A Paris-based rights group has accused the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—a regional grouping of China, Russia, and their neighbors in Central Asia—of fomenting human rights abuses, as Beijing hosted an SCO business forum in China's troubled northwestern Xinjiang region this week.
Since the SCO's founding in June 2001 by the two world powers and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, the group has engaged in a slew of serious rights violations, justifying them as being part of anti-terrorism cooperation, according to a new report from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
"Basic rights such as the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom from torture and the duty of non-refoulment, are increasingly being violated," the FIDH said Monday in a news release published on its website.
"Victims lack adequate access to effective remedies at the national level. In this context of impunity, victims’ access to international and regional human rights mechanisms and remedies takes on additional significance."
The report came as Beijing launched the second annual China-Eurasia Expo, a regional trade fair, in Urumqi, the capital of northwestern China's Xinjiang region, on Monday with an address by Premier Wen Jiabao.
The SCO held a "Business Day" at the expo attended by ministerial officials and deputies from member states who held talks on topics ranging from the entry of SCO member states into the World Trade Organization to the development of logistics in the region, according to China's Xinhua state news agency.
At the same time as stepping up its security cooperation with SCO states, China is moving to boost resource-rich Xinijang's trade links with the same countries, with plans to turn Urumqi into an important exchange hub for leaders and businesses in China and its Central Asian neighbors.
Organizers said the expo, slated to run from Sept. 2 to 7 this year, has attracted several heads of states and governments and participants from 55 countries. At last year's inaugural expo, China signed over U.S. $5.5 billion in foreign contracts.
The FIDH report also hit out at amendments to the SCO's security agreement signed at a summit in Beijing in June, which agreed that member states would respond collectively to "events that jeopardize regional peace, security, and stability."
"The security doctrines of the SCO will add potency to the already expansive and unchecked state power that is often used and abused to criminalize dissent and human rights defenders," FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen said.
SCO member countries including China have used murky definitions of terrorism to justify the repression in their countries, the group said.
"The SCO security framework is implemented through national legislation without a common precise definition of terrorism," the group said. "This results in laws and regulations that are overly broad and pliable to abuses by state officials."
China has blamed religious extremists and terrorists "trained in Pakistan" for a string of violent incidents to hit Xinjiang, home to the Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim Uyghurs who chafe under Beijing's policies in the region.
"In China, Uyghur political and human rights activists from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are ... branded with extremism, separatism, and terrorism as part of the regime’s strategy to control the population and isolate peaceful separatist groups," the report said.
"Under SCO conventions the boundaries between terrorism and separatism are very thin: opposition members and members of minority groups, such as the Uyghurs in China, are readily accused of the 'crime' of separatism."
Under security agreements aimed at fighting the “three evils” of terrorism, extremism, and separatism, SCO member states are bound to repatriate nations of fellow member states on request, without requiring evidence of wrongdoing.
The report singled out Kazakhstan for its forced return of refugees and asylum-seekers to China and Uzbekistan, in violation of United Nations human rights covenants.
In June 2011, Kazakhstan deported to China Ershidin Israil, an Uyghur wanted by Beijing for speaking up on torture and death in Chinese jails, after he sought asylum in Kazakhstan after fleeing his home in the Xinjiang.
Ershidin Israil, a former history schoolteacher, was granted refugee status by the United Nations, but a court in Kazakhstan refused to provide him political asylum and Beijing has accused him of "terrorism."
"Israil’s extradition was a result of the SCO agreement not to grant refugee status and to extradite those accused or suspected of 'extremism, separatism, or terrorism,'" the report said.
The SCO framework was also used to prevent Uyghur activists living in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan from attending a conference on Uyghur issues in the U.S. in 2011, the group said.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.