Germany needs to use its presidency of the EU to take a strong stance against the failings of Russia and China in regards to human rights, activists said at a meeting in Berlin.
The leaders of three Russian non-governmental organizations pressed the EU to address what they said was a deteriorating rights situation in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. The activists gathered in Berlin at the invitation of New York-based Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Thursday.
The head of the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Yuri Dzhibladze, accused Germany of turning a blind eye to rights violations in Russia so as not to jeopardize its economic ties, in particular in the energy sector.
"We believe that Germany is under performing in its role of leader in Europe in working with Russia," Dzhibladze told reporters, ahead of EU-Russia human rights consultations on May 3 in Berlin, before the May 18 EU-Russia summit.
Germany needs to "speak up"
The chairwoman of DEMOS Centre for Information and Research, Tanya Lokshina, cited a bloody police crackdown against opposition activists and a sharp rise in racist attacks as symptomatic of a harsher climate for dissent.
"All the European countries ought to stand up for Russian civil society, but Germany should be leading the way," Lokshina said. "With the Putin government trying to suppress all dissent, we need you now more than ever."
Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial, one of Russia's oldest human rights groups, said Europe had the power to help turn the tide in Russia.
"Speaking out on human rights in Russia won't threaten Europe's energy supply but it would really help to curb the government's crackdown," Orlov said. "Russian civil society is under attack and we need Germany to speak up."
The activists also criticised the planning of next week's meeting in Berlin, saying that no Russian human rights groups had been invited.
EU criticizes Putin's government
The meeting in Berlin coincided with the release of the EU parliament's annual human rights report.
The parliament in Strasbourg strongly criticised the Russian government over human rights, regretting that the EU has had "only limited success in bringing about policy change as a result of raising difficult issues."
The report attacked Russian legislation limiting the activities of NGOs and that journalists and human rights defenders have been threatened.
It also highlighted the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and allegations of Russian involvement in the poisoning of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.
Serious concerns about China
In addition to Russia, the EU raised concern about Turkey, Iran and China.
China's human rights record is a matter of "serious concern" and should thus "receive more focus in the build-up to the Beijing Olympic games," parliament members said, emphasising the need to strengthen and improve dialogue on the issue between the EU and China.
Members urged the European Commission and member states "to raise the question of Tibet" in talks with the Beijing government, adding that trade relations with China should be contingent upon human rights reform. China has ruled Tibet since 1951, since troops were sent to "liberate" the region. Subsequent uprisings have been violently supressed.
China on Thursday warned visiting foreigners against engaging in activities that threaten the nation's unity, as a rights group demanded the release of four Americans detained for a pro-Tibet protest.
"Limited progress" in other countries
The report also noted a deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran, including "the intensification of the repression against human rights defenders."
The report also voiced concern over the "limited progress" on human rights issues in Turkey and encouraged the Ankara government to change Article 301 of its penal code, which outlaws the denigration of "Turkishness."
It raises concerns over religious freedoms and minority rights, including for the Kurds in the southeast of the country.
The EU itself does not escape censure in the parliamentary report which says the Union should have taken "more unilateral action" to persuade the Sudanese government to accept an international peacekeeping force in Darfur.
Parliament members want "a plan of specific, targeted sanctions to be imposed on the Khartoum regime ... in the event of non-compliance with the demands of the international community."
The parliament also called on the EU to urge the US government to "charge or release" its Guantanamo detainees "in accordance with international law."