China, which is detaining over 1 million Muslim Uyghurs in concentration camps, has won a spot on the UN Human Rights Council.
/ October 16, 2020
By John J. Metzler
Beijing’s widening human rights and political crackdowns in both Xinjiang Province and Hong Kong have underscored the People’s Republic of China’s pavlovian
reaction involving any opposition towards the ruling communist regime. Though suppressing religious and political dissent is nothing new on the Chinese Mainland, its scope and intensity has deepened under Chairman Xi Jinping’s hardline personalist rule.
Now a disparate and diverse group of 39 countries pushed back in the UN’s Third Committee (Humanitarian); Germany’s Ambassador Christoph Heusgen who sponsored the statement added emphatically, “We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the recent developments in Hong Kong.” Last year a similar text gained only 23 signatures.
The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom joined the condemnation along with much of the European Union such as Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden. Other European states included Albania and Bosnia/Herzegovina. In the Asia/Pacific region, Australia, Japan and New Zealand were joined by the Marshall Islands and Palau.
A Joint statement on the oppression of Muslims in western China read in part, “On Xinjiang, we are gravely concerned about the existence of a large network of “political re-education” camps where credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained. We have seen an increasing number of reports of gross human rights violations. There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association, and expression as well as on Uighur culture.”
They added, “Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uyghurs and other minorities and more reports are emerging of forced labor and forced birth control including sterilization.”
Turning to the former British Crown Colony of Hong Kong the statement stressed, “The Hong Kong National Security Law do not conform to China’s international legal obligations. We have deep concerns about elements of the National Security Law that allow for certain cases to be transferred for prosecution to the Chinese mainland.”
They added, “We urge the relevant authorities to guarantee the rights which are protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, including freedoms of speech, the press and assembly.”
Recall that Britain’s 1997 Hong Kong handover to the Peoples’ Republic of China was predicated on a set of binding legal agreements ensuring the territory fifty years of continued political rights and economic freedoms. In recent years Beijing has seriously eroded those civil freedoms. Nonetheless until recently Hong’s Kong’s free market system thrived.
The group asserts, “We also call on China to uphold autonomy, rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, and to respect the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary.” They add that China “allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.”
Following this stinging political rebuke by key democracies, China’s political counter-batteries and surrogates fired a rhetorical salvo supporting Beijing’s policies. In a move led by Cuba, some forty-five countries including notable rights abusers such as Belarus, Cameroon, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and Venezuela, supported China’s position in Xinjiang. Equally on Hong Kong, Pakistan rose to the occasion marshaling the usual sycophants to issue a statement endorsing Beijing’s actions.
The diplomatic dustup over China’s human rights transgressions became a scene setter for elections for the Human Rights Council. The full UN General Assembly voted on candidates for the Asia-Pacific group which include communist China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Nepal vying to to fill four seats from five contenders. Not surprisingly China won a seat.
Cuba and Russia both won unopposed three-year Council terms as did Pakistan, Senegal, France and the United Kingdom.
China remains an authoritarian one-party regime who’s simply not qualified to sit in judgement on the Human Rights Council. Earlier in the year at the Council’s hearings in Geneva, in what bordered on political pornography, Beijing staged a grand exhibit illustrating the “happy Uyghurs” in Xinjiang as protected by the Chinese Communist Party. The show evoked some old Soviet spectacles about the happy Baltic states under Moscow’s tender charms in another era.
Not since China’s crackdown on pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square in 1989 has there been such a significant and systematic human rights onslaught by Beijing against its own population. Nonetheless these suppressions have mobilized wider American and world opinion and political pushback from the Trump Administration.
Does winning a seat on the Human Rights Council offer an ironic bonus for Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong?
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).
Free Press International