China under fire in UN periodic human rights review today

UN member states posed questions about deteriorating human rights conditions in the country

UPR in session in 2010 (Flickr/US Mission Geneva)

UPR in session in 2010 (Flickr/US Mission Geneva)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The 31st session of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) commenced yesterday with an examination of the human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia and Senegal, but today (Nov. 6), eyes fall on China.

The UN UPR assesses human rights situations in all 195 countries through four-year cycles. It is conducted under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council and allows states to provide evidence on what they have done to improve human rights conditions within their borders.

China has been allocated the Nov. 6 morning slot and the international community will be waiting with bated breath to hear the state’s comments on its recent mass internment of Uighur minorities in Xinjiang Province prison camps.

There has been global outcry at the human rights abuses Muslim minorities in Xinjiang are currently facing, and the situation has been covered extensively by international media. Citizens have been arrested, detained, tortured and abused en masse in what is the largest-scale “reeducation” project since the Cultural Revolution.

While what is happening within the camps has been well-documented, a comprehensive inside report from Foreign Policy details how relentless Chinese state surveillance now pervades every facet of Uighur life in Xinjiang—even for those still living “freely”.

The report explains how over a million Han Chinese civilians have been mobilized to aid military and police with the surveillance and indoctrination of Uighurs via methods that include moving into their homes and watching their every move. Citizens are told to watch out for when dresses are too long and beards irregular, Arabic or local languages are spoken, and copies of the Quran are passed around—all activities which must be recorded and reported.

Multiculturalism is the enemy of the Chinese state and its eradication is the Communist Party’s (CCP) main goal. A plurality of identities poses a threat to the stability of the authoritarian regime, and so when the state regards a particular religious faction or ethnic group as diverging too far from the practices and beliefs of the Han majority, it steps in to curb “dissent.”

Police patrolling in front of a mosque in Xinjiang (Associated Press image)

Heavy control over local media reports on the situation has ensured the majority of Chinese citizens view the government’s actions in Xinjiang favorably—which is something the CCP strives hard to maintain. The party has worked similarly for years to cover up the resource pilfering and destruction of homes and holy sites in Tibet, while ensuring the public focuses only on the money the state is apparently pouring into the region.

Press freedom is one particular issue area that has been raised by UN member states in advance of China’s review today, although largely regarding the situation in Hong Kong. Other advance questions have included the whereabouts and conditions of multiple lawyers and activists that have disappeared in China over recent years.

The review is generally expected to discuss how human rights conditions have deteriorated dramatically since Xi Jinping came into power. Human rights NGOs are calling on member states not to spare any effort in calling China out.

Part of the problem with the UN UPR, though touted as a revolutionary mechanism for resolving human rights issues, is that it is advisory only. Criticism made during review sessions is just that; no executive decisions are made over how to remedy dire human rights conditions.

The mechanism is only effective if states feel they are on the receiving end of enough political pressure to change their behavior and take their human rights obligations seriously. China has time again proven to be an obstinate figure that rarely yields to international condemnation. While states are still hesitant to put economic pressure on China, it seems unlikely today’s review will have any effect on what is happening in Xinjiang.

China was slammed by human rights activists amidst its last Periodic Review in 2013, but officials brushed off criticism by saying the country was still developing and needed time to meet its human rights obligations.

As this year’s review comes to a close, it is likely member states will hear similar excuses. The stability of the Communist regime hinges on maintaining strict, authoritative control and social cohesion. As long as the government detects what it fears is dissent, it will continue orchestrating mass human rights abuses.