Geneva: On the eve of China’s third cycle of Universal Periodic Review, Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) organized a side event at the United Nations Council titled “Promises Unfulfilled: Human Rights in China-the case of Tibet and Xinjiang.” The side event held at Room XXIV, Palais des Nations, Geneva discussed the situation in Tibet and East Turkestan since the last cycle of China’s UPR in 2013, UN engagement, roles and challenges facing the civil society groups in advocating for human rights in China.
Experts representing the issues of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Civil Society Organizations and UN organizations highlighted the rights abuses under the Chinese regime and suggested best practices forward to ensure China’s accountability at the UN and at the international forums.
The first speaker Sonam Norbu Dagpo, Secretary, Department of Information & International Relations (DIIR) of Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) spoke about the systematic repression of the rights of the Tibetan people. “For Tibetans in Tibet, there is no grievance that can be expressed, no idea, request, or thought that can be revealed that, if it is not to the liking of the Chinese government, will go unpunished,” said Dagpo who further added that the severity of the human rights violations in Tibet and in other regions under the Chinese regime makes it clear that the PRC is failing to uphold its fundamental obligations as the ruling government in Tibet.
The second speaker Peter Irwin representing the World Uyghur Congress pointed to the critical situation in East Turkestan and expressed concerns about the region becoming a police state with stringent monitoring and surveillance mechanisms, criminalization of expressions, and restrictions on travel and issuance of passports. He added that the situation has similar overlaps of the grim situation in Tibet. Peter affirmed that the mass internment camps to detain Uyghurs serve as political indoctrination camps.
The third speaker Hanno Schedler representing Society for Threatened Peoples spoke about the tendency on part of authoritative regimes to keep away civil society. Referring to the current scenario as troubling times with China, setting up a legal architecture to censor information and prosecute human rights defenders and making it impossible to denounce human rights repression, Hanno stressed on the fact that civil society has to ensure they cannot be silenced and ensure there is a decline in the challenges China faces for these abuses.
The fourth speaker Adrian Zoller, President, Geneva for Human Rights, spoke about the challenges facing UN in engaging with China and said that it all starts with breaking the silence and to continue with the fight for truth.
“Silence has to be broken for Tibetans and Uyghurs. In the case of China, the fight is a global fight and not just in Geneva and New York,” said Zoller.
Remembering the case of Cao Shunli, Chinese human rights activists who died in detention, Zoller said Cao’s case demonstrated the extent to which the PRC regime is willing to go in order to prevent the scrutiny of China’s human rights record.
The speakers lamented that international community has failed in checking China and therefore agreed that the UPR is a reasonably strong mechanism and provides a platform to test how far the international community can stand against China. They also expressed anticipation for stronger recommendations from the UN Member States on China.
Referring to the recommendations China received from Member States at the previous two UPR cycles, the panel expressed hope that China will facilitate fact-finding and investigative visits by UN experts to China, Tibet and East Turkestan.
During the interactive session, a spokesperson of alleged civil society groups representing China, made accusation against veracity of information and truth presented by Tibetan and Uyghur advocacy groups in highlighting the grim situation in Tibet and East Turkestan. Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China responded to the accusations. While welcoming the questions about objectivity and expertise of the journalist proving the information Sharon pointed to the stringent news regulations in China and the practice of allowing information and report officially vetted by Xinhua to penetrate public knowledge. Sharon further added, “It is in everyone’s interest to see that China is a free and open society.” “Let’s open China and work for openness.”
The session was moderated by Dhardon Sharling, Secretary, DIIR, CTA. In her concluding remarks, Dhardon elucidated on the crucial role of the UN in holding governments like China to their international human rights obligations and in protecting human rights. “We must ensure that there is enough deliberations on China in the Human Rights Council sessions and constant review of Chinese state’s compliance with human rights treaties,” said Dhardon.
Adding to the discussion on Chinese strategies to create powerful narratives which aim to dominate the discourse on critical policies adopted by the Chinese government, Dhardon stressed on the need for concerned governments to push back on those narratives and deconstruct China’s “weaponization of terms and concepts in the Chinese narratives.”