CHRD Encouraged by Civil Society Mobilization and Commends Countries that Sought to Hold China Accountable at UN Human Rights Review

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CHRD Encouraged by Civil Society Mobilization and Commends Countries that Sought to Hold China Accountable at UN Human Rights Review

As China led a high-pressure campaign to coerce UN member states into echoing its talking points on human rights at the UN in Geneva yesterday, many states bravely bucked the pressure and issued substantial recommendations based on human rights laws and standards that have drawn attention to China’s egregious human rights violations.

The highlights of these interventions at the Universal Periodic Review include:

  • At least eighteen countries recommended the ceasing of the persecution of human rights defenders or the need for an enabling environment for human rights defenders (Canada, Chile, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Marshall Islands, Sweden, Switzerland).  Countries also highlighted the need for authorities to end reprisals against civil society (Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Marshall Islands).
  • Eighteen countries raised Hong Kong, up from just six in the last UPR in 2018. As has been well documented, the human rights situation has deteriorated rapidly since the introduction of the National Security Law by the Central Government in 2020.
  • Twenty states made recommendations about Tibet. This significant concern for Tibet comes as the Chinese government limits travel to the region and is subjecting up to a million children to colonial-style residential boarding schools.
  • Approximately twenty states also made recommendations on the Uyghur region, and eleven states urged the Chinese government to implement recommendations made by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in its assessment of the region. Notably, while recommending China to implement the OHCHR recommendations, Switzerland reiterated the OHCHR’s important finding that the extent of arbitrary detentions “may constitute crimes against humanity.” Recognizing the overlap between ethnic and gender discrimination, Montenegro recommended, “Investigate effectively allegations of human rights violations in camps and other detention facilities, including torture, sexual violence, forced labour and other mistreatment.” 
  • The recommendation to end the use of the death penalty, or implement a moratorium, was raised by many countries, including developing countries in the Global South, such as Colombia and Argentina.
  • Several countries, such as Ecuador, Peru, and the Marshall Islands raised the need for China’s overseas business operations to operate according to business and human rights standards, which implicitly draws a contrast to China’s “win-win” and “people-centered” development model, which does not reference the state’s duty to protect human rights or the corporate responsibility to protect human rights.
  • Eleven states (Chile, Iceland, Ireland, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, United States of America, Uruguay) brought up recommendations to protect the LGBTIQ+ community and sexual minorities, which have been under increasing attack since the last UPR in 2018. One particularly strong recommendation, in light of the closure of several LGBTIQ+ advocacy organization, was this recommendation by Iceland, “Remove restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom including on SOGIESC related media content and allow registration of SOGIESC CSOs.”
  • Many states, including Kazakhstan and Paraguay, recommended that the Chinese government ratify the ICCPR and that it cooperate with the UN Special Procedures, including extending a standing invitation for country visits. As CHRD highlighted in our briefing on the UPR, the lack of operating in good faith with the UN system is a core obstacle for the government’s improvement in human rights. Rwanda and Benin recommended that China “Ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families”.
  • In total, 31 countries raised the issue of women’s rights. While not all of the recommendations were worded in an effective way, the sheer number of recommendations is to some extent a testament to China’s lack of progress in women’s rights in recent years. Given the lack of attention to women’s rights at China’s nearly all-male political leadership, Bulgaria’s recommendation was particularly noteworthy, “Take further steps to increase women’s representation in the legislature, public administration and judiciary”.
  • At least nine states made recommendations regarding enforced disappearance, which CHRD and other NGOs have identified as tool that the Chinese government has increasingly adopted in its governance, even though it is a gross human rights violation. Notably, this included states in the Global South, such as Côte d’Ivoirewhich recommended China to “Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.” Australia, Luxembourg, Sweden, the United States of America, and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland recommended that China abolish “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location,” a form of secret detention and enforced disappearance in which torture is common.

Overall, CHRD believes that the relatively strong quantity of recommendations, based on the highest human rights laws and standards, reflects the hard work of civil society organizations in documenting rights abuses in different issue areas and regions and communicating their findings to states.  Some countries, such as Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, New Zealand, the United States of America, and the Netherlands, deserve credit for successfully managing to issue several recommendations within a small window of time, 45 seconds. Numerous states in the Global South, such as Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, and the Marshall Islands, deserve recognition for issuing strong and thoughtful recommendations. CHRD commends all the states that engaged in the UPR with good faith, a key element to the success of the UPR and human rights improvements by governments more broadly.

China’s pressure campaign

As expected, during the UPR, the Chinese government presented an alternative reality of its human rights performance. In contrast with the above, many countries made vague and weak recommendations and praised the Chinese government profusely, reflecting an intense lobbying campaign ahead of the UPR by the Chinese government to whitewash its record, as exposed by Reuters and The Geneva Observer. This often included the Chinese delegation giving specific points for countries to raise in their interventions at the UN. In total, China received approximately 130 interventions from “friendly” countries.  By accepting these “recommendations, which in many instances were probably written by the Chinese government itself, the government can claim that its human rights record enjoys widespread global support.

Meanwhile, recommendations touching on important human rights violations, often directly referencing documentation by UN treaty bodies and UN human rights experts, were dismissed by China’s Ambassador to the UN as based on“ideological bias, rumors and lies”.

Most worryingly, people inside the United Nations attending the review told CHRD that numerous GONGOs, Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations, which are fake NGOs masquerading as real ones, were at the venue in large numbers. The large contingent of GONGOs presented a façade of civil society being in attendance, and worryingly, some GONGO representatives took pictures of independent civil society delegates, in violation of UPR rules of conduct. 

CHRD urges the United Nations and concerned countries to address the risks of reprisals and transnational repression. 

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