Asked to account for its rights record at UN review, China cries politics

UN Human Rights Council.
UN Human Rights Council.

(, Nov07, 2018) – Rather than answering the questions raised over its treatment of Tibetans, Uyghurs and human rights advocates and lawyers at the third universal periodic review of its human rights record which commenced at the UN headquarters in Geneva on Nov 6, China has resorted to rhetorical flourishes to condemn “some UN member countries for ‘deliberately disregarding the remarkable achievements made by China’.” This was after UN member states called on Beijing to release detained Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities – said to total around a million – protect religious freedoms in Tibet, and stop harassing and detaining human rights lawyers.

“We will not accept the politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases, with total disregard for facts,” The Guardian Nov 6 quoted China’s vice foreign minister Le Yucheng as saying in a report posted on the portal. “No country shall dictate the definition of democracy and human rights,” he was quoted as saying.

The Nov 6 half-day UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group hearing, which included brief comments from more than 100 UN member states and responses from China, was stated to have highlighted a range of human rights issues raised by advocates.

“Overall, we are concerned about the broader deterioration of human rights in China since the last universal periodic review,” Tamara Mawhinney, Canada’s deputy permanent representative at the UN was quoted as saying.

This is the third five-yearly assessment of China’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council and the first since 2013. The review process will continue till Nov 16.

The Central Tibetan Administration said on its website Nov 5 that a total of 12 member states – namely Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States – specifically referred to the situation in Tibet. They were state to have expressed concern over human rights violations in Tibet with particular reference to freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and assembly, the imprisonment of language rights advocate Mr Tashi Wangchuk, and the crackdown on Tibetan Buddhist lamas. And they were stated to have called for unhindered access to Tibet for diplomats and UN representatives.

Nine of those member states were stated to have made a total of 12 recommendations on Tibet, with New Zealand calling for the ‘Resumption of two-way dialogue on Tibet’.

On the alleged internment of up to a million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, China was stated to have reiterated its earlier claims that the policies in Xinjiang were within the law. Its delegates were cited as saying the internment centres were not re-education camps but vocational centres that offered free training in the law, language, and workplace skills.

Trainees sign agreements and receive diplomas after their course, Yasheng Sidkie, the vice mayor of Urumqi, was cited as saying. “Xinjiang is a nice place. I’d like to say, welcome to Xinjiang,” he has said.

Responding to criticisms about the treatment of human rights lawyers, the Chinese delegation has said the law protected lawyers, but those who break the law must be held accountable. The arrests did not constitute the “repression of so-called human rights lawyers”, one delegate was quoted as saying.

Countries that commended claimed progress on human rights in China were stated to include its allies North Korea, Syria, Cambodia, Cuba, Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa.

Regarding this, Frances Eve, a researcher for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, was quoted as saying: “China has always used its economic muscle to ensure friendly treatment by fellow states, but it was surprising to hear a few countries actual speak in support of China’s efforts to change the international system to suit its anti-human rights agenda.”

The Czech Republic, once known to be a strong critic of China, especially for its treatment of Tibetans, was stated to have remained silent ahead of its unabashedly pro-China President Zeman’s visit to Beijing.

As the hearing went on inside the UN headquarters in Geneva, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and others protested outside.

Meanwhile, international civil groups were reported to have expressed concern after the United Nations removed their submissions from papers relating to China’s human rights review. The UN has responded by saying it must respect the “sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity” of China in an echo of the latter’s routine response to all criticisms of its human rights record.

At least seven submissions were stated to have been completely removed from the final document.

The affected groups have issued a joint statement, expressing deep concern over the development which was alleged to have taken place under pressure from China. It was signed by Demosisto (Hong Kong), Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty, Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), and World Uyghur Congress (WUC).

Citations of reports by TCHRD, UHRP, WUC and a joint submission by UNPO and SMHRIC were eventually included in a Corrigendum document on Nov 2, but individual submissions from Demosisto as well as a joint submission focusing on Tibet were still omitted, reported Nov 5.


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