25 August 2020, The Tablet

Pressure grows on Vatican Beijing deal

Pressure grows on Vatican Beijing deal

A protester holding a placard in support of Uyghur during a demonstration this month in The Hague, Netherlands.
SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

The human rights and other violations increasingly perpetrated by the Communist regime in Beijing have resulted in greater pressure on the Vatican-Beijing deal of September 2018, as yet unpublished but due for renewal next month. 

At the beginning of August, the Chinese Communist Party’s English newspaper Global Times reported that the Vatican was determined to renew the 2018 Vatican-China pact. Ongoing negotiations were “proof that the framework agreement has functioned well over the past two years”. This would contribute towards “moving the bilateral relations on to the next level”, the paper reported.

However, in a statement on 13 August the internationally respected International Society for Human Rights issued a statement strongly warning against extending the pact. The ISHR was founded in Frankfurt am Main in 1972 as the “Society for Human Rights” by Ivan Agrusov, a political dissident who had fled from Soviet Russia to West Germany. The Society’s aim then was to help persecuted, non-violent dissidents and prisoners in the USSR and the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Partner organisations in Austria and Switzerland led to the society’s international expansion and new name ISHR in 1981.

The purpose of the 2018 Vatican-Beijing pact, the ISHR said, had been to end the conflict between the Chinese Communist Party and the Vatican. “Instead, however, it has seriously damaged the Church’s international reputation and led to a conflict within the Church. China’s Catholics remain under severe pressure despite the pact”.

It was now absolutely imperative to publish the pact in full in order to clarify the real intentions of the signatories, the statement continued. It was to be feared that the Chinese leadership would not keep to the contractual obligations. “The Beijing leadership has already shown that it is prepared shamelessly to renege on contracts,” ISHR chairman Edgar Lamm pointed out. 

The Vatican’s silence regarding China’s human rights violations must also be condemned, the statement said. The pact not only helped to smooth the way for the regime to take total control over Chinese Catholics, but also meant turning away from all those who were being persecuted for their religion in China.

The German Tagespost newspaper followed up with an article on 22 August in which Martin Lessenthin, board spokesman for the ISHR, insisted: “Precisely because the Vatican has entered into a contractual partnership with China’s communist leadership, it must no longer remain silent on the violation of religious freedom and human rights.” People all over the world expected the Vatican to devote itself to the victims of such persecution, he said.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Cardinal Archbishops of Yangon and Jakarta, Cardinal Charles Bo and Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, along with Bishop Declan Lang of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, are among 76 leaders of faith-based communities calling for action to stop “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust: the potential genocide of the Uighurs and other Muslims in China.” 

Other signatories in Britain include the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the Coptic-Orthodox Archbishop of London Archbishop Angaelos, 19 of the UK’s most senior rabbis and a London-based representative of the Dalai Lama.

The global call is for an investigation into and accountability for China’s mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). 

The statement says: “At least one million Uighur and other Muslims in China are incarcerated in prison camps facing starvation, torture, murder, sexual violence, slave labour and forced organ extraction.” The leaders say a campaign of forced sterilisation and birth prevention targeting at least 80 per cent of Uighur women of childbearing age in the four Uighur-populated prefectures could elevate the oppression, “to the level of genocide.”  They say they “stand with the Uighurs and we also stand with Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians throughout China who face the worst crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution.” 

Beijing describes the three-year-old network of camps as voluntary “vocational centres” aimed at teaching job skills and steering Uighurs away from Islamic extremism. However, the existence of the internment camps, believed to have held as many as 1.8 million people, “calls into question most seriously the willingness of the international community to defend universal human rights for everyone,” said the public letter.


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