UN Member States: Vote “No” and End China’s Membership on UN Human Rights Council

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UN Member States: Vote “No” and End China’s Membership on UN Human Rights Council
Register Disapproval of Human Rights Violations & Show Solidarity with Victims

(Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders—October 25, 2016) The rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in China throughout China’s current term (2014-16) on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and under the presidency of Xi Jinping indicates that China has broken its “voluntary pledge” to the HRC and should disqualify China from being elected for a renewed membership seat on the Council.

CHRD urges UN Member States to vote strictly according to international human rights standards stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They should take into consideration the full human rights record of Member States seeking a seat, including China, in the election on October 28 at the UN headquarters in New York.  At stake is the credibility of the Human Rights Council, created to promote and protect all human rights around the globe. China is one of four Asian governments running for four seats open to the Group of Asian States. However, Member States should still take a principled stand against China’s bid. HRC seats should be reserved for a state willing to uphold universal human rights standards, build the Council’s credibility, and show solidarity with victims of rights abuses in China and around the globe.

The record of the Chinese government’s current tenure on the HRC is replete with refusals to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms and manoeuvres to undermine human rights norms and weaken UN institution-building. Chinese diplomats have opposed strengthening concrete protections for human rights and defended abuses, while excluding itself from scrutiny on the pretext of “national sovereignty” and “non-interference in internal affairs.” All the while, at home, the government has carried out one of the harshest crackdowns on civil society since the 1989 suppression of pro-democracy protests, including stepping up an ideological attack on the very idea of the universality of human rights.

Obstruction and Non-Cooperation with Human Rights Bodies at the UN

Special Procedures  The Chinese government has continued to refuse to issue a standing invitation to all thematic Special Procedures (SPs), as 115 Member States have done. Since 2014, China granted only two mandate holders permission to visit, but did not allow them to visit Tibetan and Uyghur areas, and openly obstructed the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty’s meetings with civil society representatives and scholars during a visit in August 2016. The government extended invitations to three mandate holders but has not facilitated the visits and they consequently have not taken place. There are a further nine requests from mandate holders that the government has not responded to. China’s responses to SP mandate holders’ urgent action or accusation letters tend to lack substantive information. In August 2016, a government spokesperson called a joint statement concerning a political prisoner’s deteriorating health, issued by six SP mandate holders, “baseless” and “irresponsible.” In addition, the government has largely ignored more than a dozen “opinions” issued by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in the past few years, demanding China to free specific prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.

Treaty Bodies  China continued to ignore requests made by treaty bodies asking for concrete data, disaggregated statistics, and specific information for their periodic reviews of China’s implementation of its treaty obligations. The government has not implemented many recommendations made in Concluding Observations issued by the Committee Against Torture in November 2015, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in October 2014, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in May 2014, and the Committee for the Rights of the Child in September 2013. The government failed to submit its fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth periodic state reports to the Committee on Racial Discrimination. Furthermore, China has refused to set a clear timetable to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed in 1998, and has not signed core human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and most of the Optional Protocols.

Universal Periodic Review  China excluded civil society in the first and second cycles of the UPR. China accepted a majority of the 252 recommendations made by member states during the 2nd cycle of UPR in 2013 and claimed to have already implemented a number of them. According to our estimates in a forthcoming report, the government has not implemented 80% of the valid UPR recommendations and only partially implemented 18%. Valid recommendations are those CHRD assessed to be relevant and well-founded on the basis of encouraging China to promote and protect human rights in line with international standards. China has failed to submit its own midterm follow-up report about the government’s implementation of these recommendations.

Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders Cooperating with the UN  While sitting on the HRC, the Chinese government has detained or intimidated dozens of activists to prevent them from travelling to Geneva for trainings on UN human rights mechanisms, participating in treaty body reviews or the UPR, or otherwise cooperating with the UN. This pattern of behaviour has continued, despite serious concerns expressed by treaty bodies, and SPs. To date, there has been no independent investigation over the deadly reprisal against activist Cao Shunli. Police detained Cao as she was boarding a flight to Geneva in September 2013 to take part in a session of the Human Rights Council, where China’s 2nd UPR would take place. Cao died in detention in March 2014 after months of torture and inadequate medical treatment. Seven UN human rights experts said upon her death, “It is unacceptable that civil society activists pay the ultimate price for peaceful and legitimate interaction with the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms.” The Secretary-General’s annual report on cooperation with the UN named China for its reprisals against HRDs in 2014 and 2015.

Obstructing Efforts to Strengthen the Human Rights Framework  China votes against resolutions or proposals aimed at protecting human rights defenders. In November 2015, China voted against a historic resolution at the UN General Assembly, which recognizes the important role of human rights defenders and the need for better protection. China was one of 14 UN States that voted against the resolution after the government failed to prevent a vote and stated it opposed the use of the term “human rights defenders.” China also voted against a successful resolution at the HRC in March 2016 to protect economic, social and cultural human rights defenders. China, along with other countries, introduced hostile but unsuccessful amendments in an attempt to delete all references to HRDs, including women HRDs

During the HRC’s 32nd session in June 2016, China voted against two ultimately successful and important resolutions. China voted no on A/HRC/32/L.2 that established an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and against resolution A/HRC/32/L.29 that asked States to create and maintain a safe environment for civil society to operate.

China has also obstructed the work of HRC-mandated Commissions of Inquiry that are intended to promote accountability and prevent impunity for serious human rights violations. For instance, China refused to extend an invitation to the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to visit Northeast China. The government provided an explanation during the 2013 UPR—that it opposes “politicizing human rights issues” and “disapproves exerting pressure on a country in the name of human rights,” and that it never supported establishing such a commission.

