China and Tibet in focus at Human Rights Council despite changing environment

UN Human Rights Council

Vincent Metten, ICT’s EU Policy Director, participating at a side event on Tibet at the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, on March 10, 2017.

As the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council is coming to an end on March 24, the human rights situation in Tibet and China has once more been in the focus of civil society organizations and concerned governments. While facing a changing environment due to potential policy shifts of the U.S. government with regard to the Human Rights Council, advocates for human rights in the People’s Republic of China and also Tibet, among them the International Campaign for Tibet, sent a joint letter to Permanent Missions to the UN in Geneva, asking governments to sustain the call for accountability of the Chinese Government by making a joint statement, and by coordinating national statements, at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Specifically, the letter called for countries to benchmark progress – or regress – by the country, using both the UN and joint government statements from last year. The letter also outlined new challenges, including the widely reported allegations of torture of detained lawyers, and the sustained pressure put on independent media, bloggers and activists who use their websites to report on human rights abuses. The letter also specifically raised the case of Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan who has been detained for over a year for calling for Tibetan language classes in local schools. It called for the repeal or revision of the Counter-Terrorism Law, and urged governments to speak out against the increasing use of national security legislation and draft ‘regulations on religious affairs’ to criminalize and harass those exercising freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of expression. It recognized the disproportionate impact this has on Uyghur and Tibetan communities, as well as religious minorities. Lastly, it said governments should denounce the continuing forced evictions and other violations of human rights, including cultural rights, of monks and laypersons at Larung Gar, a major site of Tibetan Buddhist teaching and worship.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in his report to the Human Rights Council, expressed concern with regard to the situation in Tibet. He stated: “The Government of China had stated its intention to play a leadership role in the Human Rights Council, and so far it had performed remarkably in lifting hundreds of millions of people from poverty. However, it should respect the rights of human rights defenders, and cease to restrict cultural and religious rights, particularly in Xinjiang and Tibet.“

The International Campaign for Tibet further welcomed statements made by the United States, the European Union, Germany, Canada, France and the Czech Republic under “Item 4” of the Council’s agenda that either referred to the situation in the People’s Republic of China or to Tibet specifically. ICT particularly welcomed the EU and Germany’s reference to detained Tashi Wangchuk.

ICT’s Head for UN Advocacy Kai Müller said: “The International Campaign for Tibet welcomes the remarks of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights with regard to the situation in Tibet. However, by praising China because “it had performed remarkably in lifting hundreds of millions of people from poverty“ and connecting the same to the country’s role in the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner appears to give credence to the Chinese narrative that criticism of the systematic human rights violations in the PRC is unfair. Human rights violations in China will not disappear just because there may be achievements in other areas, nor do such asserted achievements grant a discount to China for its rights violations. The international public should focus on the indivisibility and universality of human rights principles and no one should need to justify oneself for stating the obvious: there are systematic human rights violations in China and particularly in Tibet.”

During the course of the 34th session of the Human Rights Council, ICT’s Mélanie Blondelle delivered a statement, on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, at the Interactive Dialogue on the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. Blondelle called on the Human Rights Council “to challenge the increasing use of national security legislation to criminalise and harass those exercising their fundamental rights, recognizing the disproportionate impact this has on Tibetans and Uyghurs, and to call on China to repeal or revise its counter-terrorism law in accordance with international law.”

On March 10, on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council session, Vincent Metten, ICT’s EU Policy Director, and Kai Müller (who missed the event due to airport strike issue), were invited as speakers to the briefing “Human Rights in Tibet-2016”. Vincent Metten presented an overview of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue and introduced ICT’s latest counter terrorism report. The briefing was attended by around 30 participants composed of diplomats, including from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China, UN officials and NGOs.

Statement delivered by Mélanie Blondelle on March 6, 2017 on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) at the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva

UN Human Rights Council

ICT’s Mélanie Blondelle delivering a statement on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) at the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, on March 6, 2017.

Mr. President,

On 1st January 2016, China’s law on counter-terrorism came into force. As highlighted by a recent report by FIDH and the International Campaign for Tibet this new law, due to its vague wording, the broad powers it assigns to the authorities and the absence of independent judicial oversight, represents a serious threat to human rights, in particular for Tibetans and Uyghurs.

The counter-terror law, along with other recently adopted laws and measures, is part of a new comprehensive security architecture being established by the Chinese authorities, encompassing an intensified militarisation of the Tibetan plateau, the tightening of border regulations, and heightened surveillance and media censorship. It represents an attempt to legitimize through legislation existing repressive measures designed to intensify control by the CCP and suppress dissent, using the pretext of the fight against terrorism to further intensify oppression in Tibet and Xinjiang.

The disproportionate nature of such oppressive measures is clear when we note that even attending teachings by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate the Dalai Lama in exile is characterized by the Chinese authorities as ‘illegal’ and ‘terrorist’. In January, nearly 7,000 Tibetan pilgrims who travelled to India to attend a major religious ceremony taught by the Dalai Lama were compelled to return to the PRC after systematic operation involving threats against those individuals and their families.

China’s new counter-terror law allows for the conflation of domestic protest, dissent or religious activity with international terrorism, which is likely to result in further alienation among those marginalized by state policies, and even risks increasing the appeal of violent action as a means of addressing injustice. There is disturbing evidence that the Chinese authorities may undermine international counter-terror initiatives by using the law to carry out operations in other countries that allow the transfer of individuals such as political opponents or peaceful dissidents back to the PRC against their will.

We urge the Human Rights Council to challenge the increasing use of national security legislation to criminalise and harass those exercising their fundamental rights, recognizing the disproportionate impact this has on Tibetans and Uyghurs , and to call on China to repeal or revise its counter-terrorism law in accordance with international law. Foreign governments should also be vigilant in their terms of reference and dialogues with China on counter-terrorism, which should place the rule of law and human rights at their centre.

Thank you, Mr. President.


Footnotes:
[1] FIDH/International Campaign for Tibet, 15 November 2016: “China’s new counter-terrorism law: Implications and Dangers for Tibetans and Uyghurs”.

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