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AUSTRIA: Vienna Award for Chinese ambassador sparks international criticism

Leading experts and human rights defenders condemn and ridicule the Award of Vienna’s highest honor to the Chinese ambassador


FOREF-EUROPE (28.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/2RnRbVyThe award of the State of Vienna’s Great Gold Medal to Chinese Ambassador Li Xiaosi has drawn sharp criticism from leading experts on human rights and religious freedom in China.

“We are astonished and embarrassed by this award,” stated Peter Zoehrer, Executive Director of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe (FOREF), a Vienna-based non-governmental organization focusing on defending the freedom of religion.  “This decision makes a mockery of efforts to defend the Chinese people, and especially Chinese Muslims, Christians, and members of other minorities, from oppression by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Members of FOREF’s network communicated their concerns, as follows: 

Dr. Ján Figeľformer European Commission special envoy for the promotion freedom of religion outside the EU, and former European Commissioner:
It is a sad decision, neglecting vast abuses of human dignity and justice in the People’s Republic of China. 

Dr. Yang JianliTiananmen Square massacre survivor, former political prisoner, and founder of Citizen Power Initiatives for China:
It is a great shame for Vienna to honor Chinese Ambassador Li Xiaosi, because Li does not represent himself, but a government that opposes values that the people of Vienna cherish. The Chinese government responded to the COVID-19 epidemic by covering up its outbreak, cracking down on whistleblowers, falsifying casualty data, and misleading the world.
Furthermore, the Chinese government has erected all kinds of barriers to prevent independent experts from investigating the origins of the coronavirus, placing all of humanity, including the people of Vienna, at risk for a future crisis.  The Great Gold Medal for Services to the State of Vienna awarded to a representative of such a dictatorial government not only disregards the dignity of the direct victims of this repressive regime, but also insults the integrity of the people of Vienna.   I hope this deplorable episode serves as a wake-up call to Vienna, Europe and the free world.

Hon. David Kilgour, former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia Pacific and Nobel Prize nominee:
In the face of the genocide the Beijing party-state is committing against Uyghurs, this is a bizarre initiative by the mayor of Vienna 

Professor Massimo Introvigne, sociologist of religion and editor of the daily magazine Bitter Winter, A Magazine on Religious Liberty and Human Rights:
While most countries of the world are censoring Chinese envoys’ ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy,’ and an Oxford University report reveals how Chinese embassies pollute Twitter with fake accounts and trolls, the Vienna award is a slap in the face of Uyghurs, Hongkongers, Tibetan Buddhists, and all those persecuted for their religion or for requesting a minimal respect of human rights.

James WilsonInternational Foundation for Better Governance:
It defies belief that when the free world is condemning the Chinese Communist Party for appalling crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and Tibet, and calling for a boycott of the winter Olympic games in China in 2022, Vienna city officials should undermine compatriots in Europe and heap scorn on our European values by praising the ambassador of a totalitarian state.

Elisabeth ZimmermannSenior Advisor of Save Tibet Austria:
Against the backdrop of decades of human rights violations as well as the current genocide by the People’s Republic of China, this medal of honor for the Chinese ambassador is a slap in the face of all people, organizations and countries that stand for fundamental human rights.Due to the cover-up at the beginning of the spread of the coronavirus in China and the resulting global pandemic, over 10,000 Austrians died, thousands lost their jobs and many businesses went bankrupt. The City of Vienna’s award shames Viennese and Austrian citizens, and makes a mockery of the suffering of all who are victims of the pandemic, and the oppressive rule of China.

Marco Respinti, Director-in-Charge, Bitter Winter: A Magazine on Religious Liberty and Human Rights:
The People’s Republic of China is guilty of horrible crimes, ranging from organ harvesting to the genocide of an entire people, the Uyghurs, as many countries in the world have officially recognized. China is a massive surveillance state where basic freedom is neglected, and has a staggering record of violation of human rights and religious liberty. The democratic people in Hong Kong are suffering the misdeeds of a police state supported by Beijing. It would be highly interesting to know why the Ambassador to Austria of such a country is being awarded with the token of the highest honor by a city lying at the center of civilization like Vienna. 

Willy FautréDirector, Human Rights Without Frontiers International:
It is a scandal that a capital city of an EU country honors the ambassador of a country, China, which is guilty of egregious violations of human rights on a mass scale, especially religious and ethnic minorities. Shame  on Vienna.

