Blind Chinese rights activist Chen Guangcheng urged the United States on Thursday to "try harder" to promote rule of law in his homeland as he described his brother and nephew being so badly beaten in an attack he blamed on local officials that thick axe handles being used as weapons broke.
Chen, who arrived in New York nearly two weeks ago to study, told the Council on Foreign Relations that his key concern was that Chinese law was still being "trampled on," illustrating his point by recounting the retaliation against his family since his escape from 19 months of house arrest last month.
When asked what Washington could do to push the rule of law in China, the self-taught lawyer said: "They can try harder."
"It's a very complicated thing this diplomacy between big countries, but no matter how you put it human rights is a very basic human value," said Chen, who traveled to the United States with his wife and two young children.
"If you can't even care about such fundamental human values the other interests are very superficial by comparison. We say in China you don't want to care only about the branches and forget about the core," he said.
After four years in jail on what he and his supporters say were trumped-up charges designed to end his activism, Chen was released in 2010 and put under house arrest in eastern Shandong province, his home a fortress of walls, cameras and guards.
Chen had accused Shandong officials in 2005 of forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilizations to comply with China's strict family-planning policies. He was charged with whipping up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.
After his escape, Chen sought refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing for six days, embarrassing China and creating an awkward backdrop for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to improve ties between the world's two biggest economies.
"I didn't know there was a strategic dialogue going to happen because I had been cut off from communications with everyone. I was just isolated from the rest of the world so that was a total coincidence," Chen said.
"IS THERE ANY JUSTICE?"
Chen is going to study as a fellow at New York University School of Law under a deal reached between the United States and China to resolve his situation.
"The central government is letting me come to the U.S. to study, that is unprecedented. Regardless of what they did in the past as long as they are beginning to move in the right direction we should affirm it," Chen said.
"Liberating our thinking is in our constitution, I think (the central government) will do it," he said. "Some local authorities, they are very backward and I think it's going to take more time to change them."
In an interview with Reuters last week and during his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday, Chen expressed concern for the plight of his family, particularly his brother and nephew.
His nephew, Chen Kegui, who has been charged with "intentional homicide" and accused of using knives to fend off local officials who burst into his home the day after they discovered his uncle had escaped house arrest. His lawyers, who have been denied access to him, said he did not kill anyone.
"The local authorities ... hired thugs with axe handles and busted their way into the home of my older brother and his son," Chen said. "They were very severely beaten and the axe handles, the thick handles, they broke ... as they were beating them."
"In that kind of situation my nephew really had no choice but to take a kitchen knife and fight back," he said. "My nephew, who was about to be killed if he didn't fight back, is now being accused of intentional killing. Is there any justice, is there any rationale in any of this?"
Chen's eldest brother, Chen Guangfu, fled his village last week, evading a security clamp-down to seek help from lawyers for his son. He recounted to Reuters details of his own torture and reprisals by authorities since his brother's escape but has since returned to his home.
"These are all illegal activities but nobody is going after them for that," Chen said. "The moral standards here are at rock bottom because any person of conscience would say this is wrong. And as far as I understand the retaliation is continuing."
"I still hope the central government will be able to live up to their promise and investigate this," Chen said. "They gave me this promise more than once. They stressed it."