Human rights experts at the United Nations began examining the ruling Chinese Communist Party's rights record on Tuesday, amid protests over "disappeared" submissions from civic groups that the U.N. body later restored with an apology.
The 31st session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva began its assessment of China's human rights record amid a global outcry over the mass incarceration of an estimated one million Uyghurs and other minority ethnic Muslims in "re-education camps" in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
But a consortium of rights organizations led by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said valuable information from non-government sources--including Uyghur groups --had been taken off the table ahead of the review.
"We are ... dismayed by the fact that at least seven submissions were completely removed from consideration from the final document intended for U.N. member states to draft recommendations for China’s review," HRW said in a statement.
The statement detailed "missing" contributions from the International Service for Human Rights, Hong Kong political party Demosistō, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur Human Rights Project.
Demosistō general secretary and former student protest leader Joshua Wong said the review appeared to have been politicized by pressure exerted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"The removal of Demosistō's submission as a Hong Kong civil group is seen by all of us as a form of political censorship," Wong told reporters.
Meanwhile, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) and the Unrepresented Nations and People's Organization (UNPO) also had submissions removed, HRW said.
In response to complaints, the statements were reviewed and restored, a U.N. spokesman said.
“This was a mistake, and we apologise for what has been a somewhat messy situation, even if it has now been rectified,” said Rolando Gómez, a media officer at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“The omission of these NGOs came to the attention of OHCHR's senior management some 10 days ago, and they ordered a careful review of the situation.,” he said a written statement that said four NGO submissions were reinstated and restored to the UPR website.
“The reason why they were temporarily omitted and then reinstated upon review was that the UPR secretariat, in trying to make sure the inputs were not politicized--an important part of the screening process (the UPR is about human rights not politics)--erred on the side of caution,” added Gómez.
The HRW statement acknowledged the correct but said “we remain deeply concerned about the exclusion of stakeholder information in the first place” and noted that a submission from Demosistō as well as a joint submission focusing on Tibet continued to be left out of the review document collection.
"The removal of these reports gives further credence to well-documented NGO concerns of China’s growing influence within the U.N. human rights system, and the deliberate silencing of critical voices," the statement said.
All of the censored groups had submitted their reports via an online platform before the deadline of March 29 for inclusion in a summary of reports from civil groups, and in material given to member states for consideration, it said.
Reported by Gao Feng and Jia Ao for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung, Pan Jiaqing and Lau Siu-fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.