The Southland Times Wednesday, 11 April 2007 - Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt was yesterday the first in the country to sign a petition calling for the Chinese Government to look at its human rights record.
The petition, being taken throughout the country by Amnesty International, is featured on the back of a ceremonial Chinese lion.
In the leadup to the 2008 Beijing Olympics Amnesty International is campaigning for China to acknowledge what campaign manager Gary Reese calls “appalling human rights violations occurring on a massive scale'’.
“Basic human rights are universal _ they belong to everyone.
“With 20 percent of the world’s population in China, we all have a responsibility to help the Chinese people obtain their human rights,'’ he said.
“We’re showing solidarity to the Chinese people.'’
However, the calls were being ignored by many New Zealand mayors because of difficulties associated with speaking out against China, he said.
In Auckland, a concert held to raise awareness was not attended by any of Auckland’s five mayors, despite the fact two had agreed to attend, possibly because it might make attendance at the Olympics difficult if they had spoken out, Mr Reese said.
The Chinese Government had made a promise to look at human rights, and the organisation was making sure it would be held to that promise, Mr Reese said.
Mr Shadbolt said he was happy to sign on his support.
“I visited there in 1976 . . . you can’t help being surprised when you arrive there and see they can actually feed themselves . . . with all the progress they have made economically, you overlook their human rights,'’ he said.
The changes needed would probably take a long time to come into effect but this was a step in the right direction, Mr Shadbolt said.
The tour aimed to have cities with a Chinese sister-city relationship to get into dialogue with their sister city about human rights.
Although Invercargill has no Chinese sister-city relationship, Mr Shadbolt and Mr Reese thought it was important for the city to support the campaign.
The tour is to stop outside the city council buildings in 31 towns and cities throughout New Zealand during the next six weeks.
Mr Reese said while not all mayors would be pledging their support, Amnesty would also welcome sympathetic councillors to sign the petition.
The group is to visit Queenstown today, with an interactive display set up in the central business district before heading to the council building at 2pm.