China was unsuccessful in blocking efforts by the International Campaign for Tibet and other non-governmental organizations to condemn the harassment meted out to human rights defenders both inside the UN Human Rights Council Geneva and in China. In dramatic exchanges and parliamentary procedural manoeuvres rarely seen in the Council, Member states and NGOs sought a minute of silence for Cao Shunli, a Chinese human rights defender who was prevented by the government from participating in China’s rights review, and then died after being denied medical treatment in detention.

As the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) delivered an oral statement at the council, critical of China’s report which its two member organisations ICT and Human Rights in China (HRiC) joined, the Chinese delegation interrupted the presenter by raising a point of order. The Chinese asked the President of the Council “to abolish the status of the speaker [FIDH] to speak” because the other two organisations did not have consultative status. The UN secretariat ruled against the Chinese, citing a long practice where NGOs accredited to ECOSOC could “mention other entitities.” FIDH was allowed to continue with the statement.

The statement by FIDH, ICT and HRIC denounced the widespread harassment and threats against human rights defenders, urged China to free all those arbitrarily detained including Tibetan abbot Khenpo Kartse.

Consideration of China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report was delayed by a day after China tried to stop civil society organisations from holding a minute of silence to honor Cao Shunli. However, China attempted to block this action by raising several points of order. This resulted in a long debate between a high number of UN member states as well as the vote on the President’s ruling. The President’s ruling that this measure should be decided by the bureau was defeated. Afterward the President of the HRC allowed the NGOs to continue with their statements. Despite continued Chinese obstructions today, the case of Cao Shunli was mentioned by many member states, and NGOs stood and held pictures of the deceased human rights defender in the back of the council chamber.

Chinese harassment inside the Council included acts of non-verbal intimidation and harassment towards representatives of NGOs attending the session. Chinese representatives filmed and took pictures of them in contravention of the Council’s rules.

Earlier in the week, China interrupted testimony at the Council by the daughter of political prisoner Wang Bingzhang. Ms. Wang was able to continue her statement after several UN member states spoke up on her behalf, underlining the importance of freedom of expression.

At the end of the session, the Council adopted the UPR Working Group report on China. Similarly to what happened during its first UPR in 2009, China rejected most human rights recommendations on Tibet.

The United States delegation called for the release of Tibetan political prisoner Dhondup Wangchen and said they were deeply concerned by government policies in Uyghur, Tibetan and Mongolian areas of China that have contributed to unrest. The United Kingdom and the U.S. released statements two days ago condemning increased arrests, forced disappearances, extralegal detentions in China and the ongoing restrictions on religious, cultural and language rights in Xinjiang and Tibet.

Kai Müller, member of ICT’s UN advocacy team said: “”What happened at this session of the HRC once again casts serious doubts on the moral legitimacy of the People’s Republic of China to be a member of the Human Rights Council. ICT urges the HRC to immediately take concrete measures against such unacceptable behavior in breach of both the Human Rights Council’s rules and fundamental freedoms.”

Prior to the HRC session, ICT had called on UN Member States to urge China to demonstrate coherence and commitment to its role as newly elected HRC member for the next four years and accept meaningful recommendations on the worrying human rights situation in Tibet. China’s next UPR will be in 2018, where it will have to report to the Council on all the human rights recommendations discussed at today’s session.