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German Politician: Lecturing China Won't Improve Human Rights

The Olympics have raised awareness about human rights in China. A leading German human rights politician told DW-WORLD.DE that it doesn't make sense to lecture Beijing without lauding it as well.

Applauding hands in the air

Daeubler-Gmelin: Applauding China for its achiements is better than constant criticism

Herta Daeubler-Gmelin

Herta Daeubler-Gmelin

Herta Daeubler-Gmelin is a Social Democratic member of parliament and heads the human rights and humanitarian affairs committee since 2005. She was Germany's justice minister from 1998 until 2002.

DW-WORLD.DE: The Olympics were meant to bring human rights to China -- were the games a charade in this respect?

Herta Daeubler-Gmelin: I've never demanded this from the Olympics. Instead, the increased global publicity was meant to be used to find out more about China and remind Beijing that human rights are part of a stable and democratic society everywhere in the world. If you look at it this way, there have been good signs, but also serious deficits. But it's important for me that the question of human rights doesn't drop off the agenda after the end of the Olympic Games.

In 1968, there was a legendary scene, when athletes highlighted the black civil rights movement by raising their fist in black gloves during the medal ceremony. Did you hope for more signs -- or demonstrations -- of solidarity by athletes?

Medals of the Beijing Olympics

It's undestandable that athletes don't want to risk losing their medals, Daeubler-Gmelin says

In 1968, I thought that it was a great disgrace for the United States and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to practically exclude from the Games and strip of their medals the three athletes that gave the Black Panther salute at the podium. It's no surprise that athletes, who have prepared for four years to participate in the Olympics, won't do something like that. I also think that you should not ask too much of athletes. It's up to the journalists and politicians. Both have to live up to their responsibility, also by admonishing the IOC and sponsors to be more vigilant -- but not only during the Games, but also afterwards.

How do you want to contribute to this as the chairwoman of the human rights committee in parliament?

We'll be in Beijing in October and carefully observe the human rights situation. But I'm against lecturing people. Those who do that in Beijing don't do it when talking to other great powers. We should clearly and unequivocally demand human rights and we have to keep doing so, also as human rights activists and politicians.

Now that you're going to China in October: How do you want to influence the Chinese government when it comes to human rights, protecting minorities, democratization and the rule of law in the future?

The new CCTV headquarters in Beijing

China's boom has helped improve social human rights, Daeubler-Gmelin says

The problem is that no one likes to be lectured to. The same is true for (German Interior Minister) Schaeuble and the human rights of foreigners, who are living in Germany without papers. But you can say things very clearly and make it clear that you're watching what's happening.

But it's always a good idea to notice progress as well. Human rights also include social human rights, meaning the right to education, to health care, to overcoming poverty. Sometimes it would be more useful for freedom rights -- where China still has a lot to do -- if people would recognize what kind of progress has been made in the last couple of years as far as social human rights are concerned.

The Olympics have increased awareness for human rights in China. Will anyone will be interested in the issue in six months? This is a question for journalists. What we have done -- and I've done this regularly since 1991, not only in China, but also in other countries -- will continue and it's possible to see progress. Those affected confirm this. I think it's now important that politicians help those who demand freedom rights, but that they also recognize the great things that have been accomplished and that are being accomplished. There's nothing wrong with praising the Chinese athletes for organizing the Olympic Games. It helps relations with China, but also human rights.

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