(New York) - The United States failed to take a principled stance when it decided against tabling a resolution at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights criticizing China’s poor human rights record, Human Rights Watch said today. The U.S. delegation to the annual meeting of the Commission, now underway in Geneva, justified the decision by claiming that China had made some improvements in respecting international human rights standards.
China yesterday released Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent advocate of the rights of China’s Muslim Uighur community in the northwest province of Xinjiang. She was detained there in 1999 while publicly meeting with a member of a U.S. Congressional staff delegation.
“We’re very happy to see Rebiya freed, but China shouldn’t get any political credit for letting her go when they kept her behind bars for so many years,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Letting her go now is yet another instance of China’s ‘revolving door’ policy of releasing a few prominent political prisoners before important international events to head off criticism.”
Last year, to stave off a resolution at the human rights commission, China released a Tibetan nun a year before her 17-year sentence was to end.
Human Rights Watch said that this marks the second time in three years that the U.S. has failed to seek condemnation of China’s human rights record at the U.N. The U.S. put forth a resolution criticizing China last year, but no other states would co-sponsor. China has used a variety of diplomatic and procedural maneuvers to avoid censure at the U.N. Commission. No other country is likely to propose a resolution against China at the Commission this year.
“It is a failure of the entire international community, and particularly the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, when no country has the courage to state the obvious: that the Chinese government is not respecting basic human rights,” Adams said. “To suggest, as the U.S. did, that China has progressed in its respect for human rights so much that it deserves to escape even a discussion at the Commission on Human Rights is inexplicable and unfortunate.”
Human Rights Watch pointed out that the United States’ own annual report on human rights, released less than three weeks ago, had strongly condemned China’s persistent record of human rights abuses.
“Last year more than one-third of all journalists jailed in the world were Chinese. China has executed more people than any country in the world. China prohibits independent trade unions, the government will not hold accountable any of the officials responsible for infecting perhaps more than one million people with HIV in a blood-for-money scheme in the Henan province, and instead targeted activists; the list can go on and on,” Adams said. “If nothing else, Rebiya’s release should remind us of the Chinese government’s ongoing prosecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang.”
Rebiya Kadeer received Human Rights Watch’s highest honor in 2000 for her work in China. On February 21, 2000, the Urumqi City Procuracy had officially accused Ms. Kadeer of "ignoring the law of the country and giving information to separatists outside the borders." The charges referred to her sending copies of publicly available newspapers to her husband, who has political asylum in the U.S.
Kadeer gained prominence for her efforts to further development in Xinjiang and for her 1000 Families Mothers' Project, designed to help Uighur woman develop their own small businesses. The regional government supported her efforts until several of her sons fled the country to join their father in the U.S. In April 1997, Kadeer's passport was confiscated. In September 1997, Wang Lequan, secretary of the regional Communist Party Committee, announced that she could not leave the country because “her husband was engaged in subverting the government and in separatist activities outside the country.”
Human Rights Watch pointed out that despite Rebiya Kadeer’s release the Chinese government continues to accuse Uighurs, who peacefully advocate for greater autonomy and independence for the region, of engaging in international terrorist activities. Beijing denies Uighurs the right to freely associate or to freely practice their religion. Books by Uighur authors are banned; a prominent author and poet are serving long sentences for celebrating Uighur culture and history.