Posts Tagged ‘China’

How China extracts televised “confessions” from human rights defenders

April 12, 2018

Safeguard Defenders says these confessions violate both domestic and international law as they are often filmed before detainees have been allowed their right to a fair trial. In some cases, the confessions were extracted before formal arrest. “They deprive the suspect of due process; infringing on the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, the right to remain silent, the right not to self-incriminate and the right to be protected against giving a forced confession and torture.

Many foreign nationals have been included in these confessions, which are aired on Chinese state television and, in some cases, by Hong Kong media. The monitoring group believes they are regularly used as “tools of propaganda” for both domestic audiences and as part of China’s foreign policy.

The report found that 60 percent of the confessions are from detainees who either worked in media – such as journalists, bloggers and publishers – or were human rights defenders, such as lawyers, NGO workers and activists. They are people whom the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) typically perceives as its enemies or critics and are usually charged with national security crimes or social order violations. The study also found that Chinese police regularly took charge of the so-called confessions. Routinely dictating and directing what the detainee should say and do, right down to the outfit they were to wear.

The interviewees described how the police took charge of the confession from dressing them in ‘costume;’ writing the confession ‘script’ and forcing the detainee to memorise it; giving directions on how to ‘deliver’ their lines – including in one case, being told to weep; to ordering retake after retake when not satisfied with the result,” the report said.

As a result of their research, Safeguard Defenders has called on the Chinese authorities to immediately stop the use of televised confessions and ensure all detainees receive the legal protections enshrined in domestic and international law. The group also called on foreign governments to stress to Beijing that there will be “consequences for ongoing violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.”

State news channel CCTV was identified as the primary broadcaster for televised confessions. Sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, should be imposed on key executives of the media network, the group recommends. The network, along with others responsible for airing such confessions, should also be registered as foreign agents in other countries. According to the report, “media organizations that film, collaborate with police in the staged and scripted process, and broadcast these confessions… are as culpable as the Chinese state in committing this deceptive, illegal and human rights violating practice.”

https://qz.com/1249842/swedish-human-rights-activist-peter-dahlins-first-hand-account-of-how-china-extracts-confessions-for-tv/

https://www.standardrepublic.com/world/world-news-chinese-language-state-tv-which-operates-in-uk-and-us-produces-chilling-compelled-confession-movies-for-brutal-regime/

https://asiancorrespondent.com/2018/04/threats-torture-fear-rights-group-calls-for-end-to-chinas-televised-confessions/#crKm6uQdL4vf7sJS.97

The assault on human rights in the UN is starting to hurt

April 1, 2018

Success in passing the “win-win resolution” in the UN Human Rights Council [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/26/chinas-win-win-resolution-gets-the-votes-in-the-un-council/], is just the visible part of a larger and more ominous assault on the human rights system as it has been built up (however incomplete and painstaking) over the last decades. Julian Borger in the Guardian of 27 March 2018 (“China and Russia accused of waging ‘war on human rights’ at UN”) describes how the two countries lobbied to cut funding for human rights monitors and for a senior post dedicated to human rights work. This all seems to fit very well with the trend started in 2016 and which I tried to describe in early 2017 in a series of posts, of which the last one was: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement/.

The funding of the office of the high commissioner for human rights in Geneva has also been cut. The current high commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, has announced that he will be stepping down this year and not seeking another term in the post, explaining to his staff that the lack of global support for protecting human rights made his job untenable. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/]

Last week, Zeid was due to address the UN security council on plight of civilians in Syria but before he began, Russia called a procedural vote to stop him speaking on the grounds that the council was not the proper forum for discussing human rights. “The fifth committee has become a battleground for human rights,” Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch, was quoted in the Guardian. “Russia and China and others have launched a war on things that have human rights in their name.”

China has real political momentum at the UN now,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said. “It is now the second biggest contributor the UN budget after the US, and is increasingly confident in its efforts to roll back UN human rights activities. It is also pushing its own agenda – with an emphasis on ‘harmony’ rather than individual rights in UN forums. And a lot of countries like what they hear.”

