UN WebTV: UK Ambassador James Kariuki delivers joint statement on China at the UN General Assembly, 18 October 2023

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One year after UN Xinjiang report release, pressure on China at the UN remains steady

On 30 August 2022, the UN Human Rights Office concluded that the Chinese State may be responsible for committing crimes against humanity, in a report on human rights in the Uyghur region (Xinjiang). One year later, global pressure on Beijing remains high, ahead of a major UN human rights review in January.

More than one year after the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its groundbreaking human rights assessment on the Uyghur region (Xinjiang), pressure by UN Member States and UN experts on the Chinese government remains steady. On 18 October, the United Kingdom spoke on behalf of 51 countries at the UN General Assembly urging China to ‘end its violations of human rights in Xinjiang, engage constructively with the OHCHR, and fully implement the recommendations of the assessment’. 

The 51 signatories stress the assessment’s ‘independent and authoritative’ nature, and its findings of possible crimes against humanity on the basis of large-scale arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim populations, building on a past statement led by Canada on behalf of 50 governments at the UN a year ago.

The signatories also recalled that ‘the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, called [in September] on China to follow the recommendations of the assessment and take “strong remedial action”’; yet, they regret ‘not having seen evidence of China taking any such action.’

Over a year has passed since [the UN Xinjiang] assessment was released and yet China has not engaged in any constructive discussion of these findings.
Joint statement on behalf of 51 UN Member States delivered by the United Kingdom at the UN General Assembly, 18 October 2023
The fact that 50 nations have affixed their signatures to this statement sends a powerful message: despite China's relentless efforts to stifle discussion and awareness about the genocidal treatment of Uyghurs, we have not lost our allies.
Rayhan Asat, Uyghur lawyer and human rights advocate

The statement was largely endorsed by Western governments, and a range of Global South governments, including Paraguay and Guatemala in Latin America, Liberia and Eswatini in Africa, Tuvalu, Palau and Nauru from the Pacific. Fiji, who initially endorsed the statement, regrettably announced its withdrawal through social media a few days later.

Pressure on China over the past months has only been mounting, as UN human rights bodies continue to step up documentation, including through a landmark ruling by the UN’s anti-racial discrimination committee. In a public statement released on 26 September, UN experts warned of the risk of ‘forced assimilation’ as a result of ‘forced separations and language policies for Uyghur children.’ UN experts issued similarly strong-worded statements on the detention of Tibetan activists, unfair trials under Hong Kong’s National Security Law, and the fate of Chinese activists Lu Siwei and Guo Feixiong.  

Regrettably, the Chinese government continues to dismiss all concerns raised by UN experts and Member States, while solidarity from Muslim-majority countries remains weak. A statement read by Pakistan on behalf of 72 countries opposed ‘interference in China’s internal affairs.’ *

These devious actions by the Chinese government should serve as a wake-up call for Volker Türk, who continues to hope for meaningful engagement with China. It is abundantly clear that China has consistently ignored communication from the UN's human rights system.
Rayhan Asat, Uyghur lawyer and human rights advocate
The Pakistani statement’s language is weaker than previous years, while supporters for Beijing’s policies have not significantly increased, signaling a growing discomfort. At the same time, it is shameful that EU members Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Hungary, have never joined their peers in condemning Beijing’s abuses. It is equally shameful that key Global South democracies and Muslim-majority countries still allow for China and its allies to claim to speak on behalf of the developing world when defending atrocity crimes by Beijing.
Raphael Viana David, ISHR Programme Manager for China and Latin America

The Chinese Permanent Mission in New York also circulated notes verbales in an attempt to intimidate and prevent other State delegations from attending a high-level event with former UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, Uyghur and international advocates, hosted by the Atlantic Council on 19 September. 

Major UN human rights review of China upcoming

This joint statement comes on the heels of China’s reelection as one of the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council (HRC), the UN’s top decision-making body on human rights. Yet, China received the fewest votes among the four candidates running for the Asia-Pacific region, after having received the fewest votes amongst all candidates in its 2019 bid. 

In January 2024, China will undergo its fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a UN HRC-hosted human rights peer review that will constitute a temperature check on global criticism of Beijing’s ferocious crackdown on human rights. 

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) released a UPR briefing paper summarising UN documentation of the Chinese government’s abuse of national security to persecute Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and human rights defenders and lawyers. The briefing paper provides key recommendations for States to present at China’s upcoming UPR, including repealing Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), a form of enforced disappearance systematically used against human rights defenders.

During the 54th session of the Human Rights Council in September, similar concerns on the misuse of national security legislation were denounced by woman defender Sophie Luo, wife of jailed lawyer Ding Jiaxi, in a joint statement with ISHR (available in Chinese and English). 

This crucial test of China’s human rights record also takes place ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the death of woman defender Cao Shunli, one of the most emblematic cases of deadly reprisals against human rights defenders for cooperating with the United Nations. In September 2013, Cao Shunli was detained en route to Geneva, ahead of China’s second UPR. Her subsequent death as a result of ill-treatment under custody in March 2014 remains unaccounted for, despite repeated calls by UN experts. As ISHR mobilised civil society in a moment of silence at the Human Rights Council, the Chinese delegation caused a 1h30-long meeting disruption to prevent any mourning of Cao’s death. Ten years later, ISHR urges States to pay tribute to Cao Shunli’s legacy, and echo calls for justice and accountability, during China’s January 2024 UPR.

The premise of the UPR is that governments will cooperate in good faith, not that they will retaliate against human rights defenders, in some cases lethally. This January, let us ensure that Cao Shunli’s efforts were not in vain, let us show that her legacy is still alive.
Raphael Viana David, ISHR Programme Manager for China and Latin America

*List of States signatories to the Pakistan joint statement: China, Sri Lanka, Belarus, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Palestine, Russia, Sudan, Djibouti, Myanmar, Serbia, Syria, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Libya, Morocco, Nepal, Madagascar, Cameroon, Burundi, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates, Grenada, Saudi Arabia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Iran, Iraq, The Republic of Congo, Tonga, Chad, Laos, Algeria, Eritrea, São Tomé and Príncipe, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Niger, Gambia, Tajikistan, Gabon, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Guinea, Honduras, Turkmenistan, Comoros, Uganda, Bolivia, Mozambique, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Equatorial Guinea, Suriname, Kenya, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Solomon Islands, Benin, Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Democratic Republic of  Congo.

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