China re-elected to UN Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

31st October 2016

Critics blast Chinese authorities for abuses and failure to meet own human rights standards

China has been granted a second term at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ principal body for promoting and protecting human rights, after being re-elected. China won 180 votes in the Council’s elections on Friday and will now remain on the Council until 2019.

China was one of several states seeking re-election to the Human Rights Council, which responds to human rights violations and emergencies around the world and makes corresponding recommendations to improve human rights standards. Each country on the Council serves a term of three years before having to be re-elected.

13 states from Asia and the Pacific sit on the 47-member Council, with four of these places subject to election this year. China, Iraq, Japan, and Saudi Arabia ran for these places unopposed. Voting is carried out in secret by all 193 members of the United Nations.

Russia, another country seeking re-election, was voted off the Council after losing its place among Eastern European nations to Croatia. Analysts attributed Russia's role in the ongoing conflict in Syria to its failure to win a second term.

Broken promises

Despite winning a second term, China is one of a number of countries on the Human Rights Council to have received criticism for carrying out its own severe abuses of human rights. In the run up to the election, Human Rights Watch accused China of overseeing "the most aggressive campaign against human rights since the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre."

Members of the Human Rights Council are required to  “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”, but organisations have claimed that under Xi Jinping, China has broken commitments that it made as part of its candidacy to the Human Rights Council. This includes a commitment to cooperate with the United Nations human rights special procedures. In practice, China rarely permits visits to UN special procedures, and has not permitted them access to Tibet. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, criticised the Chinese authorities earlier this year, claiming that they interfered with his work and preventing him from meeting with key members of civil society during his visit.

China also committed to disclosing information about trials and excluding illegal evidence from trials. This contrasts sharply with findings by the United Nations Committee on Torture last December, which found that the practice of torture and ill-treatment was “still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system”, which “overly relies on confessions as the basis for convictions”. This included “numerous reports from credible sources that document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans."

Another commitment from China’s candidacy in 2013 was to “guarantee the lawful rights and interests of ethnic minorities”. Free Tibet continues to campaign for a free Tibet in which Tibetans are able to determine their own future and the human rights of all are respected.

Take action

As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, it is unacceptable that torture continues within China's justice system. Free Tibet and its research partner Tibet Watch have accumulated significant evidence of Tibetans being tortured in prison and police custody. Contact China's Minister of Justice and demand an end to torture in Tibet.