01/23/2024, 16.57
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Human rights: China praises its system in Geneva (but censors debate)

China rejects accusations about Hong Kong, Uyghurs, Tibet, and jailed dissidents at a hearing by the Human Rights Council. Each country had only 45 seconds to express its views. Meanwhile, four UN special rapporteurs are calling for Jimmy Lai to be released and charges against him be dropped.

Geneva (AsiaNews) – The People’s Republic of China was subjected to the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva today, the regular mechanism used by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) to review a country’s human rights record.

Each country that signed up to speak had 45 seconds to express their "recommendations" to the People's Republic of China on how to respect for human rights, just enough time to list issues, ranging from Hong Kong's national security law and the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang to the forced assimilation of Tibet and the widespread use of the death penalty.

The hearing began with the Chinese delegation presenting its case. Led by Ambassador Chen Xu, it argued that “the improvement of living conditions coincides with human rights". And, while no one is perfect, "the facts show that China today fulfils the aspirations of its people."

As many as 163 countries lined up, many from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, mainly to praise China’s results in fighting poverty (which does not equate with respect for human rights).

This is understandable as Xi Jinping's People's Republic of China has long focused on its image as the champion of the Global South to hide its increasingly harsh repression of all forms of internal dissent.

Despite all this, the recommendations made by many delegates highlighted China’s serious violations of human rights, regularly covered by AsiaNews.

The United Kingdom, for example, raised the issue of the Jimmy Lai’s trial in Hong Kong.

From Canada to Greece, from Chile to Australia, several countries want China to be held accountable for the arbitrary detentions of activists, journalists, and lawyers.

South Korea expressly raised the issue of the forced repatriation of North Korean exiles.

The envoy of the former government of Afghanistan (which still represents the country at the UN) asked China to explain its decision to establish relations with the Taliban.

In its response, the Chinese delegation dismissed the criticism as politically motivated "lies”.

On Hong Kong, Ambassador Chen painted a picture suggesting that, thanks to the national security law and the "changes in the electoral system", the city was able to flourish again after the "unrest and fear" of 2019.

As for freedom of expression, China fully respects it, he claimed. It is a pity that even the live streaming of the hearing, on the UN’s official website, was blocked in China.

With respect to freedom of religion, it is fully guaranteed to "200 million believers" who can count on "330,000 ministers of their religion and 144,000 places of worship,” Chinese authorities claim.

Such a picture perfectly fits with a concept of human rights devoid of any meaning, which Chow Hang-tung, a Hong Kong lawyer and pro-democracy activist, mentioned a few weeks ago in a letter she got out of the prison where she is being held, which AsiaNews published.

It will now be up to the Human Rights Council to draw conclusions from this debate, with a report expected on 9 February.

In the meantime, the United Nations touched the issue of human rights in China directly, with a plea to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to drop charges against Jimmy Lai, and release the pro-democracy Catholic businessman and publisher who has been in prison for three years, and is currently standing trial under the national security law.

This request is signed jointly by four UN Special Rapporteurs involved in cases like the Jimmy Lai’s: Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of the so-called Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, a group of independent, fact-finding experts working in the UN system who do not depend on any government or organisation and serve in an individual capacity.

“We are alarmed by the multiple and serious violations of Jimmy Lai’s freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and his right to a fair trial, including the denial of access to a lawyer of his own choosing and the handpicking of judges by the authorities,” the experts say.

“We expressed our concerns about the National Security Law before it was enacted and will continue to do so, as we believe it is not in line with international legal obligations,” they add.

“We reiterate that national security legislation with criminal sanctions should never be misused against those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association and of peaceful assembly, nor to deprive such persons of their personal liberty through arrest and detention.”

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