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Human rights in China

China subverting UN efforts to protect human rights, says pressure group

Beijing thwarting international organisation’s actions to monitor and protect rights, according to Human Rights Watch

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 5:53pm

A human rights group said in a report on Tuesday that China has tried to intimidate, blacklist and suppress the voices of rights advocates who operate within the UN system, calling on Beijing to stop such pressure and urging UN agencies to resist.

In the Human Rights Watch report, the group’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, said China’s influence and crackdown on civil society at home “make it a model of bad faith that challenges the integrity of the UN rights system”.

The New York-based group said the report was based on interviews with 55 people including UN officials, diplomats and civil society representatives, conducted between May 2016 and March. China holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and has growing economic and political clout.

China did not immediately comment on the report.

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The report said that some UN officials have pushed back at “improper Chinese pressure” at times, while they “have capitulated” at others. It points to detention, travel restrictions and reprisals faced by Chinese activists, as well as efforts to hinder supporters of the Dalai Lama when he travels even within the vicinity of UN venues. It also cited efforts to minimise possible opposition to Chinese leaders.

In one instance, the group said, UN officials sent home many of the 3,000 staff members at the UN Geneva campus during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Switzerland in January and barred NGOs from attending his speech there.

The report, in essence, pieces together individual incidents into a broader whole to suggest that China is thwarting efforts to monitor and protect human rights – not just in China but abroad, too. It cites examples of China failing to ratify language on protection of individuals, working to slash funding for human rights officers in UN peacekeeping missions and refusing to affirm civil society’s role in a 2015 resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on public health.

“Taken individually, many of China’s actions against NGOs might be viewed as an annoyance or an irritant,” the report said. “But taken together, they amount to what appears to be a systematic attempt to subvert the ability of the UN human rights system to confront abuses in China and beyond.”

The group also warns about China serving as an example that other countries might follow.

“China’s efforts to subvert the UN human rights system also need to be scrutinised because they have been adopted by other countries. China should not become a model for others that hope to hobble or obstruct UN human rights bodies,” it said. “The dangers to human rights posed by an assertive China at the UN are likely to increase as the rights situation in China under President Xi [Jinping] worsens.”

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Keith Harper, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, said Beijing “absolutely” had the ability to intimidate other countries into keeping quiet about its human rights record.

“China’s response could be crippling economically and other countries know that,” Harper said. “China will be very clear that if you vote against them, they deeply care about China’s interests and they will take steps to punish countries. Given their power economically – in Africa, for example – that matters.”

Harper said the United States all but stood alone in criticising China’s rights record, or at least leading group criticism about it, as in a council session in March 2016 when he spoke out.

“Other counties feel that they can do it as a group – whereas they can’t be singled out,” said Harper. “There has to be one country that has to take the leadership, and the US is the only one who can do that.”

He noted how Norway, a rich developed country, faced reaction from China that was “quite hostile for a long time” after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo in 2010 to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Liu died in Chinese custody in July.