UN human rights expert on poverty criticizes policies on “ethnic minorities”, and government obstruction to meaningful access to civil society in China

A United Nations human rights expert on poverty has criticized the Chinese government for exposing “ethnic minorities in China” to serious human rights challenges. In a newly published report on his country visit to China in August 2016, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, wrote that while the plights of Tibetans and Uighurs were “deeply problematic,” “most ethnic minorities in China are exposed to serious human rights challenges, including significantly higher poverty rates, ethnic discrimination and forced relocation”.

He further challenged the Chinese government’s claim that “nationalities” in China enjoy equality as guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and criticized the “head in the sand” mentality of the Chinese department dealing with ethnic minorities, saying that – while implementing “top-down” and “one-size fits all policies” – it insisted that there had been “no resistance to its poverty alleviation projects” and “no protests”.

In remarkably straightforward language, the Special Rapporteur additionally lists various attempts by the Chinese authorities to obstruct his fact-finding mission through intimidation and reprisals of civil society actors, surveillance of movement, and control of the visit, preventing him “to meet with the great majority of civil society actors with any degree of freedom or confidentiality.” The report, which covers a wide range of poverty related issues in the PRC, is due to be discussed at the upcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

Kai Mueller, Executive Director of ICT Germany and ICT’s UN Coordinator said: “We welcome the report’s findings, as there has been a long history of discrimination against Tibetans and other vulnerable groups living under Chinese rule. The report gives testament to the persistent inequalities facing Tibetans and others, thereby seriously challenging the Chinese government’s narrative of just and equal economic development in Tibet and other areas. We support the Special Rapporteur’s call on the Chinese government to develop a comprehensive set of policies designed to ensure that human rights considerations are prominent in, rather than absent from, all aspects of its policy making. As visits of UN experts are of enormous importance to human rights in the PRC and in Tibet, the Special Rapporteur’s detailed documentation of attempts to obstruct access to civil society actors and to limit his movement in China must be taken very seriously.”

While largely criticizing the situation of so called ethnic minorities, the report applauds China’s efforts “to promote economic and social well-being” and “extraordinary” achievements in poverty alleviation, but criticizes that “this has not yet been translated into an approach based on treating economic and social rights as human rights. Most of the relevant rights are not recognized in domestic legislation, domestic institutions do not promote them as such, and existing accountability mechanisms are largely ineffectual,” the report concludes.

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