On Wednesday, April 1, 2020, China received an appointment to the United Nations Human Rights Council panel. It will play a key role there picking the world body’s human rights investigators. This includes global monitors on freedom of speech, health, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention.
Does anyone believe China belongs on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations?
Human Rights Group Reacts
UN Watch is a non-governmental human rights organization based in Geneva. They monitor the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council. It is also a leader in speaking out at the UN for victims in China. Hillel Neuer is the executive director of UN Watch. Here are some of his comments about China’s appointment:
“Allowing China’s oppressive and inhumane regime to choose the world investigators on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief…
… It’s absurd and immoral for the UN to allow China’s oppressive government a key role in selecting officials who shape international human rights standards and report on violations worldwide.”
China has a controversial history of systematic human rights violations. Neuer is a strong critic of China. He observes the UN is:
undermining “their legitimacy by picking an authoritarian regime… The UN often describes the UN human rights experts as the ‘crown jewels’ of its Human Rights Council, yet the world body only undermines their legitimacy by picking an authoritarian regime that oppresses human rights activists, dissidents and minorities to preside over the experts’ appointment.”
Gains and Losses
Joining the UNHRC panel enables China to influence the selection of at least 17 UN human rights mandate-holders over the next year. These are known as special procedures, who investigate, monitor, and publicly report on specific country situations. They also perform the same functions on thematic issues in all parts of the world. This covers things such as freedom of speech and religion.
China will help vet candidates for the critical UN human rights posts. It will serve as Chair of the interview processes for at least five of the mandates. China will help decide whom to recommend for appointment. In most cases, the council president appoints the experts selected by the 5-nation panel.
Beijing has been under global criticism over its surveillance technology. It is also being criticized for re-education camps in Xinjiang. The United Nations estimates roughly 1 million Uighurs are detained in Xinjiang. Beijing denies any mistreatment of Uighurs or others in Xinjiang. The regime maintains it is providing vocational training to help stamp out Islamist extremism, separatism and to teach new skills.
Uyghurs, Big Tech, Human Rights
In January 2020, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a scathing review in its 2020 annual report. It is calling on the international community to push back against “the most brutal and pervasive oppression China has seen in decades”. The report condemns Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. It warns that China’s growing political influence and efforts to censor people abroad pose an “existential threat to the international human rights system.”
Human rights cannot exist meaningfully in a totalitarian regime. Is there justice when the offenders are the judges? Can there be justice when the perpetrators are the investigators? Can there be civilization without justice?