80+ Human Rights Groups Urge General Assembly to Deny China a Seat at UN’s Top Human Rights Body
Joint Statement Opposing China’s Candidacy to the Human Rights Council
October 10, 2023
We, the undersigned human rights organizations, write to firmly oppose the candidacy of the People’s Republic of China for re-election to the UN Human Rights Council, and urge Member States at the General Assembly not to vote for China and to leave an empty seat. China is demonstrably unfit to hold a seat on the UN’s top body responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.
On October 10, the UN General Assembly will elect 15 new Council members that will serve for a period of three years starting in January 2024, including four seats in the group of Asia-Pacific States. China is competing on a “closed slate” for these seats along with Kuwait, Indonesia, and Japan, meaning they are running effectively unopposed.
UN Member States voting for Human Rights Council candidates are urged, under General Assembly Resolution 60/251, to “take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Furthermore, candidates commit themselves to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” and to fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms. China has utterly failed to meet these expectations for candidates, and has actively sought to undermine the promotion and protection of universal human rights around the world.
The Chinese government has used its power and influence to attempt to silence the voice of civil society at the UN. The UN Secretary-General has recognized China as engaging in “patterns of intimidation and reprisals” against human rights defenders and remains one of the top perpetrators of reprisals globally.
Despite indicating its willingness to “cooperate” with UN mechanisms and special procedures mandate-holders, China has allowed access to only one UN expert since 2018. Multiple, repeated requests for country visits by at least 15 human rights experts stretching back two decades have gone ignored. China has consistently dismissed all concerns about human rights violations raised at the Human Rights Council or by UN Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies, and attacked Special Procedures mandate-holders in public statements.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights was granted limited access in May 2022, where she said was “accompanied by government officials” and not able to speak with Uyghurs detained or their families. China concurrently sought to halt the publication of an OHCHR report on serious human rights violations in the Uyghur region, and said that it would not cooperate with OHCHR following its release.
Over 40 UN experts have also called for “decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms” in China and called on the Human Rights Council “to act with a sense of urgency” to address human rights violations. Experts have also urged the Human Rights Council to establish a special session or create “an impartial and independent United Nations mechanism” to monitor, analyze, and report annually on the human rights situation in China.
The Chinese government has also cracked down on human rights defenders and rights lawyers with increasing severity. Most independent civil society groups have been disbanded and their members jailed, tortured, or forced to continue their work underground or forced into exile. Even so, they face harassment, surveillance, and detention for attempting to continue to defend the rights of those left behind or repressed by the Chinese system. UN experts and treaty bodies have repeatedly raised grave concerns about the repression of human rights defenders. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that it has made more than 100 arbitrary detention findings in China and that such systematic violation of international law may itself constitute crimes against humanity.
In East Turkistan, the Chinese government has subjected Uyghurs and other Turkic groups to widespread, systematic persecution on the basis of their ethnic identity. In August 2022, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released an assessment documenting widespread human rights abuses in the Uyghur region, and found that these abuses may amount to crimes against humanity. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in an Opinion from November 2022, reminded China of its “responsibility to cooperate to bring to an end … serious violations of the peremptory norm of the prohibition of racial discrimination,” and referred the issue to the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect. Numerous UN experts and Treaty Bodies have similarly raised serious concerns about arbitrary detention, forced labour, cultural and language rights, and sexual and gender-based violence.
Over the past 12 months, multiple UN human rights bodies have raised alarm at the escalation of human rights abuses in Tibet, including the residential school system that has seen at least one million Tibetan children separated from their families and communities; an extensive labour transfer programme and a massive involuntary relocation policy; the imprisonment of Tibetan environmental defenders; the systematic suppression of religious freedom; and the sidelining of Tibetan language education. Tibetans continue to be subject to omnipresent surveillance, enforced disappearances, torture and death in custody and UN experts have warned of a “worrying pattern of arbitrary and incommunicado detentions [against Tibetans].” In early 2023, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women called on China to immediately abolish the coercive residential school system in Tibet.
