World’s Worst Human Rights Abuser China Wins Seat on U.N. Human Rights Council

Pro-democracy protesters take turns to speak as they stand behind a huge banner in Hong Kong on May 31, 2015, before a rally to commemorate the 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, prior to the incident's 26th anniversary on June 4.
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty

The Communist Party of China won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council Tuesday, a development widely decried as a global outrage given Beijing’s ongoing ethnic cleansing campaigns; widespread torture, disappearing, and killing of dissidents; and attempts to expand its repression beyond its borders.

China is currently believed to be the home of the world’s largest concentration camps, housing between 1 and 3 million people in western Xinjiang province. Most of those imprisoned are ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. Survivors say they experienced indoctrination, torture, slavery, and other abuses. China claims the concentration camps are “vocational training centers.”

Outside of Xinjiang, reports indicate China has begun building similar camps for ethnic Tibetans, housing 500,000 people and counting. Beijing also regularly disappears political dissidents and those participating in “dangerous” activities like Christian prayer and Falun Gong. Multiple global investigations have concluded that the Communist Party removes organs from the bodies of some live political prisoners and sells them on the black market.

Internationally, the Communist Party has intensified its efforts to censor foreign citizens. Perhaps the most high-profile case of this occurred with America’s National Basketball Association (NBA), which estimated it lost “hundreds of millions” of dollars after a team official expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Most experts predicted that China would win its campaign to be on the Council. The U.N. divides the council by regions; China was competing in the Asia-Pacific region against four other candidates for four open seats. Elected alongside China for a two-year term in the region were Pakistan, Nepal, and Uzbekistan; Saudi Arabia failed in its bid to get on the Council.

In addition to those rogue states, the United Nations elected Russia and Cuba in other regions. Eritrea and Venezuela, two other leftist rogue states, will continue their ongoing terms in the agency.

China will begin its fifth term on the Human Rights Council in 2021.

The Chinese mission to the United Nations thanked the agency for allowing it to join the council despite its increasingly grim record of human rights atrocities.

“China expresses heartfelt gratitude to member states for their support and warmly congratulates other elected members,” the mission’s official statement read. “China always attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights. Following a path with Chinese characteristics, China has made great achievements in human rights development.”

The Global Times, China’s most belligerent state-run propaganda newspaper, used the occasion on Tuesday to condemn human rights activists publicly noting the unfortunate nature of giving a regime with China’s poor record authority over global human rights issues.

“In recent years, Western media, politicians, think tanks and NGOs have never given up on attacking China by hyping its policies in Xinjiang and Tibet regions,” the outlet complained. “They are using the UN election to sensationalize things and pressure China, Jia Chunyang, an expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.”

An anonymous “expert” told the Global Times later in the piece that China would actively use its position on the council to prevent it from act against human rights violations:  “We are also working to block some Western countries from using human rights as political tools to interfere with other countries’ domestic affairs or using U.N. meetings to attack others.”

Human rights activists and free states lamented the return of China to the Council.

The administration of President Donald Trump, which withdrew from the Council in 2018, used the opportunity to clarify exactly why it did.

“In 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council due to its well-established pattern of anti-Israel bias and membership rules that allow the election of the world’s worst human rights abusers to seats on the Council,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Tuesday. This year’s elections, he argued, “further validate the U.S. decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights.”

“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 one million Uyghurs into camps, arrested, crushed and disappeared those who tried to sound the alarm about the coronavirus, and suffocated freedom in Hong Kong,” Hillel Neuer, the executive director of the NGO U.N. Watch, said following the vote. U.N. Watch is dedicated to monitoring the various nefarious activities of the global governance agency.

“By voting for China, the U.N. General Assembly is only empowering China to continue its brutal campaign of colonization and genocide in Occupied East Turkistan,” Salih Hudayar, the Prime Minister of the East Turkistan Government in Exile, said in a statement on Tuesday. East Turkestan is the preferred Uyghur name for Xinjiang and the name used by the Uyghur government attempting to establish itself there independent of the Communist Party.

“There is no doubt that what China is doing in East Turkistan is a genocide. Millions of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic peoples are locked up in concentration camps, undergoing forcible sterilization, and are being used as slaves in the 21st century,” Hudayar added. “China and its Communist Party are eradicating the culture, language, and very existence of East Turkistan and its people in a systematic campaign.”

“Governments committing genocide shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Human Rights Council,” the executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, Omer Kanat, denounced. “It’s clear from the vote, however, that China has been losing the confidence of the international community over time.”

Penny Starr

Kanat’s reference to the vote highlights a fact that some human rights activists have identified as a silver lining. As the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, noted, “The last time China ran for the U.N. Human Rights Council, it received more votes than any other nation. This time, it received the fewest of those elected.”

Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director, called the election “incredibly embarrassing” for China in remarks to Radio Free Asia (RFA).

“It’s an incredibly embarrassing loss for China — it got 11 fewer votes than Nepal and it came in fourth out of five for that regional group, doing better only than Saudi Arabia. That’s a pretty bad standard,” Richardson noted, adding, “I want to be very clear that Human Rights Watch called for China not to be elected to the council. But seeing this drop in support is significant and I think it tells us a lot about what we can try to accomplish at the Human Rights Council, even though China is a member again.”

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