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Systematic Attempt to Subvert Human Rights System

By Vasudha Bhatia  /  September 13, 2017;

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech in the Palais des Nations at the United Nations in Geneva, January 18, 2017.
Photo : Denis Balibouse/Reuters

The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 96-page report, The cost of International Advocacy: China’s Interference in United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms, on September 5 in Geneva.

The report starts with concerns about the apparent willingness of the United Nations to comply with China’s demands by restricting access to meetings and talks of activists and non government organisations (NGOs) critical of China, “The UN’s handling of these situations points to larger concerns about the treatment and protection of human rights activists critical of China as they seek to participate in UN human rights mechanisms—intended to protect the rights of all—and about China’s attempts to thwart UN scrutiny of its own human rights record”.

The report states, “China has generally directed its energies in the Council [the United Nations Human Rights Council] toward shielding itself from human rights scrutiny, opposing country-specific resolutions, and defending concepts such as national sovereignty at the expense of international human rights monitoring”.

The report accused China of harassing and intimidating activists, primarily those from China saying, “Chinese officials have photographed and filmed activists on UN premises in violation of UN rules, and restricted travel by mainland activists to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. China has also used its membership on the Economic and Social Council’s Committee on NGOs to block NGOs critical of China from being granted UN accreditation, and it has sought to blacklist accredited activists to bar their attendance”.

The report explains the value of the role of NGOs, quoting the former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who said, speaking of NGOs, “One cannot overestimate the contribution that civil society has made towards the development of international human rights standards.…”.

File photo

It also accuses China of inappropriate attempts to influence UN personnel: “Chinese diplomats, in violation of UN rules, have contacted UN staff and experts on treaty bodies and special procedures (independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues), including behaviour that at times has amounted to harassment and intimidation”.

It says that China’s actions against NGOs, “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 HRW reports gives an example of activist Cao Shunli who was detained by the Chinese authorities in 2013. She had urged Beijing to consult Chinese civil society in drafting its UN human rights review and had tried to travel to Geneva to participate in human rights training sessions. She died in detention after being gravely ill.

The HRW Chief, Kenneth Roth, said that, “China engages with the UN on human rights but often with the goal of aggressively silencing criticism and eroding access for activists who work on China”.

The HRW chief also said that, “Unless the UN and concerned governments put a stop to China’s efforts to manipulate or weaken UN human rights mechanisms, the UN’s credibility, and indeed its ability to defend rights in China and around the globe, are at risk”.

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