Uyghurs and Tibetans find little to celebrate in China’s 50 years in the UN

The Chinese government has worked to undermine the international body and cover up its own rights abuses, they say.
By Adile Ablet, Alim Seytoff and Tenzin Dickyi
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Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the United Nations, speaks during a meeting of the UN Security Council at the 76th UN General Assembly in New York, Sept. 23, 2021.

China’s 50th anniversary of membership in the United Nations, celebrated this week with a speech by President Xi Jinping claiming that Beijing had “blazed a path in human rights development,” has generated more despair than hope for Tibetans and Uyghurs on the receiving end of Chinese policies, advocates said.

“For these 50 years, the Chinese people have upheld the authority and sanctity of the United Nations and practiced multilateralism, and China's cooperation with the United Nations has deepened steadily,” Xi said on Monday in Beijing.

On Oct. 25, 1971, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) supplanted the Republic of China (ROC), based in Taiwan, at the U.N., becoming one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The ROC was a founding member of the U.N. in 1945, four years before the government was overthrown by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and fled to Taiwan.

“China has acted by the spirit of the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and earnestly applied the universality of human rights in the Chinese context,” Xi said in a speech at touting China’s commitment to world peace, reform and opening-up, global development, and multilateralism.

“It has blazed a path of human rights development that is consistent with the trend of the times and carries distinct Chinese features, thus making major contribution to human rights progress in China and the international human rights cause,” he added.

Xi’s appeal to a domestic audience came at a time when governments in North America and Europe have leveled genocide charges at Beijing over the mass incarceration and forced birth control policies in Xinjiang, and a coalition of persecuted Uyghurs, long-suffering Tibetans, and victims of a harsh crackdown Hong Kong are calling for a boycott of February’s Beijing Winter Olympics.

Early this month, nearly 40 UN member states publicly condemned China for rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and called for the creation of a U.N. mechanism for monitoring human rights in China.

Weakening UN norms

For Tibetans and Uyghurs, largely unwilling citizens of the PRC who have borne the brunt of repressive Chinese ethnic minority policies for decades, there is almost nothing to celebrate about China’s half-century in the U.N. because it has not upheld key principles in the U.N. Charter.

Despite being a member of the U.N. and its Human Right Council, China has disregarded international rules, norms, and criticism of its own rights violations, said Nury Turkel, vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

“China has attempted to weaken and subvert the international human rights system and norms within the U.N. by arguing that economic progress should precede respect for individual rights, including the right to religious freedom,” he said.

“China not only attempts to minimize international scrutiny over its human rights abuses — particularly its genocidal campaign against the Uyghurs — but also to further its efforts to promote a distorted concept of human rights in international fora,” Turkel added.

Chinese authorities have subjected Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang region to arbitrary arrests, restrictions on religious practice and culture, a pervasive digitized surveillance system that monitors their every move, and an extensive police presence.

Since 2017, Uyghurs accused of having strong religious views and politically incorrect views — as well as prominent intellectuals and businesspeople — have been jailed or detained in political internment camps where they are subject to various forms of abuse.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commission for human rights (OHCHR), has been negotiating with China without success for about three years to gain unfettered access to Xinjiang for a an independent and comprehensive assessment of the rights situation there.

“This amounts to an admission, after nearly three years, that her request was not being honored by the Chinese authorities,” said Sarah Brooks, program director at the International Service for Human Rights, a Geneva-based NGO.

No ‘moral power’

For Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress exile group, this was yet another example of how “China has been doing everything in its power to obstruct the U.N. from fulfilling its role, especially in the case of addressing the Uyghur genocide.”

Advocates for the six million Tibetans say their cause also gets sidelined by heavy-handed Chinese pressure on member states to stifle debate throughout the U.N. system on issues including arbitrary detention, and violation of religious freedom, and harsh curbs on Tibet’s language and culture.

Kai Mueller, executive director of the German office of the nonprofit advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), said China has long prevented debates about Tibet in the U.N.

In June 2020, more than 50 rights experts called for the establishment of an independent human rights monitoring mechanism at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, he said.

“This unfortunately never materialized, and this is indicative of the influence of the Chinese government on other member states at the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

“This pertains to the human rights situation in Tibet not exclusively, but also with regard to other issues under the PRC or CCP leadership,” added Mueller, head of ICT’s U.N. advocacy team.

Speaking in Rome Friday ahead of the Group of 20 (G20) leaders’ summit, the elected leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government in exile, called on China to add a moral dimension to its expanding economic and military power in the world.

“Despite being politically, militarily, and economically empowered, China lacks the moral power,” Penpa Tsering told the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a group of some 200 global parliamentarians, diplomats, and experts.

“It is paramount that you ensure the values you cherish in your countries be available to those ruled by authoritarian ones like the Chinese government,” added Tsering, known by his Tibetan title Sikyong.

Translated by the Tibetan Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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