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For Immediate Release

Following State of the Union, PHR Challenges Obama on China

Cambridge, Mass - 01/26/2011

PHR today issued a challenge to President Obama to hold China accountable for not only the human rights violations committed on its own soil, but also the human rights abuses that China enables in Burma and Sudan.

Last night during the State of the Union address, President Obama proudly announced that the United States recently signed agreements with India and China that will support the creation of more than 250,000 jobs in the United States.

And later in his speech, the President said, "America's moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom, justice, and dignity. And because we have begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America's standing has been restored.”

"Although the sentiment is commendable, it is unrealistic,” said Frank Donaghue, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights. "The President and the American people need to recognize that we can’t have leadership without the courage and the conviction of our actions. Of course the economy and American jobs are important, but so are the human rights of all people around the world. We must recognize that China supports states that routinely commit human rights violations.”

Recently, when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the White House, President Obama said, "We have some core views as Americans about the universality of certain rights — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly — that we think are very important and that transcend culture… Occasionally, they are a source of tension between our two governments.” The President went on to say, "We can engage and discuss these issues in a frank and candid way, focus on those areas where we agree while acknowledging there are going to be areas where we disagree.”

"This is not an area where we can politely disagree,” said Donaghue. "China benefits greatly from Sudan’s oil and Burma’s natural resources. As a major patron of both regimes, China needs to forget about their bottom line and actively support human rights among its client states.”

PHR’s recent report, Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State, revealed that an estimated 92% of the citizens of Burma’s Chin State were likely subjected to forced labor. In Sudan, PHR and numerous other human rights groups have delivered eyewitness accounts of indigenous African civilians from Darfur, Sudan being systematically killed, raped, and displaced as their villages are destroyed.

In March of 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a letter to Human Rights First, "As Sudan's largest export partner and greatest source of foreign investment, China is in a position to exert pressure on Khartoum to resolve the conflict in Darfur and implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.”

It is time to move beyond rhetoric to action. As Obama said, "America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom, justice, and dignity.” The United States needs to demand action from China before expecting China to exert pressure on the leaders in Burma and Sudan.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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