By Kalinga Seneviratne
SYDNEY | GENEVA (IDN) — China came out with its guns blazing at the recently concluded 47th sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) pointing out western hypocrisy on human rights, by particularly targeting Canada and Australia. China was supported on this counterattack by over 60 developing country members of the UN body.
This reflected that the international community is fed up with the West’s weaponizing of human rights at a time of a deep global economic and development crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These countries want development rights given emphasis over individual rights.
UNHRC head Michelle Bachelet began her opening statement to the 47th sessions by pointing out that “extreme poverty, inequalities and injustice are rising (and) democratic and civic space is being eroded” due to the Covid-19 crisis, and that economic and social rights, and the right to development, are universal rights. “They are not ordinary services with a market-set price-tag, but essential factors in building more peaceful and equal societies,” she noted.
Yet, a block of 44 countries that included mainly European Union (EU) members plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, would have none of it. They preferred to focus on specific countries targeting individual human rights. Whereas China, supported by 65 developing countries that included Belarus, Cuba, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand, and Russia focused on redefining human rights with an emphasis on development rights especially in the post-Covid recovery era.
In the absence of the US as a full member, the battle between the western block and China began when Leslie Norton, Canada’s permanent representative to the UN, presented a statement signed by 44 countries to the 47th sessions of UNHRC held from June 21 to to July 14 in Geneva, urging transparency and access to China’s northwest, where it was claimed that rights groups and extensive media investigations have alleged widespread discriminatory policies targeting Uyghur Muslims living in the region. Norton told the UNHRC that Canada and others were “gravely concerned about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”.
Interestingly, none of the Muslim countries—except for Bosnia and Herzegovina which has applied for accession to the EU membership —have signed the statement presented by Canada.
The Canadian statement was challenged by Belarus that made a statement on behalf of 65 member states in opposing “politically motivated and groundless accusations against China based on disinformation”. This statement was supported by 6 Gulf states and Pakistan.
“We are gravely concerned that some countries fabricate and spread disinformation out of political purposes, and smear others under the pretext of human rights, in an attempt to make excuses for interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, imposing unilateral coercive measures and setting up country-specific mechanisms at the Human Rights Council,” said Minister Jiang Duan of the Chinese mission to the UN in Geneva.
He added that China is “gravely concerned” that a few special procedure mandate holders indiscriminately take “unauthenticated information” from western media and political groups to make groundless accusations against sovereign States. “We urge countries concerned to immediately stop fabricating and spreading disinformation and refrain from using human rights as a political tool”, said Duan.
In responding to accusations of the violation of human rights in Xinjiang where about 45 percent of the population are Muslim, Gulinaer Wufuli, Vice-Chairperson of the Science and Technology Association of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in a statement to the UNHRC sessions said that the situation in Xinjiang is stable, and not a single violent and terrorist attack occurred in the past four consecutive years.
He attributed this to the achievement of “high-quality economic development” and the success of poverty alleviation programs in the region”. (By 2020) a total of 3.06 million people below the current poverty line were lifted out of poverty. All the 3,666 poverty-stricken villages and 35 impoverished counties shook off poverty. Peoples’ livelihood has been improved notably,” noted Wufuli.
China told the sessions that there are ongoing negotiations between the office of the human rights commissioner Bachelet and the Chinese government for her to visit to Xinjiang. But China has reiterated that the conditions for such a visit will be on the basis of a friendly visit and not a so-called “investigation” under the presumption of guilt.
Liu Yuyin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva, has told China’s Xinhua news agency that more than 200 million visits are made by tourists to Xinjiang every year, and those Western countries all have embassies in China, “How come that their ambassadors and diplomats have no idea of the truth in Xinjiang?” Liu questioned.
China has extended invitations on several occasions to these ambassadors of Western countries to visit Xinjiang, but on each occasion, they declined with one excuse after another, and failed to make the trip to this date, he said. “People just wonder, why are they so scared to go? Obviously, what they really care is not facts and truth, but how to slander and frame China,” he added.
In statements to the recently concluded UNHRC sessions, China has blasted Canada and Australia on their human rights record. They expressed “deep concerns” about the historic treatment of indigenous people in Canada and called for a credible investigation on the recent discovery of 200 bodies of indigenous children at a Canadian boarding school. China also raised “deep concerns on the illegal killing of civilians by Canadian overseas military servicemen”.
Duan also took aim at alleged war crimes committed by Australian troops in Afghanistan, which are being probed by a special investigator in Australia. “Australian troops indiscriminately killed civilians in overseas operations, committed war crimes, yet they are still at large today,” Jiang said. He also pointed out Australia’s system of offshore detention, saying asylum seekers were “forcibly detained for long times, even indefinitely, with their basic human rights violated.”
It is interesting to note the voting pattern of UNHRC members when resolutions were adopted at the 47th sessions. Some 16 resolutions were either country specific or on gender issues, the 44-member western-led grouping supported that. These include country specific resolutions on Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, on Belarus, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iraq and Ethiopia, and issues such as on disinformation and freedom of expression; violence against transgender women; female genital mutilation; sexual and reproductive health and rights; and the economic rights of women.
The western bloc voted against the resolution on development rights such as the resolution on ‘contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights’. This resolution said among others that the aim of development is to constantly improve the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals … and the important role of inclusive and sustainable development in promoting and protecting human rights and stressing the importance of development cooperation. It emphasized people-centric development policies to ride over the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The resolution has asked the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s office to organize a series of seminars in the next couple of years to address the issue of development rights.
The above resolution was carried by 31 votes to 14 against, and voting against were Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Ukraine, and United Kingdom. A resolution calling for international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat Covid-19 and to lift unjustified obstacles for the export of Covid-19 vaccines; and another resolution calling for international solidarity to realize the Sustainable Development Goals were carried by the same vote margin with same countries voting against.
The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation’s international news site “swissinfo” noted that China is now on a mission to redefine human rights on a global level. Quoting Kazushige Kobayashi, a researcher at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding of the Graduate Institute Geneva, it points out that China’s influence among developing countries has continued to grow over the past few years.
Kobayashi confirms that China has taken in recent years a more active approach towards human rights in its foreign policy, departing from a previous position that considered the issue as an internal matter. “In this process, China tries to influence the narrative of human rights, as others do,” he argues.
Swissinfo also points out that China has a different notion of Human Rights than the West and that the concept has to be understood under the dimension of sovereignty.
Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch, claims China seeks to “reposition international human rights law as a matter of state-to-state relations, ignores the responsibility of states to protect the rights of the individual … and foresees no meaningful role for civil society”.
But ‘swissinfo’ observes that in the language of the Chinese delegation, what Beijing wants is to “enhance cooperation, rather than create division”.
Photo: Ambassador Chen Xu. UN human rights council passes China’s resolution calling for people-centered development for human rights. Source: Global Times.