Shabnum Mustapha is a good friend of mine and she's recently started a new job as Director of Amnesty Scotland.
It was lovely to wake up this morning and hear her talking about human rights in China in the context of the pandas and the First Minister's visit to China. She made the point that it's really important for everyone who comes into contact with the Chinese Government to raise the issue of human rights. They may well gruffly brush off such approaches, but there is evidence to show that they do have an effect in reducing the amount of repression that actually takes place.
She talked about the recent deterioration of human rights in China, and described how people in civic society in China welcome the intervention of western governments on these issues and how they appreciate the support of governments and people across the world. Shabnum said that these trade delegations and the arrival of the pandas are an important part of engagement with the rest of the world and that it gives the opportunity to raise concerns about executions and repression.
You can listen to the whole interview here from around 1:16:30.
Willie Rennie said something very similar the other day - that the arrival of the pandas at Edinburgh zoo wasn't just about the cute and cuddly but a real opportunity to engage with the Chinese Government over human rights. It's a huge opportunity and privilege to represent your country abroad and I think that our ministers, Scottish and UK, have a responsibility to push as hard as they can on human rights issues. It breaks my heart to think of families broken up just because one of their members believes in freedom and democracy, of people executed after unfair trials, of not being able to say what you feel about the Government for fear of violent retribution. International pressure works to reduce repression and should be used at every possible opportunity.