Human Rights for Workers Bulletin

Vol. II, No. 3: March 8, 1997

A Deal That Didn't Budge Beijing

It said so on page one of the New York Times: "U.S. and Chinese Seen Near a Deal on Human Rights." The report, with a Feb. 23 Beijing dateline, claimed that U.S. and Chinese officials "seem to be within striking distance of a breakthrough in their longstanding dispute over human rights."

Under the deal, the U.S. was to halt its annual criticism of China's human rights record at the meetings of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. In return, Beijing, among other things, would release at least eight political prisoners, one of them being Wang Dan, a student leader sentenced to 14 years in prison last fall.

So far at least, the deal--which was to have been "nudged" ahead by Secretary of State Albright during a quick visit to Beijing--has not materialized. No wonder. The UN Human Rights Commission is a paper tiger. It presents no real threat to Beijing, which last year escaped censure there for the sixth year in a row.

As its part of this alleged deal, China was to make what the Times called a "dramatic concession"-- the possible release of the prominent student leader Wang Dang, who has now reportedly become "willing to go into exile in exchange for his freedom." If Wang Dang has indeed changed his mind and agreed to leave China, nobody can blame him. Nobody knows the sufferings that he has endured. But the really significant concession would be if Beijing were to allow Wang Dang to live in freedom in his own country.

Wei Jingsheng, a worker-intellectual and pro-democracy activist who, thanks to Deng Xiaoping, is now suffering his second 14-year prison term, long ago had the opportunity to live in exile abroad. But he has insisted on his right to live in China as a free human being, and is paying the price.

Here are three of other men and women in Asia today who have made the same choice and are paying the price:

What these three Asians have in common is not only that they have long been persecuted by their country's dictatorial leaders but that they have all been offered various "deals"--freedom to leave their countries for somewhere else in the world. Each of them has steadfastly refused.

Nor are they the first to do so. The most heroic figures of our times--Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia, Lech Walesa of Poland among them--could have achieved personal freedom if they had been willing to sacrifice the freedom of their people. They understood that democracy would come to their countries mainly from those willing to struggle for it within those countries. Their courage, with outside support, including economic sanctions, eventually prevailed, contradicting those "realists" who considered their causes hopeless.

The American skeptics of those days, numerous at the time, have become reincarnated in today's environment, and now direct a U.S. foreign policy dominated by private commerce.

If that muddle-headed policy prevails, the people of Hong Kong are in deep trouble. Some well known leaders of the pro-democracy movement there, such as Martin Lee, Szeto Wah, and Emily Lau, are planning to remain even after July 1, when the hammer and cycle of China's Red flag is raised over Hong Kong. The exiled Beijing labor activist, Han Dongfang, has also decided to remain.

Will the Clinton-Gore administration let them become Beijing's latest victims?

AFL-CIO Award to Jailed Indonesian Brother

After the Indonesian government arrested Muchtar Pakpahan, an independent labor leader, as the scapegoat for worker unrest in 1994, his co-workers printed a poster picturing him behind bars and quoting his message: "For you the workers, I am willingly in jail." Muchtar Pakpahan has become a living rebuttal to those who argue that human rights are foreign to the Indonesia culture.

Indonesia's military government has used various tactics to try to neutralize his influence. Once an official even sought to tempt him with an offer to serve the government abroad in a senior position. Now, upgrading its approach, the government has put him on trial for subversion, which can carry a death penalty.

At a meeting of its executive council on Feb. 19, the AFL-CIO selected Muchtar Pakpahan, head of the Indonesia Labor Welfare Union, as the recipient of its 1997 George Meany Human Rights Award. The executive council statement (text in full at indonesi.htm) criticizes the government's "heavy-handed campaign" against him and his union as demonstrating that "Jakarta has made a mockery of the rule of the rule of law in Indonesia."

The AFL-CIO is intensifying its participation in "an international campaign to secure the release of all imprisoned trade unionists including Brother Pakpahan." The inclusive nature of this campaign is well taken. The Indonesian military has been arresting dozens of little known labor activists engaged in worker protests. These courageous souls, like Dita Indah Sari, deserve to remembered by name in the demonstration that the AFL-CIO plans to organize at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C., on March 19.

The AFL-CIO is not limiting its protest to rhetoric and demonstrations. It reiterated its long-standing demand that the U.S. government cancel certain special trade privileges that it grants to U.S. and other corporations for their operations in Indonesia.

(For an exhaustive study of worker rights in Indonesia, see Prisoners of Progress, an 82-page booklet published by three organizations in the Netherlands. It can be ordered from the Indonesian Documentation and Information Center (INDOC) by fax 31 71 1272 33.)

Time for an Evaluation

A neophyte on the Web, I launched the first issue of the Human Rights for Workers more than a year ago. Time is overdue for an evaluation of this project. I'm still pretty much of a neophyte. And I'm not able to publicize enough of the significant developments on the worker rights front. That's a major shortcoming. I invite readers to join in the evaluation to determine the future course of this enterprise.

Robert A. Senser
Editor, Human Rights for Workers
(Send e-mail)

Bulletin No. II-3: March 8, 1997

Back to Human Rights for Workers Home Page