U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, April 8, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

United Nations member countries should press China about mass detention in Xinjiang and other serious rights violations at the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said today. The “interactive dialogue” portion of China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), during which countries make human rights recommendations, will be on November 6, 2018 in Geneva.

The countries should urge China to close the “political education” centers across Xinjiang, where the authorities are arbitrarily detaining an estimated one million Turkic Muslims because Beijing views their distinct identity as evidence of political disloyalty. The other countries should support the call of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for greater UN access to Xinjiang, and for an independent fact-finding mission to the region.

“All UN member states have an equal opportunity to press China on its egregious human rights record, and they shouldn’t waste it,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “If countries join together to raise key rights concerns, Beijing will need to be responsive if it’s going to have any credibility at the UN’s top rights body.”

This will be China’s third review under the Universal Periodic Review, a review which occurs every five years of each UN member country’s human rights record. While China has participated in the process, it has in all three reviews deliberately excluded broad public consultation in preparing its national report, presented disingenuous information during the dialogue with other countries, and sought to limit the scope of the review.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch detailed China’s efforts to undermine not only the UPR but also other key UN human rights mechanisms, including limiting treaty body reviews and access to China by UN experts, and persecuting independent groups and activists critical of Beijing who seek to engage with the UN.

The Human Rights Watch submission for China’s 2018 review focuses on issues including the deaths in detention of human rights defenders, among them Cao Shunli, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Liu Xiaobo, Yang Tongyan, and Muhammed Salih Hajim. Human Rights Watch also urged countries to ask China about arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, mass surveillance, forced conversion therapy, and declining political rights in Hong Kong.

President Xi Jinping’s campaign against human rights defenders has undermined China’s UPR, Human Rights Watch said. In September 2013, Chinese authorities detained Cao Shunli, an activist, while she was boarding a flight to Geneva. After being held for several months without charge, Cao became gravely ill and died in March 2014. The authorities released her days before her death, seeking to avoid being held responsible. When independent organizations attempted to hold a moment of silence in her memory days later at the Human Rights Council, during the adoption of China’s 2013 UPR outcome report, China quashed the gesture through a procedural move. This incident and the broader crackdown on rights defenders have meant far fewer independent voices from China have submitted reports or tried to travel to Geneva for the UPR.

“Chinese activists have been imprisoned, tortured, and fatally mistreated for the chance to challenge Beijing over its human rights record,” Fisher said. “Governments that don’t seize this opportunity to speak out embolden China, weaken the UN, and demoralize activists struggling across the world to hold Beijing accountable.”