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Any absence of human rights from the agenda of the first meeting between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, due to take place in Florida on Thursday and Friday, would risk emboldening governments across the globe to pursue divisive, toxic and dehumanizing politics, Amnesty International said today.

“As two of the most powerful leaders in the world today, what President Trump and President Xi say and do on human rights reverberates far beyond their two borders. This meeting comes as both presidents are rolling back human rights protections, impacting millions of people in China, the US and across the globe. From refugees turned away at the US border to human rights lawyers languishing in Chinese prisons, the consequences of their contempt for human rights are devastating,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Human rights are under grave threat around the world and without bold, principled leadership we are headed in a very dangerous direction. The rest of the world is watching: President Trump and President Xi must place human rights at the heart of their meeting’s agenda, stepping back from the brink and reaffirming their commitments to their international obligations.”

President Trump continues to put his hateful xenophobic promises into action by, for example, persisting in attempts to block people fleeing conflict and persecution from war torn countries such as Syria from seeking safe haven in the U.S.

On April 1 the US assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council with promises to prioritize human rights, just after the Trump administration lifted human rights conditions on sales of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain, despite that country’s participation in a Saudi Arabia-led coalition that has bombed thousands of civilians in Yemen.

The US also held back from condemning China’s escalating persecution of human rights lawyers, declining to sign a letter in which the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada along with eight other countries urged China to investigate allegations of torture.

President Xi’s crackdown

President Xi’s five years in power have been marked by a sweeping crackdown on government critics, lawyers, journalists and activists. Many are handed heavy jail sentences after unfair trials, such as Ilham Tohti, a prominent critic of the Chinese government’s policies towards ethnic minorities, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014 on the baseless charge of “separatism.”

Since 2015, the Chinese government has passed a series of vague laws under the pretext of national security. These laws are being used to silence dissent and crack down on activists, through political charges such as “subversion.”

An anti-terrorism law passed in 2015 has virtually no safeguards to prevent those who peacefully practice their religion or criticize government policies from being prosecuted under broad charges related to terrorism.

“These are dark times for human rights in China. The authorities are using new far-reaching national security laws to put a chokehold on civil society and persecute more and more peaceful critics, showing a total disregard for international human rights law,” said Salil Shetty.

“International pressure on China is imperative and the US must not shy away from raising such criticisms,” said Margaret Huang.

Paralysis at UN Security Council

The UN Security Council (UNSC) remains paralyzed by rivalries between permanent member states, including the US and China. The Chinese government has used its veto action at the UN to prevent sanctions being imposed on those responsible for mass atrocities in Syria.

Meanwhile the US continues to appear willing to shield Israel from scrutiny for its serious human rights violations, and has vetoed resolutions aimed at bringing Israel to account for civilian deaths in Gaza and continued settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

When President Xi addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, he urged governments to “uphold the authority and efficacy of multilateral institutions”, yet the Chinese government continues to resist investigations by UN human rights bodies despite recent promises to cooperate. 

Amnesty International urges the US and China and the other three permanent members of the UNSC to give up their power of veto in cases where atrocities are committed.

“When a narrow national interest usurps human rights, basic principles – from accountability for mass atrocities to the right to asylum – are at stake. If two of the world’s most powerful leaders continue to side-line human rights it will have a devastating domino effect, placing established human rights protections in jeopardy and lead to further crises,” said Salil Shetty.