The United Nations Human Rights Council has once again issued substantive criticism of Beijing’s systematic human rights violations against Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers and Chinese. This evaluation of China’s human rights record came during China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which takes place every four and a half years and whose final report was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council today.

Despite intense lobbying by Beijing and the deployment of an array of non-governmental organizations controlled by the Chinese government (government-organized non-government organizations, or GONGOs), 21 states addressed the situation in Tibet. This was the largest number since China underwent its first review in 2009.

The United Kingdom made the following statement: “China tried to claim that the Office of the High Commissioners’ authoritative Xinjiang assessment is, and I quote: illegal and void. It is neither. Let me again urge China to end its persecution and arbitrary detention of Uighurs and Tibetans and to allow genuine freedom of religion and expression.”

The United States also made a statement, saying, “The United States condemns the human rights abuses in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and across China.”

As expected, the Chinese government rejected substantial recommendations, or in some cases “accepted” them with the argument that various human rights standards had “already been implemented.” These claims are in clear contradiction to the reality in Tibet, as has been stated many times by independent UN human rights experts.

ICT Executive Director Kai Müller said: “No matter how hard they try, the Chinese government cannot conceal what is happening in Tibet. However, it is a cause for concern that more and more states are apparently allowing themselves to be put under pressure by China and are singing Beijing’s song. The large number of GONGOs on the Human Rights Council is also a serious impediment to the proper functioning of these processes.

“On the other hand, it is positive that more states than ever before have critically addressed the situation in Tibet and called for change. Especially as a member of the UN Security Council, China must comply with international rules, and human rights are a central part of this,” Müller continued.

Increased criticism

Compared to the UPR review six years ago, 21 states – up from nine – expressed substantial criticism of China’s human rights record in Tibet and 19 states made recommendations. The so-called “Advanced Questions” to China, which could be submitted to the Chinese government in advance, indicated increased interest. Twice as many of these questions were submitted compared to 2018.

The review took place in a tense climate, as the Chinese government was once again present with an unusually large delegation of diplomats. Beijing also mobilized a large number of GONGOs that strictly repeat the party line. Of the 67 organizations registered to speak at the Human Rights Council, at least 25 were Chinese GONGOs and another five were GONGOs from friendly authoritarian states such as Russia or Cuba. At the same time, a large number of states used their speaking time for statements supportive of Chinese policies.

ICT advocacy

ICT advocacy staffer Melanie Blondelle was able to deliver a statement on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in the plenary session of the Human Rights Council. Blondelle:

“Over the past two years, several UN human rights bodies have raised the alarm over the escalation of human rights violations in Tibet. These include the boarding school system that has separated nearly one million Tibetan children from their families and communities, extensive forced labor programs, massive displacement of the rural Tibetan population, and the imprisonment of Tibetan environmentalists. Tibetans continue to face torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances at the hands of the Chinese state.

As a result, an unprecedented number of states have made recommendations and raised preliminary questions on Tibet, expressing the growing concern of the international community. We strongly welcome this expression of genuine concern, which not only recognizes the situation on the ground, but also protects the credibility of the Human Rights Council itself.”

In her statement on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Blondelle also pointed out that several nations had called on the Chinese government to grant open, independent and unrestricted access to Tibet, including through the UN OHCHR and special rapporteurs. China is consistently blocking this access and instead spreading disinformation in which alleged social progress is used to justify its repressive tactics. The international community must see through this barely disguised strategy and insist on the universality and indivisibility of human rights, Blondelle continued.

Appendix: Statement in the original text

Item 6: UPR outcomes

Statement delivered by Mélanie Blondelle on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights – Check against delivery

Mr. President,

Over the last two years, multiple UN human rights bodies raised alarm at the escalation of human rights violations in Tibet. This includes nearly one million Tibetan children separated from their families and forced into Mandarin dominated schools; extensive forced labor transfer programs; massive dislocation of the rural Tibetan population; and imprisonment of Tibetan environmental and human rights defenders. Tibetans are routinely tortured, die in custody, and are disappeared.

An unprecedented number of states offered recommendations and submitted advance questions on Tibet, demonstrating the international community’s dismay. We welcome this expression of genuine concern, which does not only acknowledge the situation on the ground, but also protects the credibility of the Human Rights Council itself.

China’s predicted rejection of almost 70% of the 23 Tibet-specific recommendations and its listing of the remainder as ‘accepted and already implemented’, contradicts verified facts.

Several states and the EU called on China to provide independent and unfettered access to Tibet, including by UN OHCHR and Special Rapporteurs. China consistently blocks such access, opting instead to spread disinformation alleging social progress as justification for its oppressive tactics. The international community must see through this thinly veiled strategy and insist on the universality and indivisibility of human rights.

We also stress that Tibetans in Tibet are not able to engage freely with UN mechanisms, foremost the UPR due to the pervasive climate of fear instilled by decades long oppression.

Despite this dire situation, options exist to achieve peaceful change. The Dalai Lama continues to pursue a path to invite dialogue and mutual understanding. The Chinese government should seize this opportunity, and the international community should press China, a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, to fully respect the rights of the Tibetan people and to address the root causes for the conflict on the plateau.

Tibet is a test of the UN Human Rights Council’s ability to uphold universal human rights, through the UPR and beyond. It is a test it must not fail.

Thank you.