“The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.” This is how the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) describes itself on its website.
Four hours ago, at the time of writing this article, China, along with a slew of regimes that have some of the worst human rights records, was “elected” by the U.N. General Assembly as a member state of the UNHRC. This façade of an attempt towards a “fair” geographical representation, is in reality a series of backroom deals agreed upon by regional member states, a practice that has been decried recently by the Director of Human Rights Watch, who stated “They ( Member States ) don’t want competition.… Essentially these are backroom deals that are worked out among the regional groups”.
As a direct affront to the tenets of the United Nations’ much vaunted “ Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, China was involved, for the four seats on the Asia – Pacific member group of the UNHRC, in a five way competition with Nepal, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. All five countries have abysmal human rights record, while the four of them have developed very close relations with China. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s reactions to China’s continued subjugation of millions of Uyghur Muslims in East Turkistan is one of either silence or open support for Beijing’s policies in the region.
This is not China’s first foray into the membership of the UNHRC. This will be the fifth time it has been a member of the world body. So therefore, despite vocal protests against its inclusion as a member for the next three years, it comes as no surprise that the vestiges of the integrity of the UNHRC continues to erode under the pressure of geopolitical interests. China’s statement following its “win” is an insightful window into how it perceives “human rights” and the reality that its policies in Tibet, East Turkistan, Hong Kong, etc. will continue unbated. The Statement reads “ [China ] guarantees the freedom of all ethnic groups to use and develop their own spoken and written languages … There is always room for improving human rights. There is no universally applicable model, and human rights can advance only in the context of national conditions and people’s needs.”
It is vital that one reads these assertions by Beijing in light of not only what it has done in the past but also in terms of its recent policies vis – a – vis Tibet, East Turkistan, and Hong Kong. Beijing’s bilingual education policy in Tibet has been unequivocally been decried as an attempt by the State to marginalize the Tibetan language and attempts to resist such intentions have seen repressive reprisals, with the case of Tashi Wangchuk who was sentenced to five years in prison on account of “inciting separatism” for his advocacy towards preserving the Tibetan language, being the most prominent one. Similarly, recent statements by the top leadership brass of the Chinese Communist Party, including Xi Jinping during the 7th Tibet Work Forum, have emphasized on the need to “manage” Buddhism according to the principles of a Chinese socialist society. The situation is extreme in East Turkistan where the people’s faith itself is perceived as a direct threat to the State’s legitimacy, leading to the mass incarceration of Uyghurs, an act that was recently revealed in a report by Adrian Zenz as being replicated in militarized labor camps set up in Tibet. Similarly, with the passing of the new security law in Hong Kong, the State has found its “legal” justification to crack down on the protestors for their attempts to preserve the last remaining dregs of their region’s autonomy. These recent actions and policies of the CCP resonate throughout the 7 decades that have followed since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The argument made by Beijing for the relative understanding of human rights by contextualizing their realization based on the specific needs of a particular society has been a central trope in its justification of denying these rights to those under its governance. The United Nations’, on the other hand, espouses the lofty beliefs that Human Rights are universal rights and everyone is entitled to them yet the geopolitical reality remains that despite Beijing’s refusal to accept such grounds of universality and the corresponding policies and actions that have gained traction due to this refusal in China, Hong Kong, Tibet and East Turkistan, it received 139 votes from the 193 UN member nation states towards its successful bid to sit on the UNHRC. It has been accorded the responsibility of leading the world body’s mission towards “ strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe”, yet the stark ground reality remains that China continues to suppress all forms of these human rights within its enforced borders while continuing its agenda of using its membership to the UNHRC “to prevent scrutiny of their abuses and those by their allies.”
*Tenzing Wangdak is a former research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute and Views expressed here do not necessarily reflects those of the Tibet Policy Institute.