Unprecedented diplomatic action in Geneva on China’s human rights record

Ambassador Keith Harper

U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper delivering a joint statement on behalf of twelve countries on the human rights situation in China. Image: screenshot UN webcast.


The international community has sent a strong message to China with unprecedented diplomatic action in recent weeks including the first collective statement at the U.N. Human Rights Council, a rare joint statement drawing attention to human rights abuses and a high-profile appearance by the Dalai Lama at an event with human rights defenders in Geneva last week moderated by the Deputy U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Dalai Lama speaking

Diplomats were among a packed audience listening to the Dalai Lama speaking about human rights and civil society on Friday (March 11). (Photo: ICT)

Diplomats were among a packed audience listening to the Dalai Lama speaking about human rights and civil society on Friday (March 11). China’s mission in Geneva had urged them to stay away from the event billed as a side event to the ongoing U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, and co-sponsored by the United States and Canada. The discussion, built around a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, can be viewed here.

A day before, on March 10, a group of countries – Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the USA – expressed concerns about human rights in China, in the first such collective statement in the history of the Human Rights Council (https://geneva.usmission.gov/2016/03/10/item-2-joint-statement-human-rights-situation-in-china/). The statement focused on the arrests of lawyers and activists in recent months, and “unexplained recent disappearances and apparent coerced returns” of Chinese citizens and foreigners to China.

U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper read the statement after UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein gave his main annual speech to the council on the global rights situation, in which he specifically mentioned the situation in Tibet, saying: “In recent weeks, I have made known my concerns over China’s arrests of lawyers and other activists. In the past I have also raised concerns about human rights in the Autonomous Regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, and these concerns remain. My mandate is to speak to such issues, and I believe there must be greater space for critical reflection and dialogue.” (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53242#.VuL6YebcLEQ and http://webtv.un.org/watch/id-contd-annual-report-28th-meeting-31st-regular-session-human-rights-council/4796743029001).

In a further statement to the Council on March 15, the E.U. also raised concern about human rights abuses in China, specifically referring to Tibet and Xinjiang.

Kai Mueller, Executive-Director of ICT Germany and ICT’s U.N. Coordinator said: “This unprecedented diplomatic action sends a strong signal to China that it has crossed a red line and there is serious concern among like-minded countries. It also conveys a message of support to human rights defenders in China and Tibet for their courageous actions.”

The statements in Geneva followed a rare joint action by the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan and the European Union, who wrote to China to express concern over the recently passed law on counter-terrorism, the draft cyber security law, and the draft law on management of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs).[1]

China reacted angrily to the criticism of its human rights record at the Human Rights Council on Thursday, accusing the United States of hypocrisy and crimes including the rape and murder of civilians.

The Chinese authorities also lodged strong objections to the Dalai Lama’s appearance in Geneva at the Graduate Institute on March 11. State media agency Xinhua reported that the U.S. government “insisted on inviting Dalai Lama to attend the activity regardless of China’s firm opposition.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei was cited in the same article as saying that “solemn representations to relevant parties” had been lodged, because the Dalai Lama “is a political exile who has long been engaged in activities to split China instead of a simple religious person. Dalai Lama, the biggest serf owner in old Tibet, is not entitled to talk about human rights.”[2]

Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama spoke to hundreds of Tibetans near the famous ‘broken chair’ against the backdrop of international flags outside the U.N. buildings in Geneva. (Photo: ICT)

The Dalai Lama spoke to a packed crowd on March 11 about human rights and civil society, sharing a platform with human rights activists Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman and Leila Alikarami, and moderated by U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore who described him as “A global figure of such standing, that you belong to all of us”. The Dalai Lama later spoke to hundreds of Tibetans near the famous ‘broken chair’ against the backdrop of international flags outside the U.N. buildings in Geneva.

On the same day as the collective statement on March 10 (also Tibetan Uprising Day), the International Campaign for Tibet, on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, delivered a statement to the Council in Geneva on the counter-terrorism law in the PRC, on March 10. The full text of the statement is enclosed below.

In its statement to the Council this week, on March 15, the Netherlands on behalf of the EU stated before the Human Rights Council: “In China, the detention of human rights defenders, lawyers and those defending labor rights, and enforced disappearances on foreign soil raise serious questions about China’s respect for its international human rights obligations and its stat ed commitment to upholding the rule of law. The disappearance and detention of five Hong Kong residents, two of whom EU citizens and the public broadcasting of their so-called confessions also raise serious concerns. Individuals detained for seeking to protect the rights of others and for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression, including Liu Xiaobo, Ilham Tohti, Xu Zhiyong and Wang Yu, should be released. China should also take into account concerns about the draft foreign NGO law and the recent national security and counter-terrorism legislation. Lastly, the EU urges China to address the root causes of unrest and foster dialogue with different ethnic groups, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang.” (http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/un_geneva/documents/eu_statments/human_right/20160315_hrc31_item4.pdf).


Statement delivered by Vincent Metten on behalf of Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR)

Mr. President,

We wish to thank the Special Rapporteur for his report.

China passed its first ‘counter-terror’ law on December 27, 2015, ignoring concerns expressed by international governments that draconian measures in the name of national security are being used to crackdown on Tibetans, Uighurs and Chinese civil society.

Since May, 2013, in Tibet, an aggressive ‘counter-terrorism’ drive with a strongly political dimension has involved an expansion of militarization across the plateau, extra-judicial killings, torture and imprisonment. This is despite the absence of any violent protest in Tibet.

The new law that came into effect on January 1st this year, represents an escalation of such oppressive and counter-productive measures. Its broad and vague language increases the impunity of the Chinese Party state and attributes huge discretionary powers to both the state organs and security forces.

In conflating ‘terrorism’ with an undefined ‘extremism’ linked to religion, it gives more scope for the penalization of almost any peaceful expression of Tibetan identity, acts of non-violent dissent, or criticism of ethnic or religious policies, in a political climate in which the exiled Dalai Lama has been accused of ‘inciting terrorism’ because of a wave of self-immolations across Tibet..

Mr President, we believe that peace and stability cannot be achieved through hyper-securitization and suppression of human rights, and we are deeply concerned by these measures.

We urge the Human Rights Council and its members to call for the revision of this law to ensure it is consistent with international law and human rights provisions.

We also call for a re-evaluation of China’s so-called ‘stability maintenance’ approach, and for an end to its counter-productive military buildup in Tibet.

Thank you, Mr. President.


Footnotes:
[1] ICT statement, March 1, 2016, http://www.savetibet.org/international-campaign-for-tibet-welcomes-concern-by-us-eu-germany-japan-and-canada-on-sweeping-new-security-laws-in-china/

[2] Global Times, March 12, 2016, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/973383.shtml

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