China's policies in Tibet and restrictions on religion came under scrutiny at the UN Human Rights Council this week
China’s human rights record came in for sharp criticism again this week at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world. China, which currently sits on the council, faced criticism from several countries, some of which expressed concerns about its policies in Tibet.
The criticism came during a general debate among council members about which human rights situations urgently required their attention. Tibet was explicitly mentioned several times during the debate, which was part of the 33rd Human Rights Council session, currently underway in Geneva. Several of the restrictions and human rights violations that Tibetans face on a daily basis were also raised.
Noting the increasingly stifling restrictions on religious freedom in China and Tibet, the Slovakian representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, urged China:
“… to respect cultural diversity and freedom of religion, not least in Tibet and Xinjiang, and foster dialogue with the different ethnic groups”
Religious freedom was also the theme of the statement by Keith Harper, the United States representative, who also expressed concerns about the “narrowing of space for civil society” across China.
France, Germany and the UK were among the EU countries to make additional remarks to those in the EU statement. All three expressed concern about the human rights situation in China, highlighting the harassment of political activists and lawyers, and tightening restrictions on religious freedom across China. The German representative, mentioning Tibet directly, said:
“Germany is deeply concerned about the human rights situation in China, in particular in Xinjiang and Tibet. Among those who suffer from widespread human rights violations, there are many lawyers, human rights activists or academics whose only offence was to lawfully defend the most vulnerable parts of society. In many cases, their courageous efforts resulted in detention. The widespread harassment and extension of persecution measures to family members of suspects is especially worrisome. We urge the Government to immediately release all detained human rights defenders.”
The Chinese delegation responded to the criticisms defensively, stating that national sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected during the debate and that countries should avoid “naming and shaming” and “double standards”.
Criticism inside, protest outside
The 33rd UN Human Rights Council has been ongoing since 13 September. During the proceedings, Tibetan activists have made their voices heard, holding a rally outside the UN building in Geneva last Friday.
Over 1,500 Tibetans took part in the protests, which began with a march and ended with speeches from several prominent Tibetans, including torture survivor Golog Jigme and Nyima Lhamo, who is the niece of the late Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and who recently reached India after escaping from Tibet.
China currently sits on the UN Human Rights Council having been elected to it in 2013. Its term on the Council is due to expire this year.
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