Chen receives his award from Fiona Bruce MP and Lord Alton of Liverpool.
Patrick Cusworth is Deputy Chair of Brentford and
Isleworth Conservative Association. Follow Patrick on Twitter.
It is not often that one meets a hero – and this
was no ordinary hero. Last Monday evening, a packed Grand Committee room rose in
applause to greet Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese lawyer, who was presented
with the inaugural Westminster Award by Fiona Bruce, the MP for Congleton, and the crossbench peer Lord
Alton of Liverpool, for his work in promoting human rights, human life and
Chen first drew the ire of the Communist
authorities in his local province when he used class-action lawsuits to defend
farmers in land disputes. This anger turned to outright aggression when,
refusing to bow to intimidation, Chen exposed systematic forced abortions and
sterilisations carried out under the China’s infamous one-child policy. For this,
he was sentenced to four years imprisonment, at the conclusion of which he was
placed under house arrest. During this time, both Chen and his wife were subjected
to beatings, until his well-documented
escape and sanctuary in the U.S embassy, and the subsequent negotiations
under which China reluctantly allowed him to live in America.
Speaking through an interpreter, Chen began his
acceptance speech by underlining what he sees as the biggest problem not only
in China but in the world today, namely the ruling Chinese Communist Party:
“They are a dictatorship, and the nature of this dictatorship is the
destruction of human life… they can take your life as well as your property”.
This is expressed most viscerally in the one-child policy, which began in 1979
and “since then any respect for life has disappeared completely from China”.
Those who dare speak out against the policy, let alone attempt to have a second
child, are subject to penalties varying in severity. Those who, for example, “opposed
the one-child policy can never get anywhere in their job, no matter how good
they are”. Such punitive measures can take more extreme forms, however. “In
2005, in my city alone, there were over 120,000 forced abortions and
sterilisations”. In extreme cases, “women who were 8 or 9 months pregnant were
dragged through the hospital to have forced abortions performed on them. Their
families, friends & even neighbours were dragged from their homes, tortured
for days, and forcibly sterilised”.
Appalling as such abuses of human rights are, even
seasoned western observers were shocked when Chen went on to describe examples
of Chinese population control at its most brutal. Recounting one case from
2001, his voice quivered as he explained how the mother of a three-year-old
girl was arrested and detained for twenty-four days. The police ignored the
mother’s desperate pleas to be allowed to return to feed her child, or to
arrange for her to be cared for by relatives. When finally released, the woman
was devastated to find the toddler dead from starvation, having left tiny
footprints of blood around the house, the bone in her forefinger exposed from
attempting to break through the doors and windows of the house. Pausing to
recover himself, Chen explained that “every time I tell the story of this
little girl, I don't want to repeat it. But if this dictatorship had any human nature, it would allow a mother to look
after her child”.
Such cases are not isolated examples. In Shandong
province (Chen’s home district), Government bulldozers were recently sent in to
destroy local villages, after population targets were not met: “When local women
attempted to protest by blocking the road, the bulldozers just ran them over
without stopping”. In another case,
a farmer was beaten almost to death by over 20 Family Planning officials, because
he and his wife had three children.
afraid of what he described as China’s “economic hammer”, both the Prime
Minister and the Foreign Secretary have declined to meet with Chen during his
visit to the UK to discuss either such human rights abuses, or the UK’s ongoing
financial support for organisations such as UNFPA and IPPF, which he and others
accuse of assisting the one-child policy.
Yet “the West has not been trading with China, but only with the
Chinese Communist Party”, Chen argued, before going on to repeat his
oft-repeated call for an end to what was translated as behind-closed-doors
discussions over human rights: “The Great Britain government, with its legacy
of William Wilberforce, must make its human rights policy clear over all other
considerations. Facing the brutality of the regime is the responsibility of your
Government. So far, the UK has not done enough”.
William Hague has stated that the promotion
of human rights is at the forefront of the coalition Government’s
international work, as well as one of his own personal objectives as Foreign
Secretary: “It is why we hold tyrannical and repressive regimes to account, and
it is why we make every possible effort to ensure that we live up to our own
values and obligations”. Addressing China’s one-child policy must form part of
these values and obligations, beginning with a full assessment of any British
complicity in promoting or supporting it.
We owe heroes such as Chen Guangcheng nothing