A western diplomat at the UN conceded that human rights were losing ground at the UN, in part because China had become a more assertive voice, prepared to lead lobbying campaigns, and because Beijing is increasingly leveraging its vast and growing investments in the developing world to win votes for its agenda at the UN.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/27/china-and-russia-accused-of-waging-war-on-human-rights-at-un

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/03/a-new-low-for-the-un-security-council-as-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-the-table/

China’s ‘win-win’ resolution gets the votes in the UN Council

March 26, 2018

Frédéric Burnand for Swissinfo reported on 26 March 2018 that the UN Human Rights Council in the end adopted the Chinese draft resolution that I referred to earlier: [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/07/china-and-the-un-human-rights-council-really-win-win/].

Conseil des droits de l'homme
Diplomats gathered on Friday to vote on resolutions presented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (swissinfo.ch)

The Chinese resolution calling for “mutually beneficial cooperation” on human rights issues was adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, but human rights defenders and several countries say it actually weakens human rights principles.

The Chinese resolution is the first stage of a major step backwards,” Geneva-based human rights specialist Adrien Claude Zoller told swissinfo.ch, calling it “THE major event” of the Human Rights Council’s 37th sessionexternal link.

At first glance, Beijing’s resolution at the Human Rights Council – only its second-ever in nearly a dozen years ! – seems relatively innocent. The text, full of diplomatic language such as “universality” and “international constructive dialogue”, was adopted on Friday evening by 28 votes to one, with 17 abstentions.

But it nonetheless upset many diplomats and human rights campaigners in Geneva. Australia, Britain, Japan, and Switzerland were among those abstaining, though many envoys spoke out against the text.  Ahead of Friday’s vote, Switzerland said the resolution contained “vague and ambiguous language that weakens fundamental human rights principles”. [see also in this context: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/22/unfortunately-europe-is-not-stepping-up-its-human-rights-policy-in-us-absence/]

While welcoming “constructive international cooperation as a means of promoting and protecting human rights”, Switzerland’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Valentin Zellweger, stressed that human rights-related mandates need to be able to act quickly and work efficiently to prevent crises. Civil society, he added, must be able to play a crucial role in protecting against and addressing violations.

Zoller said the resolution recalled certain language and concepts heard during the Cold War when the Soviet Union also invoked the idea of “mutually beneficial cooperation”. “The procedure put in place by the Chinese resolution involves putting an extra layer around the system of special procedures [such as independent investigations] and increasing pressure on them,” Zoller declared.  It amounts, he said, to an attempt to “kill the messenger” and complicate the work of the special rapporteurs who carry it.   “It attempts to do this by ignoring the monitoring bodies of human rights conventions [and returning] to the principle of non-interference.”

John Fisher, the Geneva-based director of Human Rights Watch, also criticised China’s strategy. His organisation last year issued a reportexternal link warning of Chinese interference in UN human rights mechanisms.

The United States cast the only “no” vote on the resolution, co-sponsored by states including Pakistan and Egypt. US diplomat Jason Mack said China was using its resolution to try to weaken the UN human rights system and norms.  “The ‘feel-good’ language about mutually beneficial cooperation is intended to benefit autocratic states at the expense of people whose human rights and fundamental freedoms we are all obligated as states to respect,” he said.

He added that Chinese spokespeople had clearly been trying to “glorify their head of state by inserting his thoughts into the international human rights lexicon”.

On Monday, China accused the Americans of arrogance for rejecting the Chinese resolution. “I think the comments by this US official in Geneva…were extremely unreasonable, and also reflect the consistent ignorance and haughtiness of the US side,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Many countries expressed at the meeting that the Chinese resolution reflected the common wishes of the international community and helped raise the ability of developing nations to speak for themselves on human rights issues, Hua added.

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/un-human-rights-council-_china-s–win-win–rights-initiative-makes-waves-in-geneva/44000588?&ns_mchannel=rss&srg_evsource=gn

Unfortunately Europe is not stepping up its human rights policy in US absence

March 22, 2018

There is no doubt that Europe is doing more than other regions to support individual human rights defenders and their organisations. The statement issued on 27 February 2018 to mark World NGO Day by EU High Representative Fedrica Mogherini says all the right things: “Civil society organisations are a voice for those who are too often not heard. They have the courage to stand up against injustices, even if sometimes with risks for themselves”. She noted that the EU’s annual support worth two billion Euros represents 73 percent of the world’s support to local civil society organisations. “The European Union will never leave human rights defenders and civil society organisations alone; it’s the most invaluable partnership we can rely on to protect rights and build opportunities.”
Still, there are also critical voices concerning what Europe is doing or not doing e.g. with regard to the increasingly harsh treatment of migrants (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 7 March).[see recent post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/19/ahmed-h-personifies-the-real-danger-of-populist-anti-terror-measures/]
Moreover, there is growing disappointment over the region’s unwillingness to stand up for human rights in its foreign policy, especially from those who had hoped that Europe would be able step up when the USA is no longer leading. Two lengthy pieces attest to this:
The first is by on 21 March 2018 under the title “The European Union has decided that it’s time to cuddle up to dictators’ in the Washington Post

