China should not be appointing UN investigators while refusing cooperation with them

For immediate release

April 7, 2020 11:45 am EST

Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) +1 (202) 790-1795, (703) 217-7266

The Chinese government should play no role in the selection process of United Nations experts tasked with investigating human rights abuses, while at the same time refusing to accept their legitimacy. The Chinese government’s track record of obstructing UN human rights mechanisms should disqualify it from helping to choose independent investigators.

China was recently selected to join the UN Human Rights Council Consultative Group of five states tasked with screening initial applications and making recommendations for independent United Nations experts, who are normally appointed for six-year terms.

In response to the decision, UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat said: “It is laughable that a state like China will play any role at all in selecting experts investigating human rights for the UN. The Chinese government is committing crimes against humanity as we speak. What are the chances that the Chinese representative will agree to have truly independent monitors in these roles?”

The Chinese UN delegation persistently blocks attempts by the Human Rights Council to investigate human rights issues in its own country. China has failed to answer outstanding requests and reminders from at least 17 UN Working Group Experts. This includes investigations of cultural rights, assembly, enforced disappearances, expression, privacy, and counter terrorism, among others—some of which date back nearly 20 years.

It intimidates victims who try to bring cases to the UN and has repeatedly blocked any independent investigation of its arbitrary detention of 1.8 million to 2 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. In one case, human rights activist Cao Shunli, after being detained in Beijing attempting to travel Geneva for a UN training session, died after two months in detention. No investigation was ever conducted.

When UN Experts are permitted to enter the country to investigate, many have documented  harassment, intimidation, a refusal to be granted access to certain locations or individuals, and unacceptable government controls throughout the visit. Following the 2017 visit of the UN Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, the Chinese government accused him of “overstep[ing] his mandate and meddl[ing] with China’s judicial sovereignty.”

If China would like to play a more proactive role at the Human Rights Council, it has an obligation to accept the standards set by the Council itself, and that means accepting the mandates of the Special Procedures.

The five-nation panel, now consisting of China, Chad, Spain and Slovenia (with one state awaiting nomination), makes crucial decisions in terms of which candidates pass through the initial stages in the appointment process. The group makes a recommendation to the Human Rights Council President, who then puts the candidate up for a vote by the Council proper. 

In this case, the Chinese mission in Geneva will effectively hold veto power over any candidates it does not favor. This is particularly troubling, given China’s recent efforts to rewrite the rules of the UN human rights system—even the definition of human rights itself—which it increasingly views as synonymous with non-interference and state sovereignty.

There are currently 44 thematic and 12 country mandate holders, all experts in their fields, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to report and advise on human rights issues around the globe. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “They undertake to uphold independence, efficiency, competence and integrity through probity, impartiality, honesty and good faith.”

In their independent capacities, the UN Special Procedures have recently delivered a number of Joint Letters to the Chinese government in response to Chinese policies including mass, arbitrary detentionprohibitive legislation with the aim of conflating expression with extremism or terrorism, and policies designed to undermine Uyghur culture and language rights.

The independence of these experts is central to the UN’s human rights system, ensuring that impartiality and good faith drive genuine efforts to improve the human rights conditions for countless peoples around the world. The UN must act to ensure that ensuring respect for human rights through the Special Procedures drives the process.