Stand with Hong Kong Vienna:
We are stunned by the apparent ignorance, or misguidedness, of the Mayor of Vienna, who is so grateful for the small assistance provided by China, yet forgot that this country’s slow reaction and lack of transparency to WHO and the international community was the main cause of the suffering of millions of people around the world. We urge the Vienna government to wake up from China’s short-term arbitrage and recognize China as a threat to world stability and peace.

 Dr. Aaron Rhodes, president of FOREF and former Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights:
It is beyond understanding why Vienna authorities would ingratiate themselves to China at this time, when European authorities are, correctly, modifying relations with China as a result of the genocide in Xinjiang and other massive violations of human rights.  We believe this inappropriate and disturbing decision does not reflect the moral standards of the community, and indeed discredits them.


Photo credits: Placesofjuma.com

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TAIWAN: U.N. World Day For Cultural Diversity, for Dialogue and Development

Presentation at the 24 May webinar co-organized by CESNUR and HRWF. It was part of the events organized by NGOs for the 2021 United Nations World Day, which was commemorated on May 21.


By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers


HRWF (31.05.2021) – In 2001, UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.  In December 2002, the UN General Assembly, in its resolution 57/249, declared 21 May to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.


In 2015, the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution on Culture and Sustainable Development A/C.2/70/L.59, affirming culture’s contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development, acknowledging further the natural and cultural diversity of the world, and recognizing that cultures and civilizations can contribute to, and are crucial enablers of, sustainable development.


This day that we are commemorating provides us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity, to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.


The case of Tai Ji Men which is part of the cultural diversity in Taiwan is emblematic in this regard.  Tai Ji Men has never evaded taxes, a fact that has been confirmed by the Taiwan Supreme Court, and the defendants who were detained have received national compensation for their unlawful imprisonment. However, for a quarter of a century, this minority movement has been heavily persecuted by the National Taxation Bureau. Tai Ji Men has always refused to pay undue taxes or to accept a so-called friendly settlement, which would have been an admission of guilt and more importantly a treason of its moral principles and against its conscience.


Tai Ji Men: From the status of victim to the status of defender of victims


Taxation of the income of individuals, associations and companies is a mechanism that is necessary in a democratic society to guarantee the common good, to finance public and social services, to support investments and innovation. However, taxation must be fair and transparent if the government wants the citizens to abide by its rules.


When confidence in the taxation system is lost because of corruption, cheating or abuse, the rule of law and democracy are in danger and society must react.


This is the situation that Tai Ji Men has painfully experienced and against which it has decided to react. Even though the amount of time, effort, and money they have put into this worthy cause far exceeds the amount of illegal taxes levied against them, they still have the courage to fight for justice and righteousness, not only for themselves, but also for the sake of the country’s justice and people’s happiness.


The Tai Ji Men case has drawn the attention of a number of well-known experts and scholars, who established the Tax and Legal Reform League in 2016 with the following objectives to safeguard the well-being of the Taiwanese society:


  • to help victims of the National Taxation Bureau
  • to inform Taiwanese taxpayers about their legitimate rights
  • to invite scholars and experts in different fields to propose reforms
  • to check the work of public servants, identify and sanction those who have abused their power in total impunity.
  • Awakening people’s awareness of their rights as taxpayers.


Some initiators of the Tax and Legal Reform League are worth mentioning:


Prof. Huang, Chun-Chieh

Distinguished Professor, Department of Financial and Economic Law of National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan and Former Member of the Presidential Office Human Rights Consultative Committee, Taiwan


Dr. Chen, Tze-lung, Chairman of the Taiwan Association for Financial Criminal Law Study, and Former Professor of Law at National Taiwan University


Prof. Wu, Ching-Chin, Associate Professor of Law at Aletheia University and Executive Board Member of Taiwan Forever Association


Mr. Chen, Yi-nan, Director of Taiwan Society North


Prof. Lien, Fu-Long (Prof. Lukas Lien), Contact Professor in Taiwan, Osnabrück University, Germany


The Tax and Legal Reform League does not only correct the mismanagement of tax collection by the National Taxation Bureau (NTB) and the abuse of its disproportionate power but it also makes constructive proposals to remedy it. Here are the main points of its roadmap which includes the compliance with the existing fiscal rules considered to be fair and the regulations that need to be reformed, completed or abolished.