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (in green tie) meets with other officials in Brussels on Wednesday. (Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has just set a new low for Europe’s standing in the world. In the wake of Russia’s sham presidential election on Sunday, Juncker sent the victorious Vladimir Putin a message of unctuous praise. “Congratulations on your re-election,” Juncker tweeted. ……..Just like the United States’ President Trump, who was widely criticized this week for congratulating Putin on the Russian election’s outcome while failing to mention its flagrantly undemocratic character, Juncker had nothing to say about the brazen ballot stuffing, the intimidation of independent candidates, the unexplained deaths of activists, the role of state media, or a host of other irregularities leading up to the poll.

This latest failure of moral courage once again shows the growing indifference of European leaders and governments to the defense of human rights. At a time when the Trump administration seems uninterested in advancing the cause of democracy overseas and has just chosen Gina Haspel, who is closely linked with the George W. Bush administration’s policies on torture, to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, Europe should be at the forefront in taking a united stand against the flagrant abuse of human rights. But it isn’t. Dissidents and activists pushing for civil rights and democracy outside the E.U., and who once looked to Europe as a beacon for the values of freedom, can count on little support from Brussels these days. Authoritarian regimes have every cause to be overjoyed.

…When Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, took the floor at last month’s annual Munich Security Conference, he was, once again, treated with kid gloves. Forget about the torture, the executions, the flogging, the deaths during detention.

…French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have rolled out the red carpet for Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sissi — despite a crackdown on opposition that in its harshness has left the Hosni Mubarak regime far behind. Disappearances, torture, police brutality, detentions without trial: None of this seems to bother the French or German leaders. “Disgraceful policies of indulgence” was the term human rights activists used in connection with Sissi’s visit to Paris in October.

On China, the E.U. has completely discredited itself in the eyes of reformers and those struggling for human rights. It has criticized neither the Communist Party’s state-of-the art mass surveillance of its citizens nor the constant harassment and imprisonment of dissidents. Indeed, in June the E.U. failed, for the first time ever, to make a statement about China’s crackdown on dissidents and activists at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. The 28 member states couldn’t agree. (Greece blocked the statement. ..Athens didn’t want to offend Beijing). Hungary, which has also benefited from Chinese investments, has repeatedly blocked E.U. statements criticizing China’s rights record under Communist President Xi Jinping, according to diplomats.

….But there can be no hiding the shameful reality. Europe has lost its moral compass. Its current enthusiasm for interests and “stability” will one day come back to haunt it.

The second piece is by FLORIAN IRMINGER on 22 March 2018 in Open Democracy under the title Council of Europe: don’t compromise on human rights in Russia!”

After congratulating Vladimir Putin on re-election, the COE must hold Russia accountable and require the same respect for fundamental freedoms as it does from other countries. In the past year, Russia has seen numerous violations of freedom of assembly, as well as politically motivated criminal investigations dogged by poor evidence and procedure. While Vladimir Putin won the recent presidential election, he made his country fail a much more important test: the test of human rights, freedoms, and space for civil society and independent voices. So why has Thorbjørn Jagland and the Council of Europe welcomed him as a winner? …This came shortly after the OSCE election observation mission concluded that the presidential election took place in an “overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.”

…Instead of abiding by his mission to defend the Convention and therefore highlighting the shortcomings during election day and the generally repressive climate, the Secretary General “hoped” for active engagement with Russia. He spoke of “our common duty to work together in order to consolidate and strengthen our common European legal and human rights space.” 

The Council of Europe must hold Russia accountable and require the same respect for fundamental freedoms as it does from other countries

Since Vladimir Putin’s re-accession to the presidency in 2012 – and the fully devoted Duma elected in 2011 – 50 laws have been adopted “designed to strangle opposition voices and raise the level of fear and self-control in the society,” as reported by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/18/fidh-collected-russias-50-anti-democracy-laws/]

In light of President Putin’s internal policies, we need a Council of Europe that stands firm on its values and upholds the human rights obligations enriched in the European Convention for Human Rights. What we see instead is a Secretary General “touring European capitals [since November 2017] warning of a serious risk that Moscow could withdraw… unless its demands are met.”