Rapidly Deteriorating Human Rights Conditions at Home

During China’s membership on the HRC from 2014 to present, the government intensified its crackdowns on civil society despite criticisms from UN human rights bodies. In a February 2016 statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein noted, “We are seeing a very worrying pattern in China that has serious implications for civil society and the important work they do across the country.” Twelve countries highlighted China’s problematic human rights record in a rare joint statement under Item 2 during the 31st HRC session in March 2016.

Multiple crackdowns by officials have involved the extensive use of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, and deprivation of the right to a fair trial and due process rights. CHRD has documented 2,236 cases of deprivation of liberty of human rights defenders from 2013-2015. Some of those detained include activists involved in the New Citizens’ Movement, individuals commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre, Mainland supporters of the Occupy Hong Kong protests, NGO activists working on LGBT, health and women’s rights issues, and human rights lawyers who challenged the government’s interference in the legal profession and robustly defended their clients’ due process rights.

In tandem with these crackdowns, the government drafted or passed draconian legislation and policies to reinforce its tightening control over civil society. These include the National Security Law, the Law on the Management of Overseas NGO Activities Within China, the Charity Lawthe 9th Amendment to the Criminal Law, and the Counter-Terrorism Law.

The High Commissioner on Human Rights expressed deep concerns about the human rights implications of the National Security Law passed in July 2015 and three UN special experts called on China to repeal the Overseas NGO Management Law that will go into effect on January 1, 2017. The European Union said in a statement under Item 4 at the 32nd HRC session that China’s adoption of a national security package “further raises serious questions about China’s respect for its international human rights obligations and international standards.”

Meanwhile, under Xi Jinping, the top Chinese leadership unleashed a bellicose attack on “universal values” such as human rights, democracy, rule of law, civil society and free press. A memo from senior leaders to government officials, known as “Document No. 9”, urged an ideological purge of such “Western” ideas. The government subsequently arrested activists and lawyers for their peaceful expression and assembly and convicted four individuals of “subverting state power” during show trials held in August 2016. Prosecutors accused one activist, Hu Shigen, of plotting and inciting a “peaceful transition” to democracy. China’s state media broadcast the alleged “confession” of another activist, Zhai Yanmin, in which he “warned” fellow citizens against “hostile foreign forces” and the rhetoric of “democracy,” “human rights” and the “public good.” This closely mirrored language in propaganda videos released by the government in the same week, which blamed “hostile foreign forces” for trying to ferment a “color revolution” through the promotion of human rights.

Re-Electing China to the HRC Puts Protection of Human Rights in Peril

China has failed to live up to the Human Rights Council’s membership requirement to “uphold the highest standards of human rights.” The Chinese government performed poorly in honouring its “voluntary pledge” made in June 2013 when it sought a HRC seat in the last election cycle. In the 2016 election, China has adopted a visibly more combative tone in its latest pledge. The 2016 pledge vows to use the Human Rights Council as a platform to “oppose interference in other countries’ internal affairs on the pretext of human rights” and “opposes the practices of publicly exerting pressure, naming and shaming and provoking confrontation.” In other words, China is openly running for a membership seat with an anti-human rights platform—by announcing its pledge to prevent the Council from scrutinizing human rights violations and to override principles of universality with the “national interest” of states accused of abusing human rights.

That states with records of systematic and gross violations of human rights continue to get elected or re-elected to the HRC makes legitimate critiques of the Council itself, for lacking sensible qualifying criteria for membership and effective measures to sanction members who fail to comply with their own “voluntary pledges.” The process for suspending a HRC member requires two-thirds of the 193-member UN General Assembly to vote for suspension (which has only been used once, against Libya in 2011). In contrast, only a simple majority of 97 votes are needed for any state to be elected or re-elected to the HRC. In 2013, 176 Member States voted to elect China, which meant a number of democratic Member States voted for China despite its poor human rights records. Due to the rules that make it easy for human rights abusers to be elected to the HRC, the Council is often paralyzed by obstructive behavior of states with strong opposition to universal human rights and the Council’s right to make country-specific criticisms.

The UN’s HRC membership election process makes it extremely difficult to effectively prevent states from using the Council as their platform to obstruct the Council’s mandate—promoting “universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all” —while undermining the principles of human rights and legitimizing violations of their citizens’ human rights at home. The Chinese government cited the “high number of votes” it received for a HRC seat in 2013 as evidence of its success in protecting human rights, and openly admitted that its objective on the Council was to “actively declare China’s own human rights policy and point of view.”

The credibility and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council are at stake with the repeated re-election of states that not only commit gross and systematic violations of human rights but also have a clear agenda to undermine the Council’s principles and obstruct its efforts to take effective measures in promoting and protecting human rights. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in 2007, “All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.” These words will continue to ring hollow unless significant reforms take place at the Council.

UN Member States should not vote to re-elect China to the Human Rights Council. It is long overdue for the international community to send a strong message to the Chinese government that it is unacceptable to continue abusing human rights at home and weakening international human rights norms and mechanisms at the UN.



Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia[at]nchrd.org, Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator (English), +1 209 643 0539, victorclemens[at]nchrd.org, Follow on Twitter: @VictorClemens

Frances Eve, Researcher (English), +852 6695 4083, franceseve[at]nchrd.org, Follow on Twitter:@FrancesEveCHRD

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