In recent years, China has faced repeated accusations of interfering with human rights work by and at the United Nations, from obstructing inspections to intimidating activists and otherwise suppressing civil society participation. In 2015 it mounted an unsuccessful attempt to allow countries to criticize NGOs anonymously during the U.N. accreditation process. Last year, it was part of a group of nations that blocked applications for U.N. consultative status by NGOs including the Committee to Protect Journalists. In May, citing the expulsion of Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa from the U.N. headquarters in New York despite full accreditation, Human Rights Watch’s Sophie Richardson wrote that Chinese rights abuses have threatened to “infect” the organization.
“China engages with the UN on human rights but often with the goal of aggressively silencing criticism and eroding access for activists who work on China,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “China is not the only country that acts terribly at the UN, but its Security Council membership, global influence, and fierce crackdown on civil society at home make it a model of bad faith that challenges the integrity of the UN rights system.”
The 96-page report, “The Costs of International Advocacy: China’s Interference in United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms,” details China’s efforts to harass independent activists, primarily those from China. Chinese officials have photographed and filmed activists on UN premises in violation of UN rules, and restricted travel by mainland activists to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. China has also used its membership on the Economic and Social Council’s Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to block NGOs critical of China from being granted UN accreditation, and it has sought – and succeeded in – blacklisting accredited activists from participating in UN events.
[…] Chinese officials have at times harassed and intimidated UN staff, experts on treaty bodies, and independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues. One expert told Human Rights Watch that, “the whole UN machinery tries to make space for civil society while [China’s] machinery works the other way, trying to shrink space for NGOs.” China sharply limits the visits of UN experts to China, pressures the UN to exclude from committees potentially critical experts, and rarely provides substantive answers to queries by UN human rights bodies. [Source]
Roth describes China’s actions as sending "an enduring, chilling message to Chinese activists: participate at your own risk." The report highlights the "particularly egregious" case of Cao Shunli, which has become symbolic of China’s use of forced, denied, or delayed medical treatment to pressure political detainees. Cao died in 2014 after falling ill while in prison for attempting to participate in a U.N. review of China’s rights record, and for trying to travel to Geneva for related training. China’s U.N. delegation later fought to prevent a moment’s silence in her honor at a Human Rights Council session.
Another prominent case noted in the report is that of Jiang Tianyong, a rights activist and former lawyer who was tried for inciting subversion last month. Under likely coercion, Jiang confessed to having been turned against the Party by foreign influence. His detention may have been prompted in part by his meetings with U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, who has advocated for Jiang’s release. In a statement this week, Alston and others raised concerns about Jiang’s possible torture and "serious shortcomings in guaranteeing a fair and impartial trial in accordance with international standards," highlighting the possibility that his prosecution was intended to punish and deter participation in U.N. rights activities:
“Mr. Jiang’s ‘crime’ apparently included communications with foreign entities, which potentially include the UN human rights mechanisms, giving interviews to foreign media, and receiving training on the Western constitutional system, all of which have been carried out in the course of his work as a lawyer,” they said.
The rights experts noted that “the suppression and criminalization of such communications and activities constitute a serious violation of the fundamental right to freely seek, receive and impart information about human rights, and can only be characterized as an effort to root out voices that are considered to interfere with the Communist Party’s rule.” [Source]
On Wednesday, AFP reported responses to the HRW report from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from the U.N. itself regarding HRW’s criticism of its occasional capitulation to Chinese pressure:
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang rejected the criticism, saying Beijing “attaches high importance and is committed to promoting and protecting human rights.”
He urged “relevant organisations (to) remove their tainted lenses and view China’s human rights development and contributions to international human rights causes in an unbiased way and stop groundless accusations.”
[…] UN Human Rights Council spokesman Rolando Gomez insisted the body had been “extremely vigilant in addressing and investigating all acts, and perceived acts, of intimidation, threats, (and) attacks brought to its attention.”
In Cao’s case, the council president had “raised her detention directly with the Chinese ambassador in Geneva as a possible example of reprisal by a state against someone cooperating with the UN,” he told AFP in an email.
HRW’s report acknowledges that some UN officials push back against pressure from Beijing, but added that in other cases officials have “capitulated… or have soft-pedalled their concerns, presumably to avoid confrontation with China.” [Source]
U.N. concessions on this front are part of a broader pattern of China using its growing political and economic influence to silence international criticism on rights issues. Freedom House’s Arch Puddington wrote on the "real danger in Chinese leaders’ adeptness at escaping opprobrium for this ever-escalating repression" at The Diplomat this week.
HRW also notes China’s use of the NGO approval process to vet and enforce even apolitical organizations’ recognition of Taiwan and Tibet as part of China. It took to task Engineers Without Borders and Child Soldiers International, for example, for referring to Taiwan as a country on their websites, and demanded "correction." Beijing has also fought to curtail Taiwanese participation in U.N. activities, for example by blocking its observer status at the World Health Assembly in May. At Taiwan Sentinel this week, Alexander Kozlov examined Taiwan’s strained historical relationship with the U.N., arguing that although "full membership remains a distant dream, a lot more can be done to ensure the constructive and dignified participation of Taiwanese nationals as employees or interns at the global organization."
Taiwan has had a long and dramatic relationship with the United Nations, from being — as the Republic of China (ROC) — one of the founding members of the UN in 1945 to losing its seat at the National Security Council to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1971. The main issue with Taiwan’s membership in the UN is based on two seemingly insuperable concerns: a concept of membership expressed in the Charter of the United Nations, the foundational document on the organization, and the so-called “one China” policy officially accepted by the UN.
[…] One of the central ideas of the UN is the peaceful coexistence of countries based on mutual respect and cooperation. The UN as an organization states the protection of people as its main goal. However, in to the current situation, only those who are represented within the organization are actually considered to be deserving of protection, while others are left to the mercy of a stronger one, vae victis. Like everyone else, Taiwan’s 23.5 million people deserve to be protected and represented. [Source]