 

..Russia has now said it will stop contributing financially to the Council of Europe. At the Council of Europe, just like at the United Nations with President Trump’s administration, we see that governments are willing to defund the structures with which they disagree. In other words, they institute a relativism in such mechanisms and threaten their ability to continue working independently and serve the purpose they were set up for: holding governments accountable to their own commitments. 

Yes, we must fight for the European Convention to apply to as many citizens as possible in Europe. However, we must not shy away from saying that the cost of withdrawing from the Council of Europe is high for the Russian state, for its credibility at home and abroad. The Council of Europe is worth something. If states can be members at no cost – not even the cost of showing respect and cooperation to the organisation – it will soon be worth nothing….

—–

https://www.kuna.net.kw/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=2697509&language=en

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-un/u-n-rights-chief-attacks-eu-and-u-s-over-migrants-and-dreamers-idUSKCN1GJ1IZ

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2018/03/21/the-european-union-has-decided-that-its-time-to-cuddle-up-to-dictators/?utm_term=.f50fe466fd4f

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/florian-irminger/do-not-compromise-on-russian-human-rights

China and the UN Human Rights Council: really Win-Win?

March 7, 2018

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated on Wednesday 7 March that China’s actions on human rights did not match its words and the level of respect for basic liberties remained low in the country. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein did so in his annual report on human rights in the world to the UN Human Rights Council, “President Xi Jinping has called for ‘people-centred development for win-win outcomes as part of a community of shared future for mankind’, a commendable ambition. Sadly, China’s global ambitions on are seemingly not mirrored by its record at home,” he said.

My office continues to receive urgent appeals regarding arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and discrimination, emanating from defenders, lawyers, legislators, booksellers, and members of communities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs,” he added. Hussein said many of the cases involved people fighting against economic, social and cultural injustices such as corruption, illegal seizure of land and forced evictions or destruction of cultural sites.

Before the start of  the current session of the UN Human Rights Council twenty NGOs had called on all member states to hold China accountable at the UN Human Rights Council, appears from a piece by the ISHR on 26 February 2018

In a private letter sent to select UN Member States, the NGOs called for clear and concrete actions to denounce China’s current rollback in respect for human rights at the UN Human Rights Council.

The organisations highlight five cases of human rights defenders that would benefit from further pressure being brought to bear on the Chinese government. They include:

  • Liu Xia, a poet kept under house arrest after the death of her husband, Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, in July 2017
  • Wang Quanzhang, a rights lawyer held incommunicado since 9 July 2015
  • Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen arbitrarily detained in China since he vanished from Thailand in October 2015
  • Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan cultural rights and education advocate who has been detained more than two years on charges of inciting separatism (a press release by a group of UN experts on 21 February)
  • Yu Wensheng, a prominent human rights lawyer disbarred, then arbitrarily detained, in January 2018.

The organisations urge the governments to:

….This year is particularly important, as human rights defenders inside and outside China prepare for the country’s next Universal Periodic Review, scheduled for November 2018. The letter to governments concludes: ‘For human rights defenders to have the courage to engage in this important process, with all the risks that it entails, it’s critical that they know that they are not alone’.

(Amnesty International, China Labour Bulletin, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Human Rights in China, Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Tibet, the International Commission of Jurists,  the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, the International Service for Human Rights, Lawyers for Lawyers, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, PEN America, Swedish PEN, the Tibet Advocacy Coalition (comprised of the International Tibet Network Secretariat, Students for a Free Tibet, Tibet Initiative Deutschland, Tibet Justice Center, and Tibetan Youth Association in Europe), and the World Uyghur Congress.)

https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/03/05/chinas-win-win-resolution-anything

http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/china-shows-little-respect-for-human-rights-un-high-commissioner-118030701132_1.html

https://www.ishr.ch/news/china-ngos-call-states-hold-china-accountable-un-human-rights-council

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in last Council Statement does not mince words

