US-based international civil rights organization Human Rights Watch has urged any new German government to become more active in raising human rights issues in Russia and China in particular.
Human rights are not dealt with in a gentle manner in China
The deputy director of Human Rights Watch, Carroll Bogert, said in Berlin on Wednesday that more often than not business interests have been used as an excuse or justification for dodging inconvenient issues related to grave human rights violations in relations with a number of countries.
Human Rights Watch hopes that with its new German office, which has been in place since September, pressure can be raised on the government here to revise its policy towards countries such as Russia and China.
Bogert called on the new German government to use its relations with Moscow to address human rights violations in Russia more frequently during high-level talks.
Talki n g about Chech n ya
She said Berlin had been conspicuously silent about the Kremlin's recent clampdown on the freedom of the mass media. The ongoing war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, she added, remained an added irritation.
Chechnyans protest against Putin in Berlin
"People are still disappearing at an alarming rate, perhaps the highest rate in the world," she said. "We feel that the Russian government should be investigating and prosecuting the troops that are responsible for such atrocities and we would hope that the German government would press to take these steps."
Bogert's demands vis-à-vis Berlin are anything but new. But there's a feeling that a new coalition government under Chancellor-designate Angela Merkel might lead to a real readjustment of this country's foreign policy guidelines towards the Kremlin.
"I think that the recent intensity and nature of German-Russian relations has been heavily dependent on the friendly relations between outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Russian President Vladimir Putin," said Marianne Heuwagen, who heads the new Human Rights Watch office in Berlin. "Angela Merkel will of course not completely change bilateral relations between Berlin and Moscow. But if her eastern background is anything to go by, she'll be more likely not to bring up the Chechnya issue."
Co n cer n s about Chi n a
Carroll Bogert said she is also hoping that the German government will be more courageous in addressing human rights issues having regarding China. The outgoing Schröder government had been in the firing line for dodging human rights violations in China so as not to jeopardize lucrative business contracts with Beijing.
"I think the critical issue is one of rejecting the position that business is business and that business with China must be done and that nothing can get in its way," she said, adding that China's restrictive Internet policy was something Western business leaders should be concerned about as well.
Chinese Internet users are not free to surf the Web as the please
"It's obvious that much of the business that western companies, German companies included, want to do in China, is going to rely on -- among other things -- freedom of expression and the ability to use the Internet," she said.
Unlike the acting German government, Human Rights Watch is strongly in favor of upholding the arms embargo against China as imposed by the European Union after the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. It says the embargo should stay in place unless the Chinese government paves the way for genuine investigations into the massacre and brings to justice those responsible for the bloodshed.