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Home News Call to get tough on China as UN rights body prepares to meet 

Call to get tough on China as UN rights body prepares to meet 

Published on 09/09/2020

More than 300 NGOs from around the world are calling on the United Nations to set up an international mechanism to address Chinese human rights violations. It comes as the UN Human Rights Council gears up for a session in Geneva next week.  

“This global coalition of organisations, 50 UN experts, and dozens of governments are all demanding an end to China’s impunity at the UN Human Rights Council,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, which is one of the signatories of an open letter. “The UN needs to act on the growing chorus of voices calling for China to be held accountable for its rights abuses.” 

Their open letter, published on September 9, was addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and UN member states.  

The NGO coalition calls for a special session of the Geneva-based council to evaluate rights violations by China’s government, and an impartial and independent UN mechanism focused on China. It echoes a call in June by 50 UN experts for “decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China”. They pointed to China’s “mass human rights violations in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, suppression of information in the Covid-19 context and attacks on human rights defenders”.  

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, rejected the accusations as “baseless and not worth being refuted”. 

Rights body faces challenges 

The call comes as the UN Human Rights Council prepares to start its regular 45th session in what HRC President Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger of Austria told journalists on Wednesday was a doubly challenging context, marked by the pandemic and a “particularly serious” funding crisis. 

Meetings in Geneva, which run from September 14 to October 6 at the UN Palais des Nations complex, will be hybrid, with only one person per delegation allowed in the room and others participating online. Those physically present will have to wear masks and observe social distancing rules.  

Fisslberger said it would nevertheless be a very busy session with, for example, 70 independent human rights experts presenting reports on 20 different countries and discussions on new themes such as the impact of Covid-19 on human rights. She said the council would also be assessing how to address a particularly bad funding gap. This is because many countries have not paid their contributions, sometimes for several years.  

But she said she was not worried that the council’s fundamental function was threatened by the shortfall. “Absolutely not,” she continued, saying it was doing sessions when others were not and keeping human rights in the international spotlight.