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UN Rights Body should address China’s Sweeping Rights Violations

Human Rights Watch statement: Interactive Dialogue with High Commissioner for Human Rights

Li Zhanshu, National People's Congress Chairman delivers a speech during the second plenary session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 25, 2020.  © 2020 Roman Pilipey/Pool Photo via AP

Thank you, Madam President.

High Commissioner, we share your concerns that Covid-19 has been instrumentalized by states, including China, to “limit people’s rights to speak,” and to threaten and intimidate journalists, bloggers and civic activists, “with the apparent aim of discouraging criticism of the authorities’ responses to Covid-19.”  

We are similarly dismayed that China has seized this moment of global chaos to severely undermine rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. The ink is barely dry on the new legislation, and there are already reports of hundreds of arrests, some for crimes that didn’t even exist a few days ago. As one of our China researchers recently put it: “Hong Kong was that lifeboat from oppression, and now they’ve sunk it.”

When  you suggested, High Commissioner, that China’s national security legislation on Hong Kong comply with international standards, China responded that you had made “improper remarks,” which “grossly interfere” with China’s sovereignty, that Hong Kong “belongs to” China, and that you should “refrain from intervening in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs in any form.”

When an unprecedented 50 Special Procedures last week expressed concerns at China’s mass violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, and targeting of human rights defenders across the country, China again played the sovereignty card to reject legitimate scrutiny.

When  27 states yesterday expressed concern at China’s rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, China falsely claimed that national security is ”not a human rights issue” and should not even be a subject of discussion at the Council – even though Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam had just addressed the Council on the same topic.

A pattern emerges: of a superpower that sees itself as beyond the law, that rejects the international human rights framework in its entirety, that views any form of scrutiny as an unjustified interference in its national sovereignty.

In view of these far-reaching concerns, the Special Procedures called for creation of a UN mechanism on China, such as a Special Rapporteur, Panel of Experts or UN Special Envoy.

High Commissioner, in your view what kind of mechanism would best address these concerns? What plans does your Office have to monitor and document rights violations in China and to keep the Council regularly informed?

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