#VoteNoChina: 70 Uyghur organizations call governments to vote against China’s election to UN human rights body

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For immediate release
October 7, 2020 12:00pm EDT
Contact: Omer Kanat +1 (202) 790-1795, Peter Irwin +1 (646) 906-7722

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), along with 68 Uyghur organizations from 18 countries, call on UN Member States to vote against China’s renewed membership on the Human Rights Council, given its ongoing and systematic human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs.

On October 13th, the UN General Assembly will elect 15 new Council members that will serve for a period of three years starting in January 2021, including four seats in the group of Asia-Pacific States, with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, and Uzbekistan all competing for these seats.

“Appointing China to the Human Rights Council undermines the core values that the United Nations stand for. When electing States to the Council, their human rights records have to be taken into account. China not only undermines the concept of human rights, but also uses its influence in the UN to silence any debate on its horrific human rights record,” stated Dolkun Isa, World Uyghur Congress President.

“It’s difficult to comprehend the perverse logic behind the possibility of electing China—the government currently committing genocide against Uyghurs—to the UN body responsible for overseeing human rights protections around the world,” said Uyghur Human Rights Project Executive Director Omer Kanat.

According to bleak assessments from civil society, the Chinese government has done very little to positively contribute to the work of the Council in recent years. Moreover, the Chinese mission at the UN has taken steps to substantially undermine a well-functioning human rights system, arguing that state sovereignty and non-interference should be central to its mission. China’s recently proposed resolutions undermine the universality and indivisibility of human rights and pose a threat to the effectiveness of UN human rights mechanisms.

These positions are contrary to internationally agreed upon human rights standards, and in clear opposition to standards set out for Council membership. The UN states that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “shall fully cooperate with the Council.”

Likewise, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights states that broad membership “gives the Council legitimacy when speaking out on human rights violations in all countries.”

The Chinese government persistently blocks human rights investigations in its own country and has failed to answer outstanding requests and reminders from at least 17 UN experts or Working Groups for official visits. This includes investigations of cultural rights, assembly, enforced disappearances, expression, privacy, and counter terrorism, among others—some of which date back nearly 20 years.

The Chinese government intimidates victims who try to bring cases to the UN, including human rights activist Cao Shunli, who died after two months in detention after being detained in Beijing attempting to travel to Geneva for a UN training session. No investigation was ever conducted.

The Chinese government has also used its power and influence to exclude or limit the voice of civil society at the UN, putting pressure on UN staff to hide or suppress reports from Uyghur organisations on several occasions.

In 2017 and 2018, WUC President Dolkun Isa was unjustifiably ejected from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as a result of interference by Wu Hongbo, then head of the office responsible for overseeing the Forum. Wu later admitted in an interview that he acted in the interest of the Chinese government and used his power to eject Mr. Isa—a violation of the UN Charter which requires officials to remain neutral in the exercise of their duties.

UN human rights experts have delivered blistering critiques of China’s human rights record in recent years, including letters on mass, arbitrary detention, prohibitive legislation with the aim of conflating expression with extremism or terrorism, policies designed to undermine Uyghur culture and language rights, and on mass surveillance and the illegal collection of Uyghur biometrics.

On Tuesday this week, an unprecedented 39 UN member states at the Third Committee delivered a statement, led by the German delegation, expressing grave concern about the situation in East Turkistan, signaling increased scrutiny of China’s policies towards Uyghurs. The statement followed a joint letter from July 2019 from 25 states at the UN Human Rights Council calling for increased attention to the issue as well as a joint statement in October 2019 at the UN Third Committee.

While we recognise the importance of the Council in its unique ability to bring states together for critical dialogue and exchange, for it to remain a credible body it cannot tolerate members committing genocide.