China joins U.N. human rights panel, will help pick experts on free speech, health, arbitrary detention

Mr. Jiang Duan, who holds the rank of Minister at China’s mission to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, will play a key role in selecting the world body’s monitors on health, freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.

GENEVA, April 2, 2020 — China was appointed on Wednesday to a United Nations Human Rights Council panel where it will play a key role in picking the world body’s human rights investigators — including global monitors on freedom of speech, health, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention — in a move that has sparked protest by international human rights activists.

“Allowing China’s oppressive and inhumane regime to choose the world investigators on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization based in Geneva that closely monitors the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, and a leader in speaking out at the UN for victims in China.

“It’s absurd and immoral for the UN to allow China’s oppressive government a key role in selecting officials who shape international human rights standards and report on violations worldwide,” said Neuer.

China’s appointment to the UNHRC’s influential Consultative Group, comprised of only five nations, was announced in a letter submitted to the UNHRC on Wednesday by Oman on behalf of the Asian Group, and confirmed by a notice on the website of the UN human rights office.

By joining the UNHRC panel, China will be able to influence the selection of at least 17 UN human rights mandate-holders over the next year, known as special procedures, who investigate, monitor, and publicly report on either specific country situations, or on thematic issues in all parts of the world, such as freedom of speech and religion.

China will help vet candidates for the critical UN human rights posts — serving as Chair of the interview processes for at least five of the mandates — and help decide whom to recommend for appointment. In most cases, the council president appoints the experts selected by the 5-nation panel.

The appointment of China comes despite the fact that the government in Beijing is widely considered to commit gross and systematic violations of human rights affecting its 1.3 billion people.

“It’s absurd for the UN to allow the Chinese regime, which as a matter of policy and practice arbitrarily detains human right defenders like Zhang Baocheng and Wang Binzhang, to help nominate the next two members of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” said Neuer.

“Likewise, at a time when China has forcibly disappeared citizens who express dissent like the executive Ren Zhiqiang, who called Xi a ‘clown’ over coronavirus response — as well as  upwards of a 1 million Muslim Uyghur and minority group members — it is inconceivable that China would be allowed to influence the selection of the next member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances,” Neuer added.

“And how can China be involved in choosing the UN Special Rapporteur on the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, when the regime routinely imposes draconian censorship, and seeks to shut down dissenting voices?” asked Neuer.

“Finally, as the world is suffering from the deadly coronavirus pandemic that spread like wildfire in Wuhan while China silenced doctors, journalists and other citizens who tried to sound the alarm, by what logic can the Beijing regime be involved in choosing the UN’s next global monitor on the right to health?”

“This is absurd, and China’s appointment threatens to undermine the credibility of the UN’s highest human rights body—which already counts Venezuela, Pakistan, Eritrea and Qatar among its elected members—and is liable to cast a shadow upon the United Nations as a whole.”

“UN Watch calls on UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to denounce China’s appointment, and to side with the country’s human rights victims instead.”

While officially China’s delegate Mr. Jiang Duan, who holds the rank of Minister at their mission in Geneva, will serve on the 5-nation group in his “personal capacity,” in practice country representatives, especially those from authoritarian regimes, follow instructions from and pursue the interests of their respective governments. Indeed, the Asian Group entitled its letter to the UN, “Nomination of the People’s Republic of China to membership of the Consultative Group.”

“The UN often describes the UN human rights experts as the ‘crown jewels’ of its Human Rights Council, yet the world body only undermines their legitimacy by picking an authoritarian regime that oppresses human rights activists, dissidents and minorities to preside over the experts’ appointment,” said Neuer.

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