February 28, 2018

 “Given this is my last address as high commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt,” outgoing U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on 26 February 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/] And he was: Zeid delivered one of the strongest and clearest denunciations from a top U.N. official about the Security Council veto. He didn’t mention specific vetoes, but the context made crystal clear he referred to war in Syria, over which Russia and China have repeatedly used the veto to block efforts such as to hold war criminals to account or punish Assad’s government for alleged use of chemical weapons. Zeid instead spoke more broadly and decried “some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times“: Syria, the Ituri and Kasai regions of Congo; the embattled city of Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; and Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.  He denounced the “minimal action” taken even though his office has repeatedly exposed human rights violations that “should have served as a trigger for preventive action.“The High Commissioner stated that the five permanent, veto-wielding council members “must answer to the victims” if the veto is used to block any action that could reduce human suffering. “Second to those who are criminally responsible — those who kill and maim — the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council,” he said Still, Zeid praised France for “commendable leadership” for its recent push for a code of conduct on use of the veto, which he said Britain and more than 115 countries have supported. “It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto,” he said.

Another outspoken statement that lead to furious reactions concerned especially some eastern european states: “Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary‘s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?”  This led to Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó  urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to resign. “It is not acceptable for an employee of an international organization to make such disgusting accusations. The Supreme Commissioner must resign, “Szijjártó said. “We have to defend our borders and we will make every effort to clarify the full stance in the UN debate on migration“. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

For the full text of the High Commissioner’s speech delivered on 26 February 2018 in Geneva see below:
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/united-nations-zeid-raad-al-hussein-russia-china-us-security-council-veto/
http://www.novinite.com/articles/188279/Hungary+Wants+the+Resignation+of+the+United+Nations+High+Commissioner+for+Human+Rights%2C+who+Called+Victor+Orban+%22Racist%22
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-u-n-human-rights-chief-blasts-1519666939-htmlstory.html

——

37th session of the Human Rights Council: Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Published on 26 Feb 2018)

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Distinguished Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Friends,

May I begin by welcoming the Security Council’s unanimous decision in relation to a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which came after intense lobbying by our Secretary-General and others, and we applaud Sweden and Kuwait for their leadership in the Security Council on this. We insist on its full implementation without delay. However, we have every reason to remain cautious, as airstrikes on eastern Ghouta continue this morning. Resolution 2401 (2018) must be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence: seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing.

Eastern Ghouta, the other besieged areas in Syria; Ituri and the Kasais in the DRC; Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; Northern Rakhine in Myanmar have become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times, because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors. Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action. And given this is my last address as High Commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt.

Second to those who are criminally responsible – those who kill and those who maim – the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they – the permanent members – who must answer before the victims.

France has shown commendable leadership among the P5 in championing a code of conduct on the use of veto; the United Kingdom has also joined the initiative, now backed by over 115 countries. It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto.

Mr. President,

A few miles away, at CERN, physicists try to understand what our planet, and the universe or universes, are made of. What matter is, at the most basic level, and how it all fits together. To understand the physical world, we humans have long realised we must tunnel deeply, beyond molecular biology and geology; and go to those sub-atomic spaces for answers.

Why do we not do the same when it comes to understanding the human world? Why, when examining the political and economic forces at work today, do we not zoom in more deeply? How can it be so hard to grasp that to understand states and societies – their health and ills; why they survive; why they collapse – we must scrutinize at the level of the individual: individual human beings and their rights. After all, the first tear in the fabric of peace often begins with a separation of the first few fibres, the serious violations of the rights of individuals – the denial of economic and social rights, civil and political rights, and most of all, in a persistent denial of freedom.

There is another parallel with physics. Gravity is a weak force, easily defied by a small child raising a finger, but there is also a strong force governing the orbits of planets and the like. So too with human rights. Some States view human rights as of secondary value – far less significant than focusing on GDP growth or geopolitics. While it is one of the three pillars of the UN, it is simply not treated as the equal of the other two. The size of the budget is telling enough, and the importance accorded to it often seems to be in the form of lip service only. Many in New York view it condescendingly as that weak, emotional, Geneva-centred, pillar — not serious enough for some of the hardcore realists in the UN Security Council.

Yet like in physics, we also know human rights to be a strong force, perhaps the strongest force. For whenever someone in New York calls a topic “too sensitive,” there’s a good chance human rights are involved. And why sensitive? Because a denial of rights hollows out a government’s legitimacy. Every time the phrase “too sensitive” is used, it therefore confirms the supreme importance of human rights, and their effect as a strong force.