The roadmap of the Tax and Legal Reform League


The taxation should have a clear legal basis and strictly comply with legal implementation procedures and the Constitution.


The taxpayers should first receive a taxation proposal that they can contest with arguments before it is officially issued.


In case of disagreement, the burden of proof should be shifted from the taxpayers to the tax authorities.


If the tax authorities cannot prove that a taxpayer has intentionally evaded taxes, they should not impose a penalty.


The Petitions and Appeals Committee of the Ministry of Finance, which deals with complaints of taxpayers, should be composed of independent experts and scholars in order to be fair and impartial.


To protect the people’s right to appeal a decision, the rule that “half of the tax must be paid or guaranteed before filing an appeal, otherwise the appeal will be referred to the enforcement agency” and “restricting people from leaving the country, detaining them, and taking them into custody without a court decision” should all be abolished.


If the tax amount cannot be determined within five years from the issuance of the original tax bill, it should not be allowed to be reassessed.


The Taxpayer Rights Protection Act should be reviewed and amended by experts and scholars. The reason is that it might seem to protect taxpayers’ rights, but in fact it is full of loopholes. One of them is the lack of independence and impartiality in the selection of the taxpayer’s Ombudsman and tax judges in addition to unreasonable tax deadlines.


Last but not least, the system of tax bonuses granted to officers of the National Taxation Bureau and the Enforcement Agency, which are proportional to amounts collected through taxes and auctions, can lead to undue fiscal and judicial harassment by the tax collection officers and should be repealed. Besides, the bonus system has no legal basis.


Through their quest for justice for victims of the National Taxation Bureau, the Tax and Legal Reform League and Tai Ji Men contribute to the protection of cultural diversity and moral development of society in Taiwan. We should all learn from Tai Ji Men and the Tax and Legal Reform League and work together with conscience to preserve the world’s cultural diversity, so that the world will become a better place to live and everyone will enjoy happiness and prosperity.


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GEORGIA’s future is European: Major agreement between Brussels & Tbilissi

Georgia’s future is European

On 19 April, Georgia’s political leaders signed a major political agreement following weeks of mediation by the European Union. The following op-ed is penned by those that initiated and supported this mediation – the President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. Together, they look ahead at what this agreement means for Georgia, for the EU and for EU-Georgia relations.


By Salome Zourabichvili and Charles Michel


Euronews (19.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/3ypq0dA – As it recovered its independence 30 years ago, Georgia renewed its historic aspiration to rejoin the European family. Since 2004, the European Union responded by opening a steady process which has brought Georgia closer to Europe from the European Neighborhood (2004) to the Eastern Partnership (2009). In the past decade, the movement accelerated with the signing of the Association Agreement of 2014, which also included a free trade area; and in 2017, visa liberalisation was concluded allowing Georgians to travel to the EU without visas for short-term stays. Connections between Georgia and the EU are far more profound than ever before, an achievement which no one could have contemplated when the country broke free from Soviet rule in 1991.


Yet in early 2021, Georgia faced a political deadlock. Latent polarisation pitted the ruling and opposition parties against each other. Despite facilitation efforts by the EU and US envoys, tensions morphed into a political crisis. With the region’s stability challenged by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan reigniting in Autumn 2020, it became essential to consolidate Georgia’s democracy and stability. With the full backing of the President of Georgia, the President of the European Council offered EU mediation in the political dialogue relaunched during his 1 March visit to Georgia.


We, the President of Georgia and the President of the European Council, want to express our deep satisfaction in seeing this deal agreed and signed by the ruling and opposition parties. This agreement puts an end to a crisis that could have disrupted the democratic advancement achieved over the past decades and weakened Georgia’s progress along its European path. Through dialogue, leadership and compromise, Georgian political leaders put differences aside for the greater good of the country. This was done in a truly European spirit reviving Georgia’s image as a democratic anchor in the region. The political crisis is over, constructive political engagement needs to be sustained. We call on each and everyone to live up to their commitments.


This agreement is a win for Georgia, its people and the European Union.




A win for robust democratic institutions in Georgia


With European support, this Agreement will deepen the reforms of the country’s institutions. The electoral process will meet the highest standard and reforms of the judicial system should end any perceived politicisation of justice.


