Uyghurs Launch Campaign to Keep China Off of U.N. Human Rights Council

Uighurs living in Turkey stage a demonstration to commemorate the anniversary of the deadly ethnic unrests of 1997 in Gulja, China's far-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in Ankara on February 5, 2020. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)
ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images

A coalition of 70 Uyghur organizations called on the United Nations on Wednesday not to vote in favor of China’s membership to the U.N. Human Rights Council, given its extensive record of human rights atrocities in general and its maintenance of over 1,000 concentration camps for Uyghur people in particular.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has submitted its intention to run in the 2020 Human Rights Council elections, scheduled to take place on Tuesday. Beijing has held a position on the Council four times and is competing with other human rights violators for the seat. The Council is divided into five regions, so China only has to compete with other states in the Asia-Pacific region for the post. Five countries are competing for four open seats: China, Nepal, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan.

Human Rights Council terms last three years. If elected, China will join some of the world’s most repressive states on the Council, including Libya, Eritrea, and Venezuela. Cuba and Russia are competing to return to the council in their respective regions, where there are as many candidates as seats open, so they are expected to join. Experts believe China will manage to win one of the four open seats in its region.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Human Rights Council in 2018 citing its status as a safe haven for rogue regimes.

In 2017, when China was last on the Council, it leveraged its power to silence legitimate NGOs and human rights activists. As Human Rights Watch detailed that year, at China’s behest, the U.N. expelled the head of the World Uyghur Congress from its headquarters in the U.N. that year while he was “attending a forum on indigenous issues … No explanation was provided.”

China had successfully pressured Interpol to issue a “red alert” — a notice urging members to arrest a person — for Isa at the time. In 2018, the president of Interpol, former Chinese official Meng Hongwei, canceled the red alert. Chinese authorities abducted him a year later and sentenced him to 13 years in prison on dubious corruption charges.

Prior to that, Human Rights Watch noted, China disappeared a dissident for urging Beijing to listen to the general public regarding the United Nations “Universal Periodic Review” of its human rights status.

“After [activist] Cao [Shunli] became gravely ill in detention and died, the Chinese delegation in Geneva in March 2014 blocked a moment of silence called for by NGOs at the Council,” Human Rights Watch noted.

“China not only undermines the concept of human rights, but also uses its influence in the UN to silence any debate on its horrific human rights record,’’ Isa said in a statement announcing the campaign to keep China off of the Human Rights Council. The World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur Human Rights Project are leading the charge along with 68 other Uyghur groups.

Omer Kanat, the executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, described giving power over human rights law to China as “perverse” given that regime’s behavior.

“It’s difficult to comprehend the perverse logic behind the possibility of electing China — the government currently committing genocide against Uyghurs — to the UN body responsible for overseeing human rights protections around the world,” Kanat said in a statement.

In a joint statement from the groups involved published by the World Uyghur Congress, they accuse Beijing of taking “steps to substantially undermine a well-functioning human rights system, arguing that state sovereignty and non-interference should be central to its mission.”

“China’s recently proposed resolutions undermine the universality and indivisibility of human rights and pose a threat to the effectiveness of UN human rights mechanisms,” the statement read, referring to the expulsion of Isa from the United Nations and the abuses that led to Cao’s death.

The Uyghur organizations join a growing list of human rights NGOs and other agencies urging the world not to allow China on its international panel to protect human rights. United Nations Watch, an NGO dedicated to monitoring the policies of the world government agency, published a report this week in conjunction with several other human rights groups opposing not just China’s bid for a council seat, but Cuba’s, Russia’s, Saudi Arabia’s, Pakistan’s, and Uzbekistan’s, all rogue states.

“Electing these dictatorships as U.N. judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade,” the executive director of United Nations Watch, Hillel Neuer, said in announcing the publication of the report. “It’s logically absurd and morally obscene that the U.N. is about to elect to its top human rights body a regime that herded 1 million Uyghurs into camps, arrested, crushed and disappeared those who tried to sound the alarm about the coronavirus, and suffocated freedom in Hong Kong.”

China is currently believed to be interning between 1 and 3 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minority people in concentration camps in Xinjiang, its westernmost province. There, witnesses say prisoners are forced into slavery and subject to communist indoctrination, torture, rape, and monitored for organ harvesting.

While not on the Human Rights Council, China used its General Assembly position this week to force the U.N. to issue a statement in support of its concentration camps. Cuba presented a joint statement representing 45 China allies in support of the concentration camps, claiming “people of all ethnic groups enjoy their happy lives in a peaceful and stable environment” thanks to them.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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