For no tradition, legal or religious, calls for or supports oppression – none. Discussions about rights are avoided by those who seek deflection because of guilt, those who shy away from difficult decisions and those who profit from a more superficial, simple, and ultimately useless, analysis. Better just leave it to Geneva, they say – and the crises continue to grow.

To understand the maladies of societies, grasp the risks of conflict, and prevent or resolve them we must — like particle physicists – work ourselves into the smaller spaces of individuals and their rights, and ask the most basic questions there. The most devastating wars of the last 100 years did not come from countries needing more GDP growth. They stemmed from – and ¡ quote from the Universal Declaration – a “disregard and contempt for human rights”. They stemmed from oppression.

Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?

Mr. President,

Perhaps we have gone mad, when families grieve in too many parts of the world for those lost to brutal terrorism, while others suffer because their loved ones are arrested arbitrarily, tortured or killed at a black site, and were called terrorists for simply having criticized the government; and others await execution for crimes committed when they were children. While still more can be killed by police with impunity, because they are poor; or when young girls in El Salvador are sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for miscarriages; when transgender women in Aceh are punished and humiliated in public. When Nabeel Rajab is sentenced to five years for alleging torture; or when 17 year-old Ahed Tamimi is tried on 12 counts for slapping a soldier enforcing a foreign occupation. When journalists are jailed in huge numbers in Turkey, and the Rohingya are dehumanized, deprived and slaughtered in their homes – with all these examples bedevilling us, why are we doing so little to stop them, even though we should know how dangerous all of this is?

It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations such as these, and not a lack of GDP growth, which will spark the conflicts that can break the world. While our humanitarian colleagues tend to the victims – and we salute their heroism and their selflessness – their role is not to name or single out the offenders publicly. That task falls to the human rights community, that it is our task. For it is the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights which will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This, we cannot allow to happen.

We will therefore celebrate, with passion, the 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which incarnates rights common to all the major legal and religious traditions. We will defend it, in this anniversary year, more vigorously than ever before and along with our moral leaders – the human rights defenders in every corner of the globe – we will call for everyone to stand up for the rights of others.

This is, in the end, a very human thing to do. Artificial intelligence will never fully replicate the moral courage, the self-sacrifice and, above all, the love for all human beings that sets human rights defenders apart from everyone else. As I close out my term as High Commissioner in the coming months, I wish to end this statement by saying it has been the honour of my life to have come to know many of these defenders; to have worked with them, and for them.

Thank you.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/37th-session-human-rights-council-opening-statement-un-high-commissioner-human-rights

Preview of Human Rights Defenders issues at the 2018 session of the UN Human Rights Council starting Monday

February 24, 2018

Thanks to the International Service for Human Rights I am able to give you a short overview of what issues directly relevant to human rights defenders are coming up in the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council starting on Monday 26 February 2018. For the broader human rights view please follow the link at the end of this post.

Thematic

Protection of human rights defenders working in the context of people on the move

A few days ago I posted https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/michel-forst-empowering-defenders-on-the-move-is-crucial-to-the-prevention-of-further-tragedy/ which refers to:

– the Global Compact for Migration which States will negotiate (in an open letter sent on 21 February, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid urged States to develop a compact that ‘explicitly recognizes and fully conforms to the existing international human rights framework as the authoritative protection agenda for all migrants’)

–  a thematic report on the situation of defenders of the rights of people on the move by the Special Rapporteur Michel Forst (read  ISHR’s detailed analysis)

– the OHCHR Principles and Practical Guidance for the protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in Vulnerable Situations (Principle 18 which states that States should ‘respect and support the activities of human rights defenders who promote and protect the human rights of migrants’)

– the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s report which is expected to focus on torture and other forms of ill-treatment in the context of migration.

Reprisals

During its last session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The resolution established a dedicated dialogue to address acts of intimidation and reprisals at each September Council session. Through the resolution, the Council also affirmed the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation.Reports of cases of reprisals not only continue, but grow in spite of the passage of this resolution, and the appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General as the Senior Official on addressing Reprisals. As requested by Council Resolution 12/2, the General Debate under Item 5 of the Council is a key moment for States and civil society to raise and follow up cases of reprisals, and to push for accountability for such acts. [one of my favorite topics: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

Other key thematic report will be the one by the body working on developing a treaty on business and human rights. The open-ended inter-governmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises (known as IGWG), will present its third report to the Council. ISHR is concerned about the limited protection for human rights defenders in the current elements discussed at the last session. Any process towards drafting a business and human rights treaty should effectively prevent and respond to cases of reprisals.

