Attorney Xia Lin
EDITORIAL: Empty human rights promises
  • Fri, 09/30/2016 - 14:31

Sat, Oct 01, 2016 - Page 8

China on Thursday proudly announced that it would cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council. The promise came with the release of a policy paper, the National Human Rights Action Plan, outlining Beijing’s goals over the next four years.

It is so tempting to say that such a promise is not worth the paper it is printed on, but it turns out that there are so many caveats that it is not even worth saying that.

Beijing did not vow to improve its human rights record; it only said it would “cooperate with the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council.” That includes, it said, “answering letters from it, inviting, as appropriate, representatives of the body to visit China, and continuing to recommend Chinese experts for posts in the Special Procedures.”

The Special Procedures are the independent experts who have a mandate to report and advise on rights either for specific countries or on a theme, including food, cultural rights, enforced disappearances and education.

China’s offer to recommend its people for such posts, given its long record of refusing to cooperate with the UN on reviews of its own actions, is beyond absurd. It is just as ludicrous as Beijing’s offer to lend developing countries assistance in the human rights field.

That China would issue a new human rights policy paper in the wake of its egregious detention and jailing of rights activists and lawyers over the past year, including the sentencing of attorney Xia Lin (夏霖) to 12 years in prison on trumped up fraud charges on Thursday last week, shows the contempt it has for the international body and for the rule of law.

Yet in the Orwellian world of Chinese politics, Beijing shows not a hint of embarrassment in admitting in the paper that the “rule of law in safeguarding human rights needs to be further promoted and more efforts are required to realize higher levels of human rights protection.”

Why has China bothered to produce such pulp fiction? The answer could be that its seat on the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, which was granted in November 2013 for a three-year term, expires at the end of this year, and Beijing might be angling for a second term.

The UN General Assembly elected China to one of the four vacant “Asian” seats on the council, alongside such rights champions as Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba, to fill some of the other 10 vacancies.

One saving grace is that China’s seat on the council has not prevented it from being lambasted in council meetings. In late June, China came under severe criticism at the council’s 32nd session for failing to meet the international human rights standard by strongly restricting the development of civil society with its new national security laws, its new law on the management of foreign non-governmental organizations and what were termed its “excessive” controls over the religious practices of Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Christians.

Given that Beijing has failed to live up to several of the voluntary pledges it made in support of its council candidacy in 2013 — such as adopting 30 laws and regulations closely related to human rights, expanding citizens’ participation in political affairs and ensuring their rights to express their opinion and disclosing information about court trials — it should feel nervous about being elected to a second term. However, given the way Beijing has long manipulated the General Assembly, it does not need to worry.

Its systematic persecution and silencing of rights activists, lawyers, journalists and so many others might not be enough to keep it off the rights council for three more years, but it should not go unchallenged by the rest of the world.

Beijing likes to pick and choose which international principles it wants to benefit from and which it ignores. The time has come to hold it accountable for its actions.