violations of basic rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, and for oppressing minority groups.
Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese literary critic, writer, professor, and human rights activist was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year for “inciting subversion of state power.” His receipt of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize turned a global spotlight on the human rights situation in China, which is currently witnessing a brutal crackdown by authorities fearful of the freedom revolutions that have spread in the Middle East.
With Liu in jail, and his wife and supporters placed under house arrest by the Chinese government, Yang Jianli, as a friend of the couple and fellow activist living in exile in the U.S., was appointed by Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, to be the peace award winner's representative and spokesman at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Yang played a key role in preparations for the ceremony, organizing a delegation of exiled dissidents to be present and publishing an open letter imploring the Chinese government to let Liu Xia come to Oslo to accept her husband’s award.
Like Liu, Yang was a participant in the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989, and considers the June 4 crackdown to be a turning point in his life. "I saw tanks rolling over students," he says. "I felt China had no choice but to change." While in the United States doing pro-democracy work, his passport expired and the Chinese government refused to issue him a new one. When he tried to return to China in 2002 to observe labor unrest he was arrested and jailed for five years. He now lives in exile in the U.S., where he heads the Foundation for China in the 21st Century, which advocates political transition and supports rights activities on the mainland.
Despite his personal experiences, Yang remains hopeful about the future of democracy in China. "I am always optimistic," he says. "On the surface you can only see the hardening of China's attitude, but the real change is in people's hearts. You can feel the change already in China." At the Geneva Summit tomorrow he will offer his take on the human rights situation in China in the aftermath of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize.
Other participants in the panel include:
- Dechem Pemba, a UK-born Tibetan and editor of the website High Peaks Pure Earth, on which Tibetan blogs written in Tibetan and Chinese are translated into English.
- Bahtiyar Ömer, a Uyghur human rights activist whose wife, Gulmire Imin, received life in prison for her role as an “illegal organizer” during the 2009 demonstrations.
- Ti-Anna Wang, the daughter of Bingzhang Wang, a Chinese dissident serving a life sentence in solitary confinement, and one of the founding members of the overseas Chinese Democracy Movement.
Admission to tomorrow’s Geneva Summit is free, and the public and media are invited to attend. For accreditation, program and schedule information, please visit http://www.genevasummit.org.
Global Civil Society Coalition: Collectif Urgence Darfour; Darfur Peace and Development Center; Directorio Democratico Cubano; Freedom House; Freedom Now; Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l; IBUKA; Ingénieurs du monde; Initiatives for China; Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children; International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY); Ligue International Contre le Racisme; LINK; Respect Institut; Stop Child Executions; Tibetan Women's Association; Ticino Tibet; Uighur American Congress; UN Watch; Viet Tan.