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World

At UN, China sharply rebuked, by some, over rights record

Nina Larson - Agence France-Presse
At UN, China sharply rebuked, by some, over rights record
Supporters of China's Premier Li Qiang wave Chinese national flags outside an event held at the Auckland Museum in Auckland on June 14, 2024.
AFP / Brett Phibbs

GENEVA, Switzerland — China met stinging criticism at the United Nations on Thursday from some countries and organisations over its rights record, even as others showered Beijing with praise.

Diplomats and activists had described intense Chinese lobbying and pressure ahead of a brief event to adopt a report following a routine review of the country's rights record back in January.

All 193 UN member states must undergo a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) every four to five years, followed by an adoption of a report on the recommendations the country is willing to accept.

During the half-day UPR in January, critical countries highlighted a crackdown on civil liberties and a sweeping national security law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 to quash dissent after pro-democracy protests.

They also voiced alarm at alleged efforts to erase cultural and religious identity in Tibet and repression in the northwestern Xinjiang region, where Beijing is accused of incarcerating more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

Countries presented 428 recommendations to China, including harsh rebukes but also suggestions such as "continue to protect the cultural rights of ethnic minorities", from Iran.

'Politically motivated'

During the one-hour UPR adoption process Thursday, a vast Chinese delegation informed the gathering that it had adopted 70 percent of those recommendations, but it flatly rejected most proposals from Western countries.

"Some recommendations that are politically motivated and based on disinformation, ideologically biased, or interfering in China's ... sovereignty, China firmly rejects them," said Chen Xu, China's ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

"Stop using human rights as a pretext or as a weapon to attack China."

A few countries and organisations pushed back, but due to the structure of the event, more lauded China's rights record.

Observers say China had been pressuring its supporters to fill up the allotted speaking time with praise, as happened during the review itself.

On Thursday, China was permitted to fill a third of the one-hour available speaking time, while all other countries were granted 20 minutes in total, as were NGOs.

One country name was drawn at random -- Trinidad and Tobago -- and the list then followed alphabetical order from there until the 20 minutes for countries ran out.

The United States and the United Kingdom thus figured among the 15 countries that took the floor, as did Russia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

China "has refused to take action amid consistent calls from the international community to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and has rejected numerous constructive recommendations made through the UPR", US ambassador Michele Taylor said.

She highlighted "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang".

'Shattered'

The UPR was the first review of China since former UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet published a bombshell report in 2022 -- flatly rejected by Beijing -- that brought UN endorsement to long-running allegations of serious abuses in Xinjiang and possible "crimes against humanity".

British ambassador Simon Manley denounced that "China has today rejected each and every one of the UK's recommendations".

"In doing so, the Chinese government has failed to acknowledge its serious human rights violations, and again tried to claim that (the UN's) authoritative Xinjiang assessment is -- and I quote -- 'illegal and void'. It is neither".

Russia's representative meanwhile hailed China's "constructive approach" during the UPR and slammed the "politically motivated" attacks by some countries, while other speakers congratulated China for accepting a majority of recommendations.

There was also much praise from the NGOs -- more than half of their speaking slots went to pro-government groups.

But some NGOs voiced scathing criticism.

"China dismissed 30 percent of recommendations received," said Raphael Viana David of the International Service for Human Rights.

"Beijing's facade as a constructive actor at the UN is shattered."

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