Country-specific developments relating specially to HRDs:

Burundi. During the 36th session, the Council passed two resolutions on Burundi; one led by the European Union extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry and a second resolution by the African Group that requested OHCHR to urgently dispatch a team of three experts to engage with the Burundian authorities and all other stakeholders. Read here ISHR’s analysis of the two resolutions. At the 37th session, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present an oral briefing to the Council. In addition, the High Commissioner will give an oral briefing of the Council on the mission of the OHCHR. Furthermore, the Secretary-General’s report on Burundi noted that OHCHR continued to receive allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses, primarily by the State and affiliated actors, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, more than 1,000 arbitrary arrests and detentions and restrictions on the freedoms of association, expression and movement. Burundi’s vice president criticised the report, suggesting that the Secretary-General has been transformed into an opposition member. ISHR and other NGOs continues to remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, which both clearly warrant an invitation to the General Assembly to consider the suspension of Burundi as a member of the Council. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/08/what-is-burundi-doing-in-the-un-human-rights-council/] For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here.

China. Since Xi Jinping’s assumption of power in 2013, the situation for human rights defenders in China has gone from bad to worse. Five current cases illustrate the sense of impunity with which Chinese authorities trample on the rights of civil society actors. ISHR has discussed many of them in detail, but in short they include:

  • the baseless house arrest since 2010 of Liu Xia, a poet and the widow of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo;
  • the prolonged detention of rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who has been held incommunicado, and without charge or access to lawyers since July 9, 2015;
  • the seizure and disappearance in January 2018 of bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen previously forcibly disappeared from Thailand in October 2015;
  • the detention and prosecution for inciting separatism of Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan cultural rights and education advocate; and
  • the punitive disbarment in January 2018 and, later that month, arbitrary detention of Yu Wensheng, a prominent human rights lawyer.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/10/more-on-residential-surveillance-in-a-designated-location-rsdl-in-china/

Other country situations:

The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in many instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates and the situation of human rights defenders. They include:

  • The High Commissioner will present his reports on Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia, Afghanistan and give oral updates on the situation of human rights in Haiti, Yemen, Ukraine, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congoand Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
  • OHCHR will present its report on Cyprus and an oral update on Eritrea.
  • The Council will consider the written update of OHCHR on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.
  • The Council will consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and renew its mandate.
  • The Council will consider the report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
  • The fact-finding mission on the situation of human rights in Myanmar will present an oral update to the Council and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar will also present her report to the Council.
  • The Council will consider the interim report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Iran and Cambodia.
  • The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic.
  • The Independent Expert on Mali will present his report to the Council, who will also hold an interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Mali.
  • The Council was intending to consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, Asma Jahangir, however due to her death, it is currently unclear whether and how the report will be considered. {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/11/asma-jahangir-one-of-the-worlds-most-outstanding-human-rights-defenders-dies-at-age-66/]

The High Commissioner will present his annual report in the last interactive dialogue of his term. Read here ISHR and other regional and international human rights organisations’ open letter to the Secretary General on the selection process of the next High Commissioner. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/]

Universal Periodic Review (UPR): States to be reviewed

During this session the Council will adopt the UPR reports which list the recommendations the State under review is expected to implement of the following 14 countries: Czechia, Argentina, Gabon, Ghana, Peru, Guatemala, Benin, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Pakistan, Zambia, Japan, Ukraine and Sri Lanka. ISHR submits briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocates for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground.

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for the following a number of vacancies of mandate holders to be filled at this session, including:

  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  • Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali

 

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Seven panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session, including:

  • The annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming will take place on 26 February 2018 from 16:00 to 18:00. This panel will discuss the challenges and opportunities of the promotion and protection of human rights in the light of the UPR mechanism. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • High-level panel discussion on the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action will take place on 28 February 2018 at 16:00 to 18:00. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child will take place on 5 March 2018 from 09:00 to 11:00 and from 16:00 to 18:00. This panel will discuss the protection of the rights of the child in humanitarian situations. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • Debate on promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination will take place on 16 March 2018 at 09:00 to 11:00. This panel will be held in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The concept note will soon be made available here.

