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The Tiannanmen Papers bolster drive for accountability Department of State should let justice be served

January 8, 2001

Human Rights in China (HRIC) welcomes the publication of The Tiananmen Papers, calling them a perfect catalyst for genuine accountability for the June 4, 1989 massacre and crackdown. "This glimpse into the inner workings of China’s senior decision-making process allows us to assign responsibility for the bloody attack on peaceful democracy supporters," declared Xiao Qiang, Executive Director of HRIC. "Demands for justice have increased in recent years, from the treaty for an International Criminal Court to the pursuit of General Augusto Pinochet. It is now time for China’s leadership to answer to the families of the victims of June 4."

The Tiananmen Papers provide extensive documentation of Li Peng’s role in the Chinese leadership’s decision to use force against their own people. Through the transcripts of formal and informal high-level meetings, The Tiananmen Papers illustrate how Li Peng advanced a hard line against the student demonstrators. During an emergency meeting held by the Politburo Standing Committee on the afternoon of June 3, 1989, Li Peng addressed key military officials saying, "We must resolutely adopt decisive measures to put down this counterrevolutionary riot tonight… The PLA and the People’s Armed Police, and Public Security are authorized to use any means necessary to deal with people who interfere with the mission. Whatever happens will be the responsibility of those who do not heed warnings and persist in testing the limits of the law." (Emphasis added.)

The Tiananmen Papers also show how Li Peng manipulated information to cause Deng Xiaoping and other Party Elders to view the demonstrations as personal attacks, inciting reactionary measures. "The spear is now pointed directly at you and the others of the elder generation of proletarian revolutionaries," Li Peng warned Deng during a meeting one week after the student demonstrations began. "There are open calls for the government to step down."

In the twelve years since martial law troops turned tanks and guns against the unarmed people of Beijing, the Chinese government has failed to give a full, public accounting for the events of June 4. As part of a growing global movement to end impunity for human rights violators, June 4 victims and families members have repeatedly appealed for dialogue with China’s leaders and demanded a complete investigation into the massacre and the prosecution of all those responsible--naming Li Peng as a primary offender. Li Peng, the Premier of China at the time of the Tiananmen protests, declared martial law on May 20, 1989, precipitating the massacre of unarmed civilians by the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police acting under martial law orders. There is no evidence that he acted in any way to prevent or discourage these violent attacks.

HRIC believes that The Tiananmen Papers give real impetus to the campaign for justice launched by June 4 victims in China and abroad. Ding Zilin, mother of a 17-year-old victim, and the Tiananmen Mothers have painstakingly gathered evidence surrounding the June 4 massacre and submitted these materials to China's Supreme People's Procuratorate. The Tiananmen Papers should serve to initiate the process of "achieving an accurate, complete and objective evaluation of June 4" in China, as proposed by the documents' compiler. For the Tiananmen survivor and student leaders who are suing Li Peng in the US federal court system for gross human rights violations, The Tiananmen Papers will remind the world of the unresolved June 4 tragedy, highlighting the role of China's leaders and the need for accountability.

Cases of transnational justice, like the Li Peng lawsuit lodged in New York, could eradicate the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of human rights abuses. Based on the rule of universal jurisdiction, these cases operate on the principle that all nations have an interest in attaining justice for crimes of grave international concern, no matter where the crime was committed, and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators or their victims.

To date, however, the Li Peng lawsuit has also illustrated the politically-charged nature of these cases. While the Chinese government has made no legal response to the suit, the US State Department has blocked progress in the case, opposing the exercise of jurisdiction by the U.S. Court over Li Peng. "Given the abysmal human rights climate in China, June 4 victims initiated this suit in the United States as an alternative route to accountability. The US government must not cave in to China’s influence; Washington must uphold international legal standards and allow justice to be served," said Xiao Qiang.