Skip to main content

UN Human Rights Council should bring increased attention to grave rights violations by members China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt

Human Rights Watch Oral Intervention under Item 4: General Debate

At the recent June session of the Human Rights Council, 25 states sent a joint letter to the President of the Human Rights Council and to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressing deep concern at widespread rights violations against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. An alternative letter was also submitted in which China’s approach in Xinjiang was endorsed by states that included North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Myanmar – themselves long responsible for gross rights violations.

An alternative letter was also submitted in which China’s approach in Xinjiang was endorsed by gross violators including North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Myanmar. China’s narrative hinges upon a gross stereotyping of Uyghurs and other Muslims as “terrorists needing re-education”. We are encouraged that half of the OIC states declined to endorse this offensive narrative.

Council action is all the more urgent in view of emerging reports of China’s forced separation of Muslim children from their parents, placed in ostensible education institutions equipped with barbed wire and surveillance cameras more akin to detention centers than schools, and required to sing and dance to Chinese propagandistic songs.

One Uyghur man has been unable to contact his son, now 4, and daughter, 3, since authorities detained his wife in August 2016. In January, he spotted his son in a video posted online that showed him in a school answering questions in Chinese. “I miss my children, my wife,” he told Human Rights Watch. “I want them back very much. I fear if I ever meet my children again in my lifetime, they wouldn’t know who I am, and they would’ve been assimilated as Chinese and think that I’m their enemy.”

We urge delegations, particularly from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, to speak out against mass violations directed at Muslims in Xinjiang, and to support the High Commissioner’s call for unfettered access to conduct an independent assessment so that the Human Rights Council can be kept informed of the situation.

The joint statement on systemic rights violations in Saudi Arabia delivered by 36 states at the Council’s March session was followed in June by the report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions on the brutal and brazen murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We share the Special Rapporteur’s analysis that “the operation against Mr. Khashoggi has to be understood in relation to [an] organized and coordinated crack-down [against activists and journalists], one that included repeated unlawful acts of torture and physical harm”.

This is the session to follow up on the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations. Saudi women still face myriad human rights violations. The Saudi government is continuing the trials of Saudi women activists facing charges tied to their peaceful human rights advocacy, and has not taken steps to provide meaningful accountability for the Khashoggi murder.

The charade should no longer go on that the Saudi authorities can announce reforms on the one hand and on the other imprison those who fought for them. We urge states at this session of the Council to maintain scrutiny of Saudi Arabia through a joint statement or resolution with a view to putting in place a monitoring mechanism into the rights situation in the country.

Mr. President, meaningful attention by the Council to the rights crackdown in Egypt is long overdue. Draconian restrictions on civil society, misuse of counterterrorism laws, and use of torture continue unabated. At this session alone, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances noted the “very high number” of allegations of disappearances concerning Egypt, the Working Group on arbitrary detention similarly documented numerous arbitrary detentions, and Egypt features prominently in both the communications report of Special Procedures and the Secretary General’s report on reprisals.

What these countries - China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt - have in common is that they are all HRC members whose grave and continuing violations demand increased attention by this Council.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.