Side events. States and NGOs are holding a series of events. You can download the list of State events here and NGO events here. I will post on some of these separately.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc37-key-issues-agenda-march-2018-session

Anson Chan, Hong Kong human rights defender, is winner of 2018 O’Connor Justice Prize

February 20, 2018

Anson Chan, a longtime Hong Kong dignitary and fierce advocate of human rights and the rule of law, was awarded the O’Connor Justice Prize in Arizona. Hope more in this and other international human rights awards, see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/o-connor-justice-prize.

I am deeply honored to be awarded the 2018 O’Connor Justice Prize and to join the company of three most distinguished predecessors,” said Chan, the fourth recipient of the award. “The values embodied within the spirit of this prize, namely advancement of the rule of law, justice and human rights, are particularly close to my heart, and it is a privilege to be associated with an award that celebrates Justice O’Connor’s extraordinary legacy.”

Known as “Hong Kong’s conscience” for her decades of devotion to social justice and democracy, Chan recounted how she and O’Connor had blazed similar trails that broke through gender barriers. While O’Connor was the first woman to serve as a state Senate majority leader and first to join the U.S. Supreme Court, Chan was the first woman to be appointed head of a Hong Kong government department, first female policy secretary and the first woman — as well as the first ethnic Chinese citizen — to be appointed head of the civil service.

Chan expressed concerns about Hong Kong’s independence, describing increasing oversight by the Chinese government. She pointed to the changes that have taken place in the two decades since the transfer of sovereignty from British rule in 1997, a transition that Chan helped oversee in her role as chief secretary for administration.

 

O'Connor Justice Prize advisory board

The O’Connor Justice Prize advisory board with the 2018 O’Connor Justice Prize recipient, the Honorable Anson Chan (center).

Chan’s words drew a response the next day from the Hong Kong government. In a release, the government said, “Statements made arbitrarily to undermine the rule of law and our well-recognized reputation in this regard is not conducive to Hong Kong’s progress.

 

https://asunow.asu.edu/20180219-‘hong-kong’s-conscience’-anson-chan-accepts-o’connor-justice-prize-warns-china’s

Profile of Yaxue Cao of ChinaChange.org

February 9, 2018

On 9 November 2017 ISHR met Yaxue Cao, the founder and editor of ChinaChange.org, an English-language website devoted to news and commentary related to civil society, rule of law, and human rights activities in China. She works to help the rest of the world understand what people are thinking and doing to effect change in China. Reports and translations on China Change have been cited widely in leading global news outlets and in U.S. Congressional reports. Yaxue Cao grew up in northern China during the Cultural Revolution and studied literature in the US. She lives in Washington, DC.

Today Ilham Tohti completes his fourth year in Chinese detention

January 15, 2018

Rightly Front Line Defenders reminds us that today, 15 January 2018, Ilham Tohti completed his fourth year in Chinese detention. The human rights defender, economics professor and advocate for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority was arrested following a raid on his home on 15 January 2014. In the course of his incarceration, Ilham Tohti has been subjected to recurring violations of international human rights standards with regard to detention conditions such as limitations of family visits, intercepted communication, solitary confinement, deprivation of food and intimidation. Ilham Tohti’s family and colleagues have also been subjected to judicial harassment. 

Ilham Tohti <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/fr/profile/ilham-tohti>  formerly lectured as a professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing. He has researched, taught, and written numerous articles on topics related to human rights violations in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Province, the homeland of China’s sharply repressed Uyghur minority. In 2006, the human rights defender founded Uyghur Online, a Chinese-language website for the dissemination of  Uyghur-centric news. Across these platforms, Ilham Tohti regularly criticised the exclusion of China’s Uyghur population from Chinese development, and encouraged greater awareness of Uyghur status and treatment in Chinese society. For these actions, Ilham Tohti was declared a “separatist” by the Chinese state and ultimately given a life sentence in prison.

Following his arrest on 15 January 2014, Ilham Tohti was tried at the Urumqi City Intermediate People’s Court on 23 September 2014. He was found guilty of “separatism” and sentenced to life in prison. Seven of the human rights defender’s students were arrested in the same year, and his niece was arrested in early 2016 for possessing photos of and articles written by the defender on her phone. On 10 October 2016, Ilham Tohti was granted the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award. {see earlier posts on Ilham https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ilham-tohti/]