It all sounds so nice: “universality,” “constructive dialogue,” “win-win cooperation.” China’s unexpected resolution on “Promoting the International Human Rights Cause through Win-Win Cooperation,” being presented this week at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, is chock full of such phrases. China’s government wants the world to believe it is a model citizen when it comes to human rights, but its draft resolution actually betrays the opposite intent.
Focusing only on intergovernmental dialogue and cooperation, rather than actual human rights violations or accountability for those, is obviously a “win” for China, but it’s not clear who the other winner is. Certainly not victims of torture, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances. Certainly not many communities in the developing countries China claims to speak for – communities that deal with damaging, sometimes deadly, impacts of Chinese political and economic influence over their own governments. And certainly not the UN human rights system, which China has assiduously sought to weaken in recent years.
A true example of “win-win” might be releasing those wrongly detained, such as artist Liu Xia, whose sole “crime” was her marriage to late Nobel Peace Prize winner and prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo, or respecting the right of ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans to freely practice their religion. Releasing Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk and Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti would be a true double-win.
As for China’s professed enthusiasm for international cooperation, particularly within the UN, a grand slam could include the following: prompt invitations to outstanding requests from UN special rapporteurs to visit China, ensuring participation by independent civil society groups in China’s forthcoming Universal Periodic Review without reprisal, and providing the UN high commissioner for human rights access to the country. It could also include China’s full and meaningful compliance with forthcoming treaty body reviews and a public commitment to end Chinese obstruction of its critics’ participation at the UN.
China’s draft resolution fails to even acknowledge the Human Rights Council’s mandate to “address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations,” and does not spell out any consequences when countries refuse to cooperate.
As written, China’s resolution is a win only for itself, and, if adopted, a serious loss for any country serious about human rights inside China and around the world.