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China battered by rights criticism despite its efforts to stymie it at UN review of its record

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(, Jan25’24) China met stinging criticism from Western countries during a review of its rights record at the United Nations on Jan 23, while other nations lumped praise on Beijing, including Russia and Iran, reported the AFP Jan 24. However, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency, those who spoke at the fourth meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group had nothing but praise for Beijing’s record.

China and 13 other countries are facing a regular UPR – an examination all 193 UN member states must undergo every four to five years to assess their human rights record – between Jan 22 and Feb 2.

China, with a jumbo delegation of around 60 headed by Chen Xu, its ambassador to the UN, has insisted it was making great strides to improve the lives of its people, end poverty and protect rights, including in Tibet, and slammed critics for “politicizing and weaponizing” rights issues to interfere in its internal affairs.

But diplomats from Western countries have highlighted a crackdown on civil liberties and a sweeping national security law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 to quash dissent after pro-democracy protests.

They have voiced alarm at alleged efforts to erase cultural and religious identity in Tibet, and repression in the Xinjiang region, where Beijing is accused of incarcerating more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

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As a result of China’s hectic lobbying effort, a total of 163 countries signed up to talk during the half-day session on China, leaving each country with just 45 seconds to speak. The Global South states used the occasion to praise China’s fight to alleviate poverty and its outreach to developing nations, said the Jan 24.

Many of them congratulated China on securing and beginning its sixth term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, and expected it to play a leading role in global human rights governance and to uphold international justice, said China’s official Xinhua news agency Jan 24.

Even Ukraine took a soft line on China, saying “We commend China’s commitment to the promotion of humanity’s common values which embrace universal and inalienable human rights,” recommending that Beijing “strengthen democracy” and “expand people’s participation in political affairs,” according to the report.

Also, Beijing had mobilized a considerable number of Chinese NGOs (known as GONGOs—government-organized NGOs) that merely parroted the party line.

Besides, the Human Rights Council had restricted access to the review for civil society, with NGOs initially only having 15 seats available in the room, which were taken up by Chinese GONGOs, noted Washington-based advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) Jan 23.

* * *

“The Chinese government used the review as an opportunity to whitewash their abuses, and apparently pressured other countries to do the same,” the report quoted Human Rights Watch’s Geneva director Hilary Power as saying in a statement after the review.

Still, 20 states – compared to 9 during the previous review, in 2018, raised China’s oppression in Tibet, noted the ICT. They included the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, France, Lithuania, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Ireland, Montenegro, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark and Estonia.

They have called for the abolition of the coercive colonial Chinese boarding schools for Tibetan children, release of arbitrarily detained Tibetans, and for unfettered access to Tibet, which China keeps largely cut off to foreign diplomats, researcher, and journalists.

ICT said member states have made 24 recommendations on Tibet, which was up from 11 in 2018.

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On the eve of the China review, a side event was held at the Human Rights Council organized by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Panellists included the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Thinlay Chukki; Lhadon Tethong, director of the Tibet Action Institute; and Bhuchung Tsering, head of the Research and Monitoring Unit at the International Campaign for Tibet.

US Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, who serves as the US special coordinator for Tibetan issues, and Ambassador Michèle Taylor delivered statements at the panel, with Zeya’s pre-recorded and Taylor’s delivered on the floor.

China has also held a side event on Jan 22, with the theme being on placing development at the agenda centre – safeguarding economic, social and cultural rights – said China’s official Jan 23.

It was stated to have been jointly organized by China’s permanent mission to the UN office at Geneva, YouChange China Social Entrepreneur Foundation, and the China Association for NGO Cooperation.

China also released on Jan 23 a white paper on its legal framework and measures for counter-terrorism, which it maintained was meant to “help dispel disinformation and refute rumours, especially on China’s counter-terrorism efforts in its Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.”

A large number of Tibetan and Uyghur activists organised a protest at Broken Chair in front of the United Nations. The protesters were carrying banners reading “Decolonise Tibet,” “China out of Tibet,” and “Shame on China”. A poster exhibition was also held at the Broken Chair, highlighting human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang, noted the ANI news agency Jan 23.

The UPR is a peer-review process under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council, where UN Member States assess each other’s human rights records, their fulfilment of human rights obligations and commitments, and provide recommendations to the State under review.

The current UPR Working Group, comprising Albania, Malawi and the United Arab Emirates, is scheduled to adopt recommendations made to China by other countries on Jan 26.


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