China on the defensive as its human rights comes under scrutiny

14th August 2018

Chinese delegates try to play down and suppress evidence of Beijing’s repression in Tibet  

Over the past few days the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has reviewed China’s efforts to combat and eliminate racial discrimination.

The Committee’s review of China took place at the United Nations in Geneva on 10 and 13 August. The CERD members questioned the Chinese delegation on its government's efforts to eliminate racial discrimination in China in a wide-ranging session that contained frequent references to human rights violations in Tibet.

The review was notable for the remarks of several members of the Chinese delegation, who appeared to question the Committee's work and who attacked some of the organisations that had submitted evidence. There was also evidence of pressure from China prior to the review, when evidence supplied by Free Tibet and its research partner Tibet Watch was temporarily removed from the website of the CERD review.

Pressuring the Committee

In the lead up to the 96th Session of the CERD, the Committee requested evidence of China's record on eliminating racial discrimination. A number of human rights organisations, external experts and civil society groups submitted reports, including Free Tibet and Tibet Watch, whose report documented restrictions on Tibetans’ freedom of movement, language rights, tightening controls on religious freedoms for Tibetan Buddhists, the erosion of Tibetan culture and specific cases of mistreatment of political prisoners inside of Tibet.

On 25 July, two week later, Free Tibet was contacted by a staff member at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights informing them that the Chair of CERD had requested that their submission be removed from the session’s website.

The decision to remove the submission was based on the fact that the submission contained a footnote referring to Tibet being invaded and occupied in 1950, and that Free Tibet’s mission statement again referred to China’s occupation of Tibet.

The decision for a UN human rights body to remove a NGO submission is rare. Given China’s long track record of trying to subvert efforts to scrutinise its human rights record in international forums, Free Tibet and Tibet Watch have strong grounds to believe that the decision to remove the submission was taken after the Chinese government put pressure on the Chair of CERD.

After Free Tibet contacted each member of the Committee, the submission was restored to the website around 9 August, the day before China’s review.

China Under Scrutiny

Once China’s review began last Friday, the members of the Committee raised a number of issues covered in Free Tibet's report. The Committee's questioning also covered racial discrimination against Uyghurs, North Korean refugees and the populations of Hong Kong and Macau.

During the review, Committee member Professor Verene Shepherd raised the absence of the Tibetan language in court proceedings in Tibet and the declining use of Tibetan in schools. She asked the delegation whether these measures contravened China’s own constitution, Article 4 of which expressly protects minority language rights.

Professor Verene Shepherd also raised the case of Tashi Wangchuk, the Tibetan language rights advocate who was sentenced to five years in prison in May this year.

The Chinese delegation, which was particularly large, comprising nearly 50 people, responded yesterday by providing voluminous written information that it had prepared over the weekend. Despite the number of documents handed to the Committee by the Chinese delegation, members of the Committee noted that key information was absent from some of the delegation’s oral and written responses and continued to press for answers to their question.

China Hits Back

Towards the end of the review on Monday, a member of the Chinese delegation appeared to challenge the expertise of several members of the Committee, questioning the basis for their questions and recommendations to China. The representative said:

 Some members [of the Committee] call some of the unsubstantiated materials as ‘credible information’[…] the committee has received certain materials which are from certain political organisations which openly deny China’s sovereignty and seek to split China […] they do not hide their intentions to split China. Certain organisations have forms of connections with terrorist organisations. Their so-called accusations carry obvious political intentions and are not consistent with the facts. If such materials are regarded as credible, we cannot help asking what is the basis for such judgements.

The representative added:

we […] sincerely hope that the Committee will make careful screening of the unsubstantiated materials from certain political groups who seek to split the state and incite confusion.

Professor Gun Kut, a member of the Committee, immediately responded in his closing remarks, noting the often evasive answers provided by the Chinese delegation:

 My overall sentiment […] with all due respect […], is disappointment, because most of the answers were very defensive and basically were expressed in a way to reject some of the questions as baseless and uninformative. I'm sure the high-level and large delegation from China does not consider this body of experts believing in various lies and repeating them in a dialogue with yourselves. I am sure you didn’t come all the way from China to basically say that everything is OK and that there is not much to be done […] I think we could have had a much better opportunity for a fruitful discussion.

Noureddine Amir, the Chairperson, followed Professor Gun Kut’s remarks by thanking members of non-governmental organisations and civil society for being present at the review and for their interest in the dialogue.

The review closed with Committee member Nicolás Marugán urging the Chinese delegation to carry out an investigation into the death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in Chinese custody. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was a high-ranking Tibetan Buddhist monk and community leader. He spent 13 years in prison and died in July 2015 after being denied medical parole.


Take Action

One of the Tibetans raised during China's review, Tashi Wangchuk, remains in prison awaiting the chance to appeal his sentence. Send a message to Zhang Jun, China's Minister of Justice, to raise his case and push for his immediate release.