In Hong Kong, the promulgation of the National Security Law (NSL) by the Central Government in 2020 dismantled the civil society and people’s fundamental rights and freedom, targeting academics, media outlets, and civil society organisations and affecting millions of Hong Kongers in the city. UN experts have expressed concerns about arrests and detentions under the NSL, including those involving Chow Hang-Tung and Jimmy Lai. The UN Human Rights Committee has urged the government to repeal the NSL. Yet, the Chinese and Hong Kong governments have shown no sign of ceasing its crackdown on Hong Kong people with the recent issuance of bounties on eight exiled activists in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia and harassing their families in Hong Kong.
No country has a perfect rights record, and membership in the Human Rights Council can play a constructive role in improving human rights conditions in every country. The Chinese government, however, has consistently demonstrated a clear unwillingness to engage in good faith with the UN human rights system, and has taken steps to actively undermine internationally recognized human rights norms.
Of all 2020 Human Rights Council election candidates, China received the fewest number of votes, and lost a significant number of votes since its previous bid. Any increase in support would send the wrong message from the international community.
We therefore urge UN Member States at the General Assembly not to vote for China and to leave an empty seat.
- Alberta Uyghur Association
- Anti-Slavery International
- Article 19
- Association France-Tibet
- Australia Tibet Council
- Australian Uyghur Association
- Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association
- Austria Uyghur Association
- Bay Area Friends of Tibet
- Belgium Uyghur Association
- Bonham Tree Aid
- Britons in Hong Kong
- Campaign For Uyghurs
- Center for Uyghur Studies
- Chicago Solidarity with Hong Kong
- China Against the Death Penalty
- China Aid Association
- Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)
- Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation
- Czech Support Tibet
- Democracy for Hong Kong (D4HK)
- Dutch Uyghur Human Rights Foundation
- East Turkistan Association of Canada
- East Turkistan Foundation
- East Turkistan Science and Enlightenment Foundation
- European East Turkistan Association
- Filipino American Human Rights Alliance
- Freiheit für Hongkong e.V.
- German Cultural and Education Union
- Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities
- Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
- Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete-Portugal
- Hong Kong Committee in Norway
- Hong Kong Democracy Council
- Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles
- Hong Kong Watch
- Hong Kongers in San Francisco Bay Area
- Hongkongers in Britain
- Human Rights Action Group
- Humanitarian China
- Ilham Tohti Initiative
- Institute For China’s Democratic Transition
- International Campaign for Tibet
- International Society for Human Rights, Munich chapter
- International Tibet Network
- International Uyghur Pen
- Isa Yusuf Alptekin Foundation
- Italia Tibet Associazione
- Japan Hong Kong Democracy Alliance
- Japan Uyghur Association
- Justice 4 Uyghurs
- Lady Liberty HK
- NGO DEI
- National Democratic Party of Tibet
- New Yorkers Supporting Hong Kong
- Norwegian Uyghur Committee
- René Cassin, the Jewish Voice for Human Rights
- Santa Barbara Friends of Tibet
- Stop Uyghur Genocide Australia
- Stop Uyghur Genocide UK
- Swedish Tibet Committee
- Swedish Uyghur Union
- The Norwegian Tibet Committee
- The Norwegian Uyghur Committee
- Tibet Initiative Deutschland
- Tibet Justice Center
- Tibet Solidarity
- Tibetan National Congress
- Torontonian HongKongers Action Group
- UK Uyghur Community
- US Tibet Committee
- Uyghur Academy
- Uyghur Academy Foundation
- Uyghur American Association
- Uyghur American Association
- Uyghur Association Switzerland
- Uyghur Association of Victoria
- Uyghur Center for Human Rights and Democracy
- Uyghur Human Rights Project
- Uyghur Project Foundation
- Uyghur Projects Foundation
- Uyghur Refugee Relief Fund
- Uyghur Research Institute
- Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project
- Uyghur Youth Union in Kazakhstan
- Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
- Washingtonians Supporting Hong Kong
- We The Hongkongers
- Western Australian Association for Pan-Asian Democracy
- World Uyghur Congress
- World Uyghur Congress Foundation