Power-sharing procedures will make the Georgian Parliament one of the most pluralistic. These changes will not only make Georgian democracy more vibrant, it will ensure that reforms are inclusive and viable.



A win for the people of Georgia


Away from partisan feuds, the focus will move to meeting the pressing issues which face the country: dealing with the pandemic as well as its economic and social consequences; maintaining stability; investing in the future. Georgians have seen they were not alone to overcome the crisis. To this day, the EU has been Georgia’s largest donor with over 200 concrete ongoing projects and a total budget of 500 million euros. The European Investment Bank has invested some 1.85 billion Euros in economic development, agriculture, education and infrastructure to name a few.


More tangible support from Europe will follow. The agreement – entitled “A way ahead for Georgia” – paves the way for closer cooperation with the EU; financial support to soften the blow of the post-COVID recovery; enhanced participation in the EU’s programmes; and a renewed focus on physical and digital infrastructure projects that can increase connectivity of Georgia and the Caucasus and Black Sea regions with Europe, with the potential to further increase growth.



A win for the European Union


The EU can count on a stable, fiercely pro-European partner in a region essential to Europe’s values, security and connectivity. At a time when the regional landscape is being reshaped, Georgia matters more than ever.


With mutual interests at stake, the EU and Georgia now need to further deepen the implementation of the Association Agreement and further strengthen their cooperation. In addition to bilateral agendas, we will continue to work for a renewed and deepened Eastern Partnership that expands areas for cooperation, increases EU support and extends the links between our peoples. In parallel, to mark the special relationship between the EU and its Associated partners in the Eastern Partnership, we propose to hold, in the coming months, a leaders’ meeting, with the Presidents of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova.


At a time of increased geopolitical pressures in the region, there is no better answer than the demonstration just given by Europe and Georgia. On the one hand, decisive European political support to a small but vibrant democracy and to avoid any form of destabilisation. On the other hand, Georgia’s determination to continue undeterred on its chosen path towards its Euro-Atlantic future.

Photo credits: Georgia Today

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POLAND’s top court ousts ombudsman in rule of law standoff

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that an article of the Commissioner for Human Rights Act is unconstitutional, meaning Ombudsman Adam Bodnar – who repeatedly pointed out the government backsliding on the rule of law, freedom of the press, and democratic values – will have to vacate his post within three months.


By Aleksandra Krzysztoszek


Euractiv (16.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/3ahJ9nj – Parliament’s lower house known as the Sejm spared no time in electing PiS MP Bartłomiej Wróblewski to be the new ombudsman, though this still needs to be approved by the Senate.


The article in question states that the Commissioner for Human Rights, also known as the Ombudsman, can continue performing his duties after the end of his five-year term – which expired in September of last year – as long as parliament does not elect his successor.


Since the coalition government led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party has so far been unable to find a replacement who would be approved by the opposition-controlled Senate, the ruling party’s MPs have requested the decision be declared unconstitutional.


The party’s motion, which received support from the Sejm, as well as by the Attorney General and Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, was also backed by the Constitutional Tribunal.


The ruling comes as no surprise since it was issued by a five-member panel composed exclusively of judges elected to the Constitutional Tribunal by the votes of the MPs of the right-wing coalition government – including the tribunal’s head Julia Przyłębska, wife of Poland’s ambassador in Berlin Andrzej Przyłębski. Przyłębska is known to have hosted PiS’ leader Jarosław Kaczyński at private dinners in her apartment.


Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović has already criticised the decision, tweeting that it “creates a worrying gap in the functioning of the Ombudsman institution in-btw [sic] terms and the protection of human rights in Poland”.


“A successor must urgently be selected fully respecting the Polish Constitution and law and international standards,” she added.


Wróblewskiwas was voted to be the new candidate for the Ombudsman position with 240 votes in the 460-seat chamber.


Opposition candidates Sławomir Patyra proposed by the Civic Coalition (KO) and the Polish People’s Party-Polish Coalition, as well as left-wing candidate Piotr Ikonowicz both failed to secure the majority. The opposition objected to Wróblewski’s candidacy, arguing that electing a party member contradicts the independence that comes with the Ombudsman’s role.


However, for Wróblewski to take up the role, he must be approved by the opposition-dominated Senate. Most experts have said this is highly unlikely.


