China interrupts UN testimony of ex-political prisoner; USA defends Yang Jianli
In a clash this week at the plenary of the UN Human Rights Council, the Chinese government interrupted testimony by one of its most well-known former political prisoners. Supported by Cuba, China claimed that Dr. Yang Jianli, who spoke on behalf of the Geneva human rights group UN Watch, was not addressing the issue under debate, which was “human rights situations that require the council’s attention.” The U.S. delegate intervened to defend Dr. Yang’s right to speak, and the council president allowed him to complete his speech. See full text below of print version as delivered to the UN, and the interruptions.
“Do You Hear the Cries of the Tiananmen Mothers?”
UN Watch Statement
Delivered by Dr. Yang Jianli, March 15, 2011
UN Human Rights Council, 16th Session
Agenda Item 4: “Human Rights Situations that require the council’s attention”
Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Yang Jianli. I am the president of Initiatives for China and a Harvard Fellow. In 1989, I was in Tiananmen Square, where I witnessed the massacre of thousands by the guns and tanks of the Chinese army. In 2002, I was arrested by the Chinese government for helping the peaceful labor movement. I served five years in prison.
I have come here today because this council is supposed to be the world’s protector of human rights. And so I ask this august body:
When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded three months ago to Liu Xiaobo, a writer who is serving an 11-year jail sentence for having called for freedom—and the human rights situation in China rose to the top of the world headlines—why did you not speak out?
Why have you adopted no resolutions urging the Chinese government to respect the rights that are guaranteed under China’s constitution—the very rights it violated in imprisoning Liu Xiaobo?
Where were you when his wife, Liu Xia, cried out desperately for help a few weeks ago, because her life has become unbearable?
Where were you, when –
UNHRC President: Sorry. Sorry. We have a point of order by China — please.
China: Mr. President, China heard earlier the statement by this non-governmental organization, and this statement has nothing to do with the current agenda. According to the general procedures of our council, the president must take a decision to stop such a statement. And I also have a question about his status as a member of this organization, which is something that seriously undermines the credibility of this council. I hope that the council will check into his status.
President: Thank you. We take note of your concern. And I ask… — the United States.
USA: Thank you, Mr. President. We would like to highlight that we firmly believe that NGOs (non-governmental organizations) must be permitted to speak. Though member states including the US may occasionally disagree with the content of their statements, we are of the opinion that the intervention we are hearing was addressed to the subject matter at hand under (Agenda) Item 4. We would therefore ask that you rule that the speaker be allowed to end his presentation. Thank you, Mr. President.
President: Thank you. I take note of the concerns… — Cuba, please.
Cuba: Thank you, Mr President. I am sorry to be taking the floor at this time, but I would like to support the statement made by China, and also support the request that he put forward. Thank you.
President: Thank you. I take note of the concerns of the delegations. This agenda item is about situations that require the attention of the council. So I ask that the speaker address his remarks in the context of the agenda item which is: situations that require the attention of the council. So please go ahead.
UN Watch (Yang Jianli): Thank you, Mr. President.
Where were you, when police and hired thugs brutally beat Mr. Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights defender, and have since surrounded his house, 24 hours a day, since his release from prison last September?
Mr. President, I ask this council: Do you hear the cries of the Tiananmen Mothers?
When will you address the recent, brutal crackdown on Chinese citizens, who peacefully gathered for walks around Chinese cities, after hearing about the uprisings in the Middle East? Many have been arrested or disappeared.
When will you demand accountability from the individuals responsible for the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and for other gross and systematic violations of human rights in China? When will these perpetrators be subjected to a travel ban, an asset freeze, and a reference to the International Criminal Court?
Mr. President, three weeks ago Colonel Qaddafi justified his bloody actions by pointing to what China did to “those people on Tiananmen Square.” Does this not show how ignoring crimes in one place only encourages them to spread elsewhere? And can the millions of Chinese victims ask why this council suspended Libya for killing its own people, yet allows the Chinese government to continue to sit here as a member?
Thank you, Mr. President