The Foreign Service Journal - September 2017
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Promoting Human Rights in China



As the human

rights officer at U.S.

Embassy Beijing,

René Gutel pro-

moted fair treat-

ment of dissenters

and political prison-

ers by the Chinese


In China, politi-

cal dissidents are

routinely detained

without trial and

tortured. Friends

and family of known

or suspected activ-

ists are harassed

and threatened. But

through creative

engagement with

the diplomatic community in

Beijing and strong relation-

ships with the Chinese

human rights community,

Ms. Gutel succeeded in

persuading the Chinese

government to take action

on human rights where they

might not otherwise have

done so.

Considering the different

goals and sometimes com-

peting interests of the diplo-

matic community in China, it

can be daunting for diplo-

mats to raise rights-related

issues, especially when many

fear that focusing on China’s

human rights record would

undermine cooperation

between the United States

and Chinese authorities.

But by working with her

colleagues throughout the

U.S. embassy and consul-

ates in China, Ms. Gutel

helped develop and maintain

a strong stance on human

rights abuses in China. “If

we are to continue to be an

example to the world,” she

says, “we must consistently

represent universal values,

including freedom of speech,

freedom of religion and free-

dom of association.”

While standing firmly

behind the United States’

established position on

human rights, Ms. Gutel

worked with other embassies

in China and expanded the

network of diplomats willing

to work together to promote

human rights. Their actions

have included issuing state-

ments and jointly attending

the trials of detained human

rights lawyers and advocates.


members of

those detained

without trial have

confirmed that

their loved ones

received better

treatment as a

result of interna-

tional attention

to their cases,

and lawyers

have pointed

to reduced

sentences for

so-called “dissi-

dents” whose tri-

als are attended

by diplomats.

Ms. Gutel’s

advocacy for cooperative

action ultimately led to a

precedent-setting joint state-

ment at the United Nations

Human Rights Council on

March 10, 2016, where more

than 12 countries registered

their profound concern at

China’s deteriorating human

rights record and particularly

the ongoing detention of

rights activists, civil society

leaders and lawyers.

Acting in concert with

other countries has rein-

forced to Chinese authorities

that the United States does

not stand alone on human

rights issues.

Accepting the award, Ms.

Gutel acknowledged that

aspects of her role can be

hard, including documenting

instances of torture or learn-

ing that a valued contact

has been detained. However,

“despite the repression in

China, there are reasons to

hope,” she states. “Of the

more than 300 lawyers and

activists detained two years

ago, only a handful are still in

pre-trial detention.”

Most impressively, Ms.

Gutel has helped keep

human rights at the forefront

of U.S. policy in China, while

still maintaining a produc-

tive relationship with the

Chinese government and

holding productive bilateral

dialogues with authorities on

rights-related issues.

As a testament to her

efforts, reliable partnerships

have been formed between

the U.S. embassy and Chi-

nese authorities that will aid

diplomats as they navigate

the evolving relationship.

René Gutel joined the

Foreign Service in 2010

and currently serves as the

human rights officer at U.S.

Embassy Beijing. Her previ-

ous overseas assignments

include the U.S. mission to

UNESCO in Paris and the

U.S. consulate in Shenyang.

Before joining the Foreign

Service, Ms. Gutel was a pub-

lic radio journalist working

at NPR member stations in

Alaska, Pennsylvania and Ari-

zona. Ms. Gutel is married to

poet John Tynan; they have

two young children.


Dr. Sushma Palmer, right, presents René Gutel with the

Mark Palmer Award for the Advancement of Democracy at

the AFSA awards ceremony on June 20. Dr. Palmer is the

widow of Ambassador Mark Palmer, for whom the award is