Photo credits: EPA-EFE/RAFAL GUZ

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CHINA-EU: Sanctions expose EU-China split v. the EU-China Agreement (CAI)

By Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy (zsuzsaaferenczy@gmail.com)


Tapei Times (25.03.2021) – https://bit.ly/2OFhlBI – On Dec. 30 last year, the EU and China reached an agreement in principle to launch negotiations for a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). However, as Reinhard Butikofer, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the German Green party and chair of its EU-China delegation, said: “There is no deal until the European Parliament says it is a deal.”


Come this month, and those who took this statement lightly are in for a reality check.


On Monday, the Green politician, along with fellow MEPs from different political groups, including German Michael Gahler (European People’s Party, EPP), Slovakian Miriam Lexmann (EPP), Frenchman Raphael Glucksmann (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats) and Bulgarian Ilhan Kyuchyuk (Renew Europe) found themselves on China’s list of sanctioned entities and personnel.


Beijing also sanctioned members of the Dutch, Belgian and Lithuanian parliaments, German and Swedish academics, the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the EU and the entire Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament. Furthermore, the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark, two think tanks working on China, were sanctioned.


The sanctions were in retaliation for the EU blacklisting four Chinese individuals and one entity believed to be involved in the violations of the rights of Uighur Muslim minority in East Turkestan, or the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.


Through the sanctions, the Chinese leadership stressed its firm determination to “safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests,” elements at the core of all of the arguments Beijing has ever used whenever criticized over its human rights record.


So why did Beijing this time choose to retaliate in such a disproportionate and counterproductive manner, against the very lawmakers who are vital to the future of an investment agreement it claimed to badly want? What has Beijing identified as sufficient gain that it sees merit in risking the loss of the CAI? Why target think tanks working to help policymakers and societies across Europe better understand China, given their very function is to build bridges between people through independent and constructive analysis, at a time when the world is ruled by hostility, misconceptions and disinformation?


It has been clear to both sides that a normative divergence lies at the heart of their perception gap, with human rights being interpreted and understood in fundamentally opposing ways. Yet, up to now, and paradoxically, the gap has allowed the two sides to cooperate as “strategic partners,” largely thanks to the EU’s strong belief — noble by some, naive by others — in upholding “engagement,” much to the chagrin of Washington, in particular under the former US administration.


Even labeling China a “systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance” in 2019 did not stand in the way of the two sides, two of the largest trading blocs in the world, agreeing on an investment deal, leading to doubts concerning the EU’s toughening stance on China.


It is also clear that under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), Beijing has turned more repressive at home and aggressive abroad, set on an irreversible course driven by nationalism, primarily aimed at keeping a domestic audience under tight control, while claiming to seek to restore China’s past glory.


Therefore, it is not Brussels’ sanctions, albeit the first agreed on against China in more than 30 years, that made Beijing impose sanctions of its own. Instead, China has found itself trapped and stuck on its own irreversible path, where any language less than aggressive, belligerent and fueled by nationalism would make the leadership look weak and conciliatory in the face of “Western interference,” as it describes any criticism of its human rights record.


Not hitting back with its own sanctions simply was not a viable option for Beijing, as disproportionate and counterproductive as this measure turned out to be.


It is difficult to judge the long-term consequences of such a significant twist in EU-China ties, or even the fate of the CAI, given the fragmentation inside the EU, and the economic interdependence between the two sides.


However, short-term, it is clear that China’s disproportionate steps are already backfiring. Instead of further splitting an already divided EU, Beijing’s aggressive measure is only nourishing the very convergence it has been seeking to block, including concerning Taiwan, treated as a “sensitive” issue in bilateral ties for too long.


Among the lawmakers sanctioned, it was also their supportive statements or activities on Taiwan that has angered China — and with it the “feelings of the Chinese people.” What the sanctions will achieve is to strengthen willingness in the EU to engage Taiwan, and serve as inspiration to further warm ties with a like-minded partner, a technologically advanced economy and a thriving democracy in a hostile region.


The health crisis has brought a unique opportunity for the bloc to reconsider its ties with Taiwan, and consider it on its own merit as it rethinks its relations with China. With MEPs and other EU entities sanctioned, this time around a reckoning in the EU is real, and without a doubt in the European Parliament.


In line with its previous positive positions on Taiwan, it should be no surprise that MEPs might be the driving force in the process. However, in the end, it is not about CAI. It is the future of the international human rights regime that is at stake.



Photo credits:  AFP via Getty Images

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