China in the UN Human Rights Council manages to silence Cao Shunli as well as NGOs

March 20, 2014

Cao Shunli, the Chinese activist who died in custody.
(Cao Shunli, the Chinese activist who died in custody (c) Photograph: Reuters)

For those with an interest in how the UN Council deals with criticism – in this case of China – should follow the debate on the UN webcast (or see the video on demand later)  []. What happened in short is that during the debate on the adoption of China’s UPR report on 20 March, the International Service of Human Rights (ISHR) called for a few moments of silence to remember Cao Shunli, the human rights defender who recently died in detention (see references below). China then invoked a point of order saying that speakers should make general statements and that did not include asking for silence. During a long procedural debate many views were expressed – mostly supportive of China – but some others clearly stating that freedom of speech included the right not to speak. The interpretation of the rules of procedure then seemed to lead to the conclusion that the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) should not be ‘politicized”….and that from the eminently political entities called Governments! Sensing that a majority would support it, China insisted on a ruling by the Chairman that this kind of intervention needs to be ruled out for the future. The big majority of States, fearing a ‘precedent-setting’, rejected even the compromise proposal by the Chair to discuss the issue further in the Bureau (at a later time) with a vote of 20 against 13 (and 12 abstentions). The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the second NGO to get the floor, then continued the request for a minute of silence for Cao Shunli. This was of course again interrupted. So, the Council ended up supporting China’s tough stance, in spite of several other NGOs and a few countries coming out with strong support for the moment of silence.

When the FIDH then let one its member organisations (including the Campaign Against Tibet) speak on its behalf, the Chinese delegation (perhaps emboldened by its earlier success) decided to interrupt again asking that the FIDH only identifies itself and not its members. This led to another procedural debate on whether NGOs with consultative status are allowed to mention other NGOs that have no such status (a standing practice I should add, which was established far back in the 80s when Argentina tried – in vain – to stop the ICJ from letting an Argentinian lawyer, Emilio Mignone, to speak about the disappearance of his own daughter).

Perhaps there will be further debate on these procedural aspects, but it is unlikely that the UPR comes out of this as a serious innovation in dealing with human rights violations.

The Guardian of 19 March 2014 reported that several countries have accused China of using arrests and harassment to silence human rights activists, also voicing consternation at the death in custody of a prominent dissident. During a catch-all agenda itemd at the UN Human Rights Council, China’s delegation responded that Cao Shunli had died in hospital last week of tuberculosis and that the Chinese people enjoyed the right to freedom of expression. China tried unsuccessfully to stop a speech by Ti-Anna Wang, daughter of Wang Bingzhang, a physician serving a life sentence for his role in overseas Chinese democracy movements. Greece, speaking on behalf of the EU, said it was deeply shocked by Cao’s death after her detention for “supporting the participation of independent civil society”. China’s foreign ministry denied on Monday that Cao Shunli died because she was refused medical treatment while in detention. Cao staged a two-month sit-in along with other activists outside the foreign ministry starting in June to press for the public to contribute to a national human rights report. [China attacked over human rights at UN forum in Geneva | World news |].

On 18 March 2014 a group of independent United Nations experts urged Chinese authorities to promptly investigate the circumstances leading to the death of prominent human rights lawyer Cao Sun Ly Shunli, who died in the hospital on 14 March. According to a news release issued by the experts, Ms. Cao had tirelessly campaigned since 2008 for transparency and greater participation of civil society in the periodic review of China’s human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council. On 14 September 2013, Ms. Cao was prevented by Chinese authorities from boarding a flight from Beijing to Geneva where she was to participate in a human rights seminar and observe China’s review by the Council.Her whereabouts were unknown until she was charged with the crime of provocation, noted the experts, who are tasked by the Council with reporting on various human rights issues. Her health deteriorated while she was in detention and she was transferred to hospital in a critical condition on 19 February 2014. “Ms. Cao’s enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, failing health and the fact that she was denied medical care were brought to the attention of the UN experts who transmitted urgent appeals to China,” stated the experts, who urged the Chinese authorities to promptly investigate the circumstances leading to her death.“The death of Ms. Cao is a tragic example of the results of criminalization of the activities of human defenders in China and reprisals against them. It is unacceptable that civil society activists pay the ultimate price for peaceful and legitimate interaction with the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms,” the experts said. Expressing their concern about Ms. Cao’s death are the Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; on the right to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; on the situation of human rights defenders; and on the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and the Working Groups on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and on Arbitrary Detention.

via United Nations News Centre – UN experts call on Chinese authorities to probe death of prominent human rights lawyer.

8 Responses to “China in the UN Human Rights Council manages to silence Cao Shunli as well as NGOs”

  1. […] China in the UN Human Rights Council manages to silence Cao Shunli as well as NGOs […]

  2. […] China in the UN Human Rights Council manages to silence Cao Shunli as well as NGOs […]

  3. […] background in:… […]

  4. […] The example is given of Russia where the prosecution of ADC Memorial relied on the fact that, in 2012, the organisation submitted a report on police brutality against Roma and other minorities in Russia to the UN Committee against Torture [Russia: Reprisals against NGOs breach international law and obligations as Human Rights Council member | ISHR.] or one could think of China and Sri Lanka where authorities have systematically intimidated and detained human rights defenders who wanted to cooperate with the UN. […] […]

  5. […] China’s elaborate efforts to silence the ‘one minute silence’ for Cao Shunli […] and the worryingly broad support it got for its procedural wrangling. Thus it would be crucial […]

  6. […] Yep, that it the solution! Nobody criticizes anybody and we are all happy. The more obvious and consistent solution does not even get mentioned: IF the USA can be criticized, WHY is China so fearful and retaliates regularly against human rights defenders? [e.g.…]. […]

  7. […] criminalisation of the activities of human rights defenders in China and reprisals against them. […] There has been a significant backsliding on human rights in China in